How to Stop Analysis Paralysis and Make (Great) Decisions Quickly
How do you behave when it comes to decision making? Do you spend a long time thinking over every single decision, because you are afraid of making the wrong choice? Do you feel a need to analyze every single option before you come to a conclusion? Does your over-analysis often stop you from making a move quickly — at times missing perfectly good opportunities?
If so, congratulations — you “suffer” from analysis paralysis. Analysis paralysis is the state of over-thinking about a decision, to the point where a choice never gets made, thereby creating a paralyzed state of inaction. A person faces analysis paralysis when he/she…
- Is overwhelmed by the available options
- Over-complicates the decision when it’s supposed to be quite simple
- Feels compelled to pick the right “perfect” decision, thereby delaying making a decision until due research is done
- Feels a deep fear of making a wrong decision, hence stalling decision making to prevent a wrong decision being made
… all in all, not able to decide at all.
My Experience with Analysis Paralysis
As much as I’ve no problems making major life decisions quickly and precisely (I took less than a few months to realize my life purpose, less than a month to decide that Ken is the man for me, less than two months to decide to quit my day job to start my business), up until recently I totally sucked at simple, daily decisions.
Take for example the following:
- One time, I was shopping for a hard disk. Hard disk shopping should be pretty straightforward, init — just grab one and go, right? No, the hard disks came in so many sizes, colors, and models that I couldn’t make up my mind! In the end, I shut down (pun intended) and left the decision to Ken.
- Colors used to be my biggest achilles heel. Give the old me anything that comes in various colors, and I’d enter decision-making hell. For example, I could be editing a graphic and I would spend a chunk of time ruminating over whether pale green shade #1 or pale green shade #2 looked nicer.
- I would frequently bounce back and forth between what to have for lunch/dinner because I couldn’t make up my mind. This usually meant backtracking to a shop that I walked past 10 minutes ago or re-packing food that I was intending to cook as I decided to eat something else.
Needless to say, such indecisiveness drained my time and energy. I would feel panicky over having to pick the “right” option and would get “stuck” with decision making. What should rightfully be simple decisions would explode into complicated messes as I would hunt down all options and mull over them obsessively — hence making it near impossible to arrive at any decision. Ahhh!!!!
Interestingly, despite exhibiting this behavior my whole life, I didn’t acknowledge my situation as analysis paralysis (I saw it more as “prudent reflection”) until I was doing my wedding preparation with Ken. Faced with a gazillion decisions to be closed in a short amount of time, I realized for the first time how my meticulousness would hold me (us) back from closing my wedding to-dos quickly, decisively, and most importantly — happily. I would also often feel conflicted over the littlest of things such as selecting my bridal bouquet and my manicure style!
I began to tire of my analysis paralysis as it was stopping me from being productive. I brainstormed on how to break out this behavior… and this guide was the result.
How to Make Decisions Quickly Like a Ninja
Today’s guide shares 10 key tips that have helped me to break out of analysis paralysis. Having worked through these steps, I no longer mull over little decisions like I used to. Tips #1, #3, #5, #6, and #7 have been particularly crucial for me.
If you frequently experience analysis paralysis like the old me, don’t fret. The ten tips below will help you to breeze through decisions in no time!
Tip #1. Differentiate Between Big and Small Decisions
Firstly, differentiate between big and small decisions. Then, give them the attention they deserve based on their importance.
A big part of my analysis paralysis in the past came from treating all decisions as if they were life-altering when really, they weren’t. While my meticulousness helped with life decisions like finding my soulmate and discovering my life path, it was very draining with other decisions because I would invest much time and energy in them even though they didn’t warrant the effort.
Example: Wedding Preparation
A good example is wedding planning. Many brides get obsessive over every detail of wedding preparation, and I was no different when it came to my wedding in 2014. From deciding on the guest table linen, to VIP table linen, to whether to have sashes on guest chairs, to color of sashes, to wedding favors, these were but a few of the countless decisions I had to make in the past few months. I was very anxious over each decision as each seemed critically important and I was afraid I would ruin the big day if I didn’t pick the “correct” choice (if there’s even such a thing).
It didn’t help that there is this deeply entrenched societal perception that the wedding day is “the most important day of a girl’s life,” and that every girl needs to put utmost attention to its preparation so that it’ll be successful. This only added more pressure to get every decision “right”.
