A few days ago, I talked about analysis paralysis and if it is the reason for inaction. I think a lot of people relate to it because it hits home with many. Most of us get tangled in trying to find the perfect solution to our problems. Understanding what stops us from taking action and the reason behind it is the first step in finding ways to overcome the hurdle we create for ourselves.
So, what exactly is analysis paralysis?
“Analysis Paralysis is when we have too many options, and we get so overwhelmed that we fail to choose an option at all. It is a state of over-analyzing a situation or problem, and as a result, a decision or action is never taken; as a result, paralyzing the outcome.”
I am sure you have been in this state some time in your life for one or the other decision. How do you overcome this? How do you not fall prey to analysis paralysis? Here are some logical ways that work because we target the problem area that pulls us into this state.
1. Prioritize your options
When you have a lot of ways to go about something, you will be overwhelmed, and you will be sucked into the decision of which option is the most beneficial. Our goal is to come out of that. Treating all the options as if they are going to have the same impact puts them in the same priority block, and that is what results in analysis paralysis.
What you need to do is detach yourself from the decision. Look at it as if it doesn’t concern you at all. Then categorize each option in different priority levels based on what can help you take immediate action, what is more accessible or needs fewer steps, or even what makes the most sense if you isolate it from other options and if it was your only one.
Although I am telling you to give it some thought while teaching you how to not overthink it – this thinking follows a purpose and once that purpose is fulfilled, you won’t be paying it any more attention. So purposeful thinking is better than just fretting over it as a whole. You will then know what option to go with, and it will still be an informed decision.
2. Write down a mission statement
Sometimes the vision or the goal gets lost when you are trying to figure out what a great way of doing something is. When you do not have a clear view of your goal, then making decisions can be even more difficult. Defining your goals on a piece of paper and then checking every option you come up with against it is a great way to stay on track and not get tangled in too many thoughts.
Eliminate anything that does not make sense with your end goal. Yes, it can be a better fit to get you to the halfway point of whatever you are aiming to achieve in the short term, but if there is an option that can see you the whole way through, then you need to strike out the enticing halfway option.
3. Eliminate the bad options
What are the bad options? The ones that need you to invest more than the other options, may it be money, tools, time, manpower, anything. The ones that might not hold in the long run. Anything that increases stress. Anything that causes a strain on your resources.
Some options, though attractive, might not be the right fit considering your current situation. You can use the priority list and your mission statement to prune out the bad options so that you are left with 3-4 workable options, and the decision becomes easier.
4. Set a deadline to make a decision
When you have an open deadline, chances are you are just going to keep overthinking and overanalyzing everything and watch as the opportunity sails past you because you are stuck in analysis paralysis. This is why you need to set a deadline so that you are forced to make a decision. You need to assign yourself just enough time to go over the options but not enough for you to overanalyze everything.
You can set a day or two for small decisions, a week for moderate ones and as long as you think is workable for something really big. Try to keep it concise enough for you to feel the pressure of the deadline but not so short that it stresses you out and you feel rushed.
5. Break big decisions into small parts
Usually, analysis paralysis is common when the decision has a huge impact. We are wired to choose familiarity and safety over anything challenging that can frighten us, which is also one of the common reasons for hesitation to act. So, instead of choosing one option directly, what you can do is break down the option into all the steps it is going to require.
Once you have all the steps in the options laid out bare next to each other, it becomes easier to eliminate the ones that are going to take a lot of small steps to make them happen. If the small steps are easier but more in number, it can still make more sense. And deciding on the basis of micromanaging can be the key to you finally coming to a decision.
6. Don’t wait for perfection
One of the common factors for inaction is people waiting for that perfect option. You have to realize that perfect decisions don’t always happen. There is a compromise involved, if not in all, then in most of the decisions.
While you wait for your perfect break, someone else will make it with their mediocre decision. A mediocre decision is better than no decision. Sometimes “good enough” is exactly what it needed. It will at least get you started.
7. Trust your guts
If an option feels better in your gut than the others then maybe it is the best you can choose. If you have a plethora of options and you somehow keep coming back to the same one, then you need to actively consider it.
