Excerpted from an article by Celestine Chua. writer and founder of Personal Excellence: Be Your Best Self, Live Your Best Life.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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). 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.
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?
Tip #7. Set a Hard Time Limit
In my upcoming 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. 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.