If that one word filled you with fear, there’s a chance you’re suffering from paralysis by analysis in some area of your life. It’s not a pleasant feeling. Sometimes, it can even lead to outright failure—as Psychology Today notes, it might have been behind J.R. Hildebrand’s inability to finish a single lap with a lead when he was a rookie.
Simply put, analysis paralysis sets in when you have too much pressure, too much information, and few skills for turning them into a decisive entrepreneurial action. That’s why we’ve assembled some tips for avoiding this type of decision-based paralysis as you build your business:
1. Define Your Terms
Bestselling author Tim Ferriss once called this exercise “the most valuable exercise I do every month.”
He calls it “fear-setting.” The technique, somewhat rooted in ancient stoic philosophy, is simple: fear-setting forces one to sit down and evaluate the worst-case scenario that may happen if you take a certain course of action. How hard would it be for you to get back to where you are today? Are you risking too much, or are you overstating the negative consequences?
According to Ferriss, this exercise helped him cut down on hours and begin traveling the world—the downside was simply not strong enough.
The key here is in defining your terms. Project the consequences of the decisions in front of you and evaluate worst-case and best-case scenarios. Does the picture become clearer?
2. Decrease the Number of Decisions You Make Each Day
Some researchers have suggested that decision-making willpower falls into one of two categories: “stop” and “go.”
In “stop” decisions, you might have to expend energy getting yourself not to eat that second donut. In “go” decisions, you spend energy motivating yourself to go out in the cold and drive to the gym.
Decision-making is like anything else you do: it requires energy, or it doesn’t happen.
In some cases of paralysis by analysis, you may simply be fatigued in one way or another. If that’s the case, there are a few things you can do to break through:
- Decrease the decisions you make every day. Evaluate your current routine and ask yourself how much of that routine requires a decision to be made, no matter how small.
- Starting making more routine decisions ahead of time. Some people prepare the week’s lunches far in advance, which means they get to spend their lunch breaks doing nothing but opening a bag and relaxing. What routine decisions do you make that can be performed in advance?
- Automate. Use an app like IFTTT (If This, Then That) to decrease your daily burden so you can focus on the important decisions.
3. Give Yourself Rest When You Make Important Decisions
Speaking of decision fatigue, let’s imagine you’re suffering from it right now. You’ve looked at an upcoming decision with your business from every possible angle and it has you feeling stressed.
What if you simply need some rest?
You’ve heard of the old advice—that you should “sleep on it.” As it turns out, there may be something to this science. One study found that it was easy to find negative effects when it came to decision making in a variety of settings. If you face an immediate decision—and the tips from the previous section won’t help you—it may be that the best thing to do is simply rest.
Sleeping on a decision is a start. But it’s also important to give yourself added perspective with a change in scenery. Get away from the office for a while. Do something else that helps you gain a birds-eye view of what you’re considering—you may find that when you return to the decision, the choices come into focus.
4. Get Clear about What’s Most Important to You
Sometimes you might truly face a situation where the analysis shows that you might as well flip a coin. And in that case, it can be difficult to see the right option. Some entrepreneurs keep on analyzing until they find which option has a 51% chance of working out all right—as opposed to a 50% chance.
But you may be pursuing diminishing returns. Instead, get clear about what’s important to you. There’s power to saying no even when you think you may be passing up a lucrative opportunity.
When you’ve analyzed a decision over and over again, there aren’t too many ways for you to decide it—unless you’re clear about where your priorities lie. If you know what your priorities are and what’s most important to you, you’ll stand a far better chance of breaking through paralysis by analysis.
5. Make a Decision You Can Live With and Act On
Sometimes, there’s no clear choice no matter how clear you are about your priorities. Your best bet may be to make your decision and then move on with the assumption that you did the right thing. As businessman Harold Geneen once said, “Better a good decision quickly than the best decision too late.”
Strong leaders—like those entrepreneurial spirits who lead their own businesses—know that not every decision will be accurate. Some decisions may even be mistaken. But it’s far better to make a good, educated guess and then move on than it is to be left frozen by the prospect of analyzing a decision over and over again.
Cutting Through the Paralysis by Analysis
There’s no single one rule for getting rid of paralysis by analysis, because there might be different causes that are forcing you to hesitate before making an important decision for your company. But as you scroll through this list, you might recognize a situation or two that sounds familiar. Failing that, start with smaller decisions and work your way up. Don’t expect to be perfect—just expect that you should make educated decisions and learn from your mistakes as you go along. That’s all anyone can ask, including anyone affected by your decisions.