How Analysis Paralysis Can Make You Miss Opportunities – And How You Can Beat It

‘So much to do, so little time’ is basically the bumper sticker for the entire modern world.

When it comes to small and medium-sized business owners, the myriad hats you wear – accountant, marketer, IT specialist, customer service – can make life even more complicated. You have multiple decisions to make every day, and with each decision tying into another business management task, it can be overwhelming.

It’s a vicious cycle: the more overwhelmed you feel, the less inclined you are to sort it all out and integrate each action into a coherent strategy, and the more things get out of control. In the end, your business stagnates and revenues suffer.

Analysis paralysis has you firmly in its grasp. How can you stop over-analyzing, start making decisions, and move forward? First, let’s look at what’s going on in your brain.

The Science Behind Analysis Paralysis

The Paradox of Choice states that having too much choice is stressful. When faced with too many decisions and a smorgasbord of choices, the brain shuts down like an overtired toddler who proceeds to fling themselves on the floor in a fit of ‘I don’t wanna.’

Too much choice extends particularly to the glut of online information or that which is being shuffled back and forth via email and texts: a 2010 LexisNexis survey showed that, on average, employees spend more than half their workdays receiving and managing information rather than using it to do their jobs.

Current research in neuroscience and psychology shows us that as a result of this overload, overthinking lowers your stamina on mentally demanding tasks, kills your creativity, saps your willpower, and makes you less happy.

When you overanalyze a situation, the repetitive thoughts, anxiety, and self-doubt decrease the amount of working memory you have available to complete challenging tasks, causing your productivity to plummet even further, says Becky Kane on the Todoist blog.

Decision fatigue sets in and prevents you from clearly assessing the situation, so it becomes much more difficult to make high-quality, long-term choices.

Tips for less paralysis and better analysis

Figure out when you do your best work, your clearest thinking. If you’re a morning person, set up your decision schedule as an inverted pyramid with morning at the top for making big/major decisions and trickle down to smaller/less important ones by end of day.

Design a decision-making strategy that includes:

  • Set time constraints when making decisions. Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. Many people successfully use the time-blocking strategy as a solution.
  • Identify one main objective and stick to it. Using it consistently as the basis for decision-making means you won’t get lost in multiple options or overthink myriad possible solutions. Anything that doesn’t align with your current strategic goal(s) should be promptly eliminated or set aside for the future.
  • Don’t think of decisions as permanent. Rather than viewing a decision as your final answer, give yourself permission to consider it as an experiment. This frees you up from overthinking about all the possible outcomes and encourages you to make decisions quicker since you know you can always change your mind later. Ultimately, you’ll be doing yourself a favour: this iterative approach, used commonly by startups, allows you to be nimbler and make successive improvements.
  • Limit information input: If you’re researching information and resources to help you make an informed decision, don’t get sucked into a black hole. Approach your research with goals and intentions, set a volume or time limit, and determine the number of resources you’ll use before you begin.
  • Stop overthinking your opportunities and learn to focus on what’s currently the most important and/or the most logical next step to building your business. 

In a Harvard Business Review article, Ed Batista of the Stanford Business School shared this insight on decision-making and analysis-paralysis: “Before we make any decision — particularly one that will be difficult to undo — we’re understandably anxious and focused on identifying the ‘best option because of the risk of being ‘wrong’.

But a by-product of that mindset is that we overemphasize the moment of choice and lose sight of everything that follows. Merely selecting the ‘best’ option doesn’t guarantee that things will turn out well in the long run, just as making a sub-optimal choice doesn’t doom us to failure or unhappiness. It’s what happens next (and in the days, months, and years that follow) that ultimately determines whether a given decision was ‘right.’”

Instead of being paralyzed by overthinking, turn yourself into the action hero of your own business adventure: make a decision, choose a course of action, and get going!

Resources to help your business recover

and persevere through the pandemic and beyond.