Yet when I thought about it, I realized that all these decisions don’t matter in the long haul. For example, even if I were to pick an atrocious neon green with pink polka dots for my banquet table linen (I didn’t, though it would be fun to see the look on people’s face if I did that), this color choice wouldn’t affect me after the wedding day. The only impact it would have would be the overall look of the event and the photos taken. Or, even if my makeup doesn’t look 100% the way I want, that’s okay because it’s not like I’m going to look like that forever and majority of people don’t pay attention to such minor details anyway. To my guests, what really matters is seeing me enter into a blissful marriage and seeing me happy.
Rather than obsess over these little details, the bigger questions for any bride should be, “Are you marrying the right person?” “Is this the person you want to spend the rest of your life with?” and “Are the right foundations in place to build a lasting marriage?” These are the real questions to ponder over before walking down the aisle, not the floral decoration on the reception table or the color shade of the chair sashes!
How to Differentiate Between Big and Small Decisions
Are you stumped by a decision right now? Ask yourself:
- How important is this decision?
- Will the outcome of this decision make a difference a year from now?
- What’s the worst thing that can happen from this?
Give a decision only the time and effort that it deserves, based on its importance.
If the decision isn’t going to make any major difference to your life in a year’s time and there are no serious consequences that will come out of it (e.g., picking a mismatched shade for your wedding table linen), then it is a small decision. Chill and let go. Spend as little time and effort as you can to nail it.
If a decision will create major impact in your life even after a year and there are serious implications from making the wrong choice (e.g., marrying someone you no longer feel right about), then that’s a big decision. Set aside proper time to think over it; delay if necessary. Use my guide “How to Make Life’s Hardest Decisions” to break out of these dilemmas.
For anything in between, give it some level of thought, but don’t let it drag for too long.
Interestingly, as you evaluate your decisions, you’ll find that few decisions are ever as important as we make them out to be. Most decisions have little impact; only a small handful have the ability to affect our life in the long run.
Examples of small decisions:
- Which hair conditioner to purchase
- What color cable clips to buy
- What to eat for dinner
Examples of mid-level decisions:
- Whether to continue or break off a relationship
- Whether to collaborate with someone in a project
- When and where to get your new home
Examples of big decisions:
- Whether to marry someone
- The career path to go for
- What to pursue as your life purpose
- Whether to have kids
Tip #2. Identify Your Top Objective(s)
Before entering into the decision making process, identify your top objective(s) for this decision. Then, use that to guide you in your decision making. This will help you to arrive at a valid decision quicker.
For example, many people often want to collaborate with me in my business. From promoting their products, to promoting their campaigns, having me create a course for their portal, to creating a new offering together, these are examples of pitches I get every week.
My criteria for this decision is simple: exposure for PE. Will I gain any exposure for PE from this engagement? is the question I ask myself. If the answer is “no” and they are simply trying to get free exposure with minimal/no contribution on their end, then it’s usually a “no” — short and simple. It doesn’t matter the big numbers they quote (e.g., “We have over 30 top bloggers working with us”), the high gains they project from this collaboration (e.g., “We anticipate thousands of customers”), and how “big wig” they are (e.g., “I’ve appeared on New York Times before”); none are as important as expanding PE’s exposure to me.
In knowing my end objective, it helps me to be quick and decisive since I can immediately assess the option that’ll help me to realize my end goal.
More about knowing your end objective: Keep Your End Objective In Mind
Tip #3. Perfection is not the key; “Moderately okay” is
Unless it’s a life-altering decision, perfection isn’t the key. Your role is to pick a moderately okay decision in a fair amount of time, then move forward after that.
Why do I say that? That’s because every option has its pros and cons, and it’s very hard to be in a situation where the perfect choice is available right there and right then. While you can work through and hunt down the perfect choice, it comes at a high cost. The 80/20 rule applies, where you need to invest 80% of effort just to achieve that incremental 20% improvement in your final decision.
Now, if the decision is a life-altering one, then it’s worth to invest time and effort to get the perfect pick. However, if the decision isn’t going to make a big difference in your life a year or two from now (see Tip #1), then it doesn’t matter whether you make a lousy, a not-so-lousy, or an awesome choice — the difference between the options will never create any far-reaching consequences. Even if you pump in hours of hard work to arrive at a top-notch solution, it will never result in a significant difference in your life. (Refer to Tip #1 on differentiating between big and small decisions.)
This doesn’t mean that you should just pick a random option for all decisions: after all, negative effects can accumulate over time to create a huge negative impact. However, it does mean that you should go the 80/20 way and go with a moderately okay selection and not hunt down a “perfect” choice.
