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4 tips for overcoming analysis paralysis

Sarah Laoyan contributor headshotSarah Laoyan
January 21st, 2024
3 min read
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Analysis paralysis is the inability to make a decision due to overthinking or an abundance of choice. If you’re suffering from indecision, here are a few tips on how you can combat analysis paralysis when it happens.

Your alarm goes off in the morning and it’s time to get ready for work. What do you decide to wear that day? Do you wear a sweater or a jacket? What if it’s too hot for a jacket—maybe you should do a lighter layer instead. The office is usually kind of cold, maybe you should pack another coat. But which one should you bring? Making a decision like this is hard, and sometimes you may become so overwhelmed you end up not bringing a jacket at all.

If your thought processes for getting ready in the morning sound a little bit like this, you might have analysis paralysis. 

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What is analysis paralysis?

Analysis paralysis is a colloquial phrase used to describe the feeling of being unable to make a decision due to overthinking a problem. This often happens when you’re dealing with too many variables and continually researching solutions, instead of taking action and making a decision.

The root cause of analysis paralysis? Anxiety. Making a decision is hard—what if you make the wrong decision? This kind of thinking causes analysis paralysis. That’s because our brain’s goal is to make the right choice every time, even if there’s not actually a perfect solution. Indecisiveness can be a symptom of impostor syndrome—if you feel like you need to be a perfectionist at work, making a major decision can send you into analysis paralysis.

Let’s look at an example—you’re tasked with finding a restaurant for your team to have dinner at while your manager is in town, and you want to leave a good impression. You have to consider your team’s dietary restrictions, personal preferences, and consider the impact the restaurant choice may have on your manager. In the grand scheme of things, there is no one “correct” restaurant to pick. But weighing all of these things in consideration could cause indecision and anxiety. 

Examining the Paradox of Choice

Psychologist Barry Schwartz coined the phrase “Paradox of Choice.” This paradox states that having more options allows us to achieve better results, but can lead to greater anxiety, indecision, paralysis, and dissatisfaction with the ultimate decision.

Analysis paralysis in action

In 2000, psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper published a study about consumer decision making. On two separate days, they offered a display table of different jams that a consumer could buy: one day with a variety of 24 different jams, and the other day with only six different types of jams. Iyengar and Lepper discovered that consumers were approximately 10 times more likely to purchase from the table with only six options in comparison to the table with 24 options. 

They theorized making a decision, even a small one like purchasing a jar of jam, requires mental energy. The more we have to analyze and compare, the more mental energy it takes. The easiest solution in this situation would be not to purchase anything at all. 

Read more: How to protect your energy in a chaotic world

The effects of analysis paralysis

Analysis paralysis can have lingering effects on us that affect our day-to-day. This is what you should look out for.

Decreased performance on mentally critical tasks

Our working memory is the part of our brain that allows us to focus on the information we need to complete tasks as we work on them. This is critical for high level cognitive thinking like learning or creating. The problem? Our working memory is a finite resource, so when we use too much of it, it’s harder to focus.

Jason Sattizahn from the University of Chicago, Jason Moser from Michigan State University, and Sian L. Beilock discovered a connection between working memory capacity and performance in their 2016 study. The team discovered that high pressure, anxiety producing situations (such as overthinking a decision) can lead to lower performance on cognitively challenging tasks. 

Overthinking decreases your creativity

Grace Hawthorne and Allan Reiss conducted a study to objectively measure students’ creativity. To do this, they scanned student’s brains using an MRI while the students completed a creative task—drawing a series of pictures, in a set amount of time, based on a few action words. The students were then asked to rank each prompt based on how challenging it was to draw. 

During the more challenging drawings, there was more activity in the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain associated with thinking. The more students thought about their drawing, the more challenging the drawing was. For the less challenging images, there was more activity in the cerebellum, the section of the brain that often correlates to motor function. The study’s lead author, Manish Saggar, theorized, “The more you think about it, the more you mess it up.”

4 tips for overcoming analysis paralysis

If you notice yourself overanalyzing important decisions or spending a substantial amount of time worrying about making the wrong choice, these strategies can help you move forward, take action, and make better decisions.

  1. Set yourself a deadline to make a decision. If you have no timeline for when a decision needs to be made, you can spend a large amount of time waffling back and forth between different options, and ultimately never making a decision. The best course of action? Set yourself a deadline or a specific time frame for when the decision needs to be made. 

  2. Narrow down your options early. If you have an overwhelming amount of options, get rid of some right away. Figure out what you want your expected outcome of this decision to be, and then eliminate any options that don’t fit the qualifications of that outcome. 

  3. Practice making decisions quickly. Impulsivity isn’t always a bad thing. If you are constantly plagued by analysis paralysis, practice making small decisions fast. The inconsequential things like deciding where to eat dinner or what path you take to get to work will help you be more decisive when you’re making bigger decisions. 

  4. Use a framework for your decision making process: Believe it or not, there is a whole framework for the decision making process. Following a step-by-step guide can help take away some of the cognitive heavy work that’s required to make a big decision.

Do great things fast with a work management tool

Include all of your important stakeholders in the decision making process by using a collaborative work management tool. By using a work management tool, your team can easily discuss important choices, collaborate on documents, or make suggestions all in one place.

Decision-making tools for agile businesses

In this ebook, learn how to equip employees to make better decisions—so your business can pivot, adapt, and tackle challenges more effectively than your competition.

Make good choices, fast: How decision-making processes can help businesses stay agile ebook banner image

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