Sometimes, our subconscious mind knows exactly what is going to work, but we ignore under the pretense of being well researched and well informed with over-analyzing every aspect of every option.
Most of the times, the need to be 100 percent sure about the solution you are choosing is nothing but fear of acting disguised as wanting to be perfect. Your mind is just giving you reasons to keep putting the decision making off instead of actually making a decision. In a moment like this, it is better to trust your gut and go with it.
Analysis paralysis is unavoidable when you think about it. You are constantly going to be stuck in it when you are in the stage of building your business or making changes in your life. The main thing is knowing what to do when you feel like you don’t know what to choose. These steps will help you realize when you are entering analysis paralysis and how to treat it.
All it boils down to is differentiating the solutions or options based on priority by breaking them into smaller steps and eliminating bad ones or the least feasible ones, and also setting a deadline on your decision-making process so that it does not go on forever.
How to Prioritize When Everything Seems Important
Prioritization is the key to achieving your goals. It helps you focus on what is important. While talking about how to prioritize your tasks to help you achieve all your goals, I briefly touched what you should do if everything seems like a priority –
If you find yourself with more than three top priorities, then that’s a problem. It means you haven’t figured out what tasks are more important. Figure out which ones can wait until later. If all of the tasks are of same nature making them equally important, then that means you need to cut out some tasks, you might have taken on more than you can handle.
Having a laser-like focus on only a handful of things is essential here so that you can have only the tasks that matter the most on your list.
Most of us struggle with this. Prioritizing is not easy if you don’t know how to differentiate actual priority from the task that seems like one. Even if everything on your plate is supposed to be equally important, you will still need to find a way to break down which ones you should be spending your time on.
How we slice up our time and what we dedicate our time to often dictates what direction our life is going to take. The first question one has to get past is whether or not everything really is of equal importance – when you start questioning is when you will start looking for ways to deal with the problem the question possesses.
Dealing with Conflicting Priorities
When you are trying to deal with your personal and professional life at the same time, the tasks together can become more daunting. We face multiple demands on our time every day because of that.
In the professional scene, often the tasks that are urgent override the schedule, resulting in loss of control and inattention to priority tasks. So how should priorities be determined?
To begin with, ask questions.
Let’s take an example. Suppose you are in your office. You have a project that needs to be done today. A colleague comes by and asks you to help with something that is also urgent and needs to be done by the afternoon. Now, you didn’t say “no” because that might be rude. You have an urgent task that is not your priority and you have your own project that is a priority but not as urgent as this other task.
Ask questions to yourself –
- Is taking this additional work going to affect your workflow?
- Do you want to do this?
- Is this stressing you out or causing you anxiety?
- Are you stretching yourself too thin trying to be helpful?
- Can this work be done by someone else?
If the answer to even of these questions is “Yes” then we move on to the next part, that is, learning to drop the task because it is not a priority.
“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically – to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside. The enemy of the ‘best’ is often the ‘good’.”
What Do You Do? The Art of Saying “No”
Everyone considers their project to be the most important and wants information or action immediately, they won’t always be considerate of your work. All most people care about is getting their work done. If you have trouble saying “no” chances are that your work will keep suffering. How to deal with this?
Even though you feel bad about not being able to help your colleague, it is okay. You have to put your work first. Of course, special circumstances do demand changing your priorities but most often than not saying “no” will immediately put the dilemma to rest.
If multiple people are involved in your project, find out where your piece fits into the overall project. Taking charge of your space and your time will allow you to focus on what is important, meet deadlines and minimize job and personal stress, this starts with learning to say “no.”
Why Writing Down Your Tasks Help
We have a scientific term to explain why writing down goals helps. It is called the generation effect. What it basically means is that you remember information more when you have generated it with your own mind than when you have read it. There’s no one specific answer to why it happens but a lot of studies have been conducted on it, and this phenomenon is used in quite a few things.
You must have heard people say “Goals that are not written down are just wishes.” You can dream or talk about it all you want, but until you write it down on a piece of paper, it remains a half-hearted attempt – nothing more than a wish.