- How to Overcome Perfectionism (three-part series)
- Achieve More With Less In Life Using 80/20 Principle (three-part series)
- Law of Diminishing Returns
Tip #4. Eliminate the Bad Options
Next, eliminate the bad options. Having a flood of options can clutter up the decision making process, so eliminate the bad ones right away to make it easier to assess. Refer to your objectives for making this decision (see Tip #2), identify the options that will definitely not meet your objectives, and get rid of them.
The ones that are left should be the considerably good ones, which then allows you to make a more pinpointed assessment.
Tip #5. Pick One and Go — Don’t Look Back After That
If you are stumped by the options and you are not sure which one to pick… then just pick one and go. Don’t look back after that.
While this may seem reckless, it actually isn’t. The reason why you have shortlisted these options is because they are reasonably good. If it’s really crappy, you would have eliminated them as per Tip #4! Now, no matter which option you pick, you will miss out on the benefits exclusive to the other options, since each option probably has its unique pros and cons.
Hence, rather than agonize over which one to choose, it’s more important that you select one quickly and make the best out of it. In doing so, you will create your perfect outcome — simply because you made the commitment to make the best out of it.
On the other hand, when you invest extra time and energy to identify the “best of the best” option, not only do you waste time and energy, you will still feel bad in the end because your mindset is one that’s focused on identifying “gaps” and “issues.” Even if you pick the best option, you’ll still harp on the pros that could have come out of options that you forgo. In the end, you get an average outcome since you’re too busy feeling regret as opposed to making the best out of your choice. This is a perfect example of our reality being a result of what we think.
Tip #6. Let Go of Your Childhood Stories Surrounding Decision Making
Part of the reason for my past analysis paralysis is because my dad would always tell me to be prudent and to only buy the things I need (he still does that actually). Even though I grew up frugal, my dad still chides me over any new things I buy because he perceives them as wastage. “钱很难赚，不要乱乱花,” (that’s Mandarin for “It’s hard to earn money; don’t spend it carelessly”) is what he has always said since young.
Such incidents built up over time led me to be (a) hyper sensitive about anything I had to buy and (b) self-reproaching if I ever made a wrong purchase decision. I grew to see the negative side of every (purchase) decision I made, even though every decision has its pros and cons. I would also spend endless time flicking back and forth between purchase options, even though there were minuscule differences between them.
Of course, this wasn’t good at all. My analysis paralysis became a result of my childhood story with my dad and nothing to do with the decisions I was making.
Another reason for my paralysis is that I grew up in a society and education system where there was no margin for error. In school, every little mistake we make would affect our results which would in turn affect whether we could get A and ultimately, our career path, life path, and our reputation. We were made to perceive mistakes as irreversible and damage-inducing. Teachers would reprimand and punish us for making mistakes, like the slapping exercise that I shared in “Stop Shaming, Start Praising.”
The belief I walked away from this period was, Mistakes are bad, mistakes can never be erased, and I’m a bad person if I allow mistakes to happen.
With these two childhood stories embedded in my consciousness, I became irrationally resistant to bad choices. Is this the best option? I would always ask myself. Is there a better option? What if I don’t like this later on? What if there are hidden cons to this option? What if a better option comes up later? That would mean that I’ve made a bad decision!
Hence for me, decision making would always equate to internal conflicts over what to choose. Many times I would abandon the decision (e.g., walk out of the store if I was trying to buy something) just so I didn’t have to make a bad choice and regret it later on.
Eventually, I realized that I was living under the shadow of my childhood stories. For example, every decision has its pros and cons, and it’s unrealistic to think that I have made a bad decision just because there are one or two things I don’t like about it. Even if I have truly made a bad decision, it’s silly to beat myself up over it since everyone makes bad decisions at one point or another. It’s more important that I learn from my mistakes and focus on the positive side of each situation, rather than focus on the bad side.
If you constantly freeze in the face of decisions, and your paralysis always seems to have a life of its own, then it’s possible that there’s a childhood story driving you to act this way. What is your childhood story for decision making? How can you let go of it?
More on childhood stories and how to let go of them: What Childhood Stories Are You Reenacting Today?
Tip #7. Set a Hard Time Limit
In Rule #2 of my book 10 Rules of Super Productive People, I talk about Parkinson’s Law and how it affects productivity. Parkinson’s Law says that “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” What this means is that your work will take however long you allow it to take. If you set aside 15 minutes for a task, it’ll take 15 minutes; if you set aside 30 minutes, it’ll take 30 minutes; if you don’t set a time limit, it may well take forever!
This is the same in decision making. When you don’t set a time limit for your decisions, each decision can expand monstrously to take up your entire consciousness and schedule as you find new options to mull over, new details to analyze, and every reason to contemplate the decision further and simply not commit to a decision. This is particularly true for those with analysis paralysis tendencies (that’s you and me baby!).