Another thing and an important one at that, is encoding. Our memory has the ability to encode, store, and recall information. By writing your goals down, you are storing it externally by putting it on paper. Now, by visiting it again and again, we are encoding it into our brains. There are few intensively used types of encoding. Two types are at work here, Visual encoding and Elaborative encoding. I have discussed all of this in detail when I talked about why writing down goals can help you achieve them faster.
Basically how it works is that we write something and that can be visual encoding, looking at that, again and again, evokes the feelings associated with that task, the reason of it, if you may. That is elaborative encoding, this is how priority kicks in. The elaborative part helps us associate reasons behind the task and the consequences associated with it, and in turn, its correlation with our ultimate goals.
This eventually helps us only pick out priority labeled tasks to make us more productive and efficient.
Spending Your Time Right
Most people generally panic when they have to tackle their tasks by priority because everything feels important. When everything looks like a priority, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. It is difficult to skillfully juggle multiple priorities and competing responsibilities at the same time. There are times when you have to manage the workload at the office as well as home.
What we often fail to keep in mind when handling multiple activities is to prioritize them according to their importance. Many people just try to handle various activities as per their instinct and end up never doing the important things. Later, they might blame it on ‘not having enough time’, which obviously is untrue. You have enough time, you just have to start spending it right.
If you don’t know what your priority is, you will never have enough time to get your work done. As Laura Vanderkam says, “Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels.”
Prioritizing your to-do list is very simple if you learn to differentiate between your actual priority and what feels like a priority. Learning to say “no” to whatever is hindering your chances of success is the next big thing. If you learn these two things, you are pretty much sorted. All there is left to do is employ strategies to actually get the work done.
5 Non-Negotiable Things You Need to Do Before Your Bedtime
What you do before going to bed can help you end the day on a positive note even if it wasn’t a particularly positive day, and will also help you set the tone for the next day. The activities you do also help you to immediately fall asleep without lying in bed tossing and turning.
If you have had a good night’s sleep, most of your health problems will go away. The problem with the start-up and entrepreneurial culture is that we try to work as much as we can by sacrificing everything – food, sleep, fun, and eventually health.
“A well-formulated nighttime routine will help you wind down and sleep better.”
Good sleep helps you start your next day well-rested, bright, fresh and stress-free. If you have been trying to wake up early, the first step is to go to bed early to get in a full sleep cycle.
If having a morning routine is important to take care of yourself and make the most of your day, so is having a night routine. What you do at night helps you wrap your day up feeling satisfied and that helps you fall asleep better which then helps you wake up feeling energized and motivated.
A well-rested body and a well-rested mind will help you achieve a lot more than working 24-hours non-stop and this is why you should always do these things before you turn in for the night.
1. Express Gratitude
Expressing gratitude is an activity that is becoming more and more popular with the millennials. With fast-paced lives, always running to get somewhere or get something done – we have forgotten to stop and appreciate the little things in our lives.
In the race for getting what we want, we fail to show gratitude for the things we have. Being appreciative of what you have achieved, what you have, people you love and who love you can fill you with joy and optimism. An optimistic approach toward things helps you move forward with a renewed vigour and helps you lead a better life.
“When I’m worried and cannot sleep I count my blessings instead of sheep.”
You shouldn’t only be appreciative of external factors, you need to acknowledge and motivate yourself too. While I suggest giving yourself positive affirmations every morning, acknowledging your achievements for the day when you are about to go to bed will help you feel better about yourself and will help you curb the always rising self-doubt.
There are gratitude journals that give you prompts about things to write or you can write three things you are thankful for each day.
2. Set Goals for the Next Day
I have talked in detail about why you should prepare your to-do lists in the night, but here’s the gist. At the end of the day, you know what you have achieved and what remains. This gives you a chance to revise the list and make a new game plan for the next day.
When you make a list at night, you can spend your time in the morning focusing on yourself rather than working out a schedule for your day. You will wake up with a schedule and a sense of direction. Mornings should anyway be dedicated to your health and well-being.
3. Read for 45 Minutes to 1 Hour
If you want to learn about anything, read.
If you want to grow, read.
If you want to polish your skills, read.
If you want to sharpen your mind, read.
I have always loved reading and keep looking for ways to read more because there is so much to read and I never feel like I have enough time to read them all. Only reading isn’t important, comprehending what you read is as important, especially if you are reading non-fiction.
Reading isn’t limited to only books – with the internet comes a ton of reading material to choose from. With successful people telling the world what they read and with them sharing their reading habits, everyone trying to make it as an entrepreneur has started to pick up more books, which is a good thing.
If you can’t find time to read during the day, then allot 45 minutes to an hour before your bedtime to reading. This will make sure that you have a schedule and help you get some reading done every day.
Meditating is one of the easiest ways to get in touch with your inner self. It lets you spend time with your own thoughts and emotions. When you focus on your inner self, you give yourselves the opportunity to take time out to sort your thoughts and acknowledge your emotions. You don’t keep pushing things that are bothering you and you don’t file unacknowledged emotions to the back of your mind to crop up later.
“Man should forget his anger before he lies down to sleep.”
You start becoming more aware of your emotional and mental health and learn to let go of things that might have bothered you throughout the day. It also helps you become more focused and improves your concentration. It helps you feel in control of your life and yourself.
5. Go on a Walk
Walks are a great way to sort your thoughts while getting some exercise in. Going on walks after dinner helps with digestion and because your body gets worked up a little it always helps you sleep better.
Talking an evening walk or an after-dinner walk is one of the most common routines that people share – spending time in nature, getting some fresh air, working the food down, and getting some exercise are few of the many reasons.
Bonus: Set Your Alarm
This is an obvious one. But, I would suggest revising your alarms every few days. Waking at the same time if you recently have started needing to put in more hours at work just doesn’t make sense. Your body won’t be getting the full rest it needs.
“Finish each day before you begin the next, and interpose a solid wall of sleep between the two.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Yes, waking up early is important, but what is more important is getting complete rest. If you need to wake up late then, by all means, change your alarm to a later hour.
Having a setlist of non-negotiable things you need to do before going to bed helps you be mindful of what energy you carry with yourself to sleep. Try going to bed pissed at things and try going to bed feeling peaceful – you will feel the difference in how long it takes to fall asleep, in the thoughts that enter your mind, and in the quality of sleep you get.
And of course, don’t forget to brush and floss and wash your face!
Why You Should Prepare Your To-Do Lists the Night Before
To be on top of everything, having a set morning routine and night routine that you follow religiously is very important. A routine makes sure that you do all the necessary tasks to ensure that your day running smoothly. The habit of making to-do lists and following it is one of the beneficial habits you can cultivate in order to get all your work done without being overwhelmed.
Many people wonder if making lists at the end of the day is better than making a list in the morning or vice versa. While in the morning, you might be fresh with a fresh outlook toward the day, chances are that making a list in the morning isn’t the best way to ensure productivity. Making a to-do list isn’t enough, knowing how to tackle it needs some planning.
When you wake up and get through your morning routine, it can be difficult to sit down to plan the day. You want the morning to be light and filled with little tasks that are more about self-care than business. The serenity of the morning is the perfect time to be looking after yourself. If someday you happen to wake up late, all your planning will go askew if you leave making your task list to morning.
At the end of the day, you know what tasks you have managed to complete, and what areas of work needs your attention next. This makes it easier to create a to-do list for the next day because you will be making a list on the data from the day. While you can do the same in the morning, the urgencies of certain tasks aren’t going to be that fresh in your mind.
You also have the opportunity to sleep on your list and then revise it in the morning with tasks that would need more attention. Before bed is the best time to create a game plan for the next day. It’s like getting a head start to your day because you already made a plan the day before.
When you make a list at night, you already know what you need to focus on first the next day. What’s your MIT (most important task) and what work you can fit in, considering your schedule. You don’t have to wake up to the task of planning and can use your sharpness in the hours of the morning to actually getting work done.
“Setlists are tough because you come up with this structure of how the songs are going to go from one to the next, but at the same time, you have to be spontaneous and take requests and change the setlist at the drop of a hat.”
-Billie Joe Armstrong
You can put indicators to tasks that are priorities, urgent, or can be put-off, and then in the morning, you can prioritize them with more vigilance. This is something that will help you go about your day as soon as you wake up because you will have a direction to follow. This particularly helps if you have too much on your plate and you are overwhelmed by the amount of tasks that need to be done and feel clueless. With a to-do list prepared, you will wake up with a mission and that will help you feel motivated.