To solve this, set a hard time limit for your decision. Your time limit should be based on the importance of the decision (refer to Tip #1). Since time is relative and every decision is different, there is no hard and fast rule on the limit. Personally, I limit myself to more than two minutes for small decisions and no more than a few days to weeks for mid-level decisions. For big decisions, technically I allow myself to take as long as needed, though I always come to a conclusion within a couple of months.
Remember, this is a time limit you must commit to, by hook or by crook. Even if you haven’t made up your mind by then, just make the best decision based on available data. Know that your time limit is based on the importance of the decision, and to spend more time than this limit means allowing the decision to take up more time (and energy) than it is worth. There are more important things to do than that.
Tip #8. Delegate the Decision to Someone Else
This tip is a little sneaky since you are effectively removing yourself from the decision-making process and shifting the decision-making responsibility to someone else. However, it works if you trust the opinion of that person and you’re okay with not handling the decision.
I recently put this at work in my business. After months in book writing hell, I realized that I need to speed up the way I manage my business, so as to make bigger progress in shorter time. The problem though is that whenever I get hands-on in something, I’ll want to tweak it to perfection. This includes large projects and small tiny tasks. After all, if I have the power to make something better, I’ll always want to do so!
To prevent this pesky behavior from ballooning out of control, I’ve hired a permanent admin assistant — sort of like my right hand person — to take care of my admin work. This includes making administrative decisions on my behalf, after which I’ll review and approve or amend where needed. By doing so, I never get too involved in the admin work, which prevents me from going into analysis paralysis mode with them.
Delegating doesn’t have to mean hiring. You can also delegate personal decisions to your loved ones. For example with the hard disk example in the opening, I eventually left the decision to Ken since he’s more savvy with computer stuff and he could probably make a better pick than me.
Read about delegating via outsourcing: Your Guide To Outsourcing: Why You Should Outsource and How to Get Started in the Next 20 Minutes
Tip #9. Get the Opinion of Someone You Trust and Go with It
The second to last tip is to get the opinion of someone you trust and go along with it. This is slightly different from Tip #8 in that you still take ownership of the decision even though you’re basing it on someone else’s opinion.
I often do this when I’m shopping and can’t make up my mind. Usually I narrow it down to two options, after which I’ll consult my friend whom I’m shopping with and/or seek the advice of the store assistant. If their recommendation makes sense, I’ll go along with it; if not, I’ll pick the one I prefer. Either way, getting their opinion accelerates my decision-making process since I get more inputs to help me decide what I really want.
I recommend to get someone with insight in the area you are consulting on. For example, if I’m buying a new video camera for my video channel, I’ll ask someone with knowledge in video camera equipment, not some random Joe. If I’m going into investing, I’ll seek the advice of friends who have invested before and made actual money, as opposed to people who dabble in investments and lose money constantly.
Check out Day 19: Seek Advice of Be a Better Me in 30 Days Program.
Tip #10. Channel Your Energy into Other Things
If you are still in analysis paralysis mode despite the nine tips, it’s possible that you simply have extra energy that’s not being channeled into more meaningful areas!
For example, I notice that I sometimes obsess about things simply because I have the bandwidth to do so. Because I run PE as a passive income business, that means I don’t have to actively trade my time for money, hence leaving me an open schedule to myself. This is a great thing of course, but an ironic downside is having too much free time on my hands to mull over little decisions!
When that happens despite my awareness, I know it’s because I have extra energy that is not being channeled to the right areas. I’ll ask myself: Are there more important things I can do now than hyper-analyze this decision? What more important tasks can I divert my time and energy to? How can I get started? Be it writing a new article, replying important emails, working on a new course, or creating a new video, I’ll then get to those things right away rather than obsess further on the decision.
Interestingly, as I do that, the decision becomes smaller in magnitude and I’m able to come to a conclusion after a short while.
So if your analysis paralysis is coming from having too much excess energy, then channel that energy into other tasks. Find more important tasks to devote yourself to. You’ll be much more productive this way; you’ll also find yourself getting clarity in your decision as you spend time away from it.
What is Your Story with Analysis Paralysis?
Do you experience analysis paralysis? What decisions usually leave you paralyzed and how can you break out of this paralysis state using the tips above?
Be sure to check out:
- When Life Throws You Curve Balls: How to Manage Uncertainty
- How to Make Life’s Hardest Decisions: 3 Decision Making Methods to Solve Dilemmas