While I am an advocate for waking up early, I know not everyone can afford to. Many of us work lates or have some weird working hours because of international businesses or just because of personal preference. If you are not an early riser, then making a list in advance will let you know at what time to wake up to keep your day running smoothly.
For me, I make a list of my three MITs (Most Important Tasks). I always advise to make a list of 2-3 MITs and try to achieve them as soon as possible, they are critical tasks that yield the most significant results. Once you achieve the most important and difficult tasks, you already have a sense of accomplishment and achievement that will help you get to other not so important tasks throughout the day without worrying constantly.
Having the most important task out of the way gives you an opportunity to be actually present in your workday and work for other things without the constant pressure of this looming task that you will have to get to eventually. You get to give your 100% to everything you do because you are sorted by working on tasks based on your priority.
“I made a huge to-do list for today. I just can’t figure out who’s going to do it.”
That being said, while lists can be a huge help in giving you direction, in the end, you are the one who has to follow them to get the work done so don’t make your lists overwhelming. I understand the urge to fill up our lists with all the tasks that are swarming our minds, I used to do that. I made mile-long lists but never could complete it in the day and that discouraged me.
Then I learned the importance of being smart and setting realistic goals. I started making a master list in which I jotted down every task that entered my mind and then segregated them daily. I focused only on the tasks that were on my today list. Having put the other tasks on another list made me not worry about them and I could focus on my daily tasks better.
“People are remarkably bad at remembering long lists of goals. I learned this at a professional level when trying to get my high-performance coaching clients to stay on track; the longer their lists of to-dos and goals, the more overwhelmed and off-track they got. Clarity comes with simplicity.”
A brain dump is essential to keep your brain from worrying about every little thing. So, make a main overall list and then your daily to-do list can be a subset of it. Every day when you make your lists in the evening or before going to bed, you can go through your main list and take that into consideration against what you achieved today. Based on both things, you can make a much more efficient list. This will help you work little by little to achieve your long term goals as well.
“Mostly I make lists for projects. This can be daunting. Breaking something big into its constituent parts will help you organize your thoughts, but it can also force you to confront the depth of your ignorance and the hugeness of the task. That’s OK. The project may be the lion, but the list is your whip.”
After doing a brain dump of all your ideas and worries, take things out from it to do each day, and do not look at the main list you made again while going about your day. This will free up your mind from the plethora of tasks that need to be done and will let you focus on what you can do now – making sure you give your best in whatever you are doing. There’s no point stressing over the bulk and doing nothing to make a dent in it.
You have to consider your strengths, your weaknesses, your schedule, the probability of last-minute tasks, the average time to get a job done, any kind of raw data that can help you get into the habit of making an almost foolproof plan.
If the list is overwhelming you and discouraging you, then you have to understand that it’s not the lists that overwhelm us, it’s what and how much we put on them. Ever heard about not overfilling your plate, this is exactly it.
There will be days when you won’t complete all the tasks on your list – no matter how hard you try, some days are just not helpful. The unfinished tasks will bother you – if they don’t, then you can use the same list, but chances are that they will. I suggest throwing away that list and start a new one every day.
For most people, when they just add on to the existing list, they start the next day already feeling like having failed because they have tasks from yesterday to go through. No matter how much you do in the day, you will keep feeling unaccomplished because your mind will go in an ‘if only’ mindset where you will keep wondering that if you had finished those tasks yesterday then you could have done more work in the time it took you to get to them today.
This is not a healthy attitude to begin your day with. So, start a new list. Put the tasks again on the list. Now, it is a new list with all the remaining and new tasks together. It will make you feel like you have a fresh list instead of the feeling of working on a backlog. Whatever makes you feel positive about your workflow is what you are going to apply eventually – it is a process of learning and growing.
Making a good plan is half-battle won, that is why it is important to be prepared. To-do lists are your daily plans. If you prepare them smartly and then apply them to the T, you will realize that getting work done is easier than it always seemed. Making a to-do list the night before gives you the opportunity to start your day feeling prepared and ready to deal with anything that comes your way.
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