I’ve been planning to write this post for approximately seven years. Every possible paragraph has been carefully researched. Each of my thoughts has been passed by a number of focus groups.
(In fact, the focus groups were themselves chosen by focus groups, although it took me several months of careful focus-grouping to discover that that was the correct strategy.)
As such, I am confident that this post is the very best it could possibly be, except-
Maybe there’s an angle that I haven’t yet considered. I must give it some more thinking time and get back to you soon…
Trapped in Over-Analysis
I hope you don’t experience such extreme levels of over-analysis, but I think you’ll recognize this common trap.
In place of action, addiction to over-analysis leads us to endlessly plan, ruminate, worry, poke, prod, and fumble. (Note to self: are these the best possible words to use? Be sure to research this thoroughly!)
Here are some common symptoms of over-analysis, along with some ideas as to how each could be alleviated:
1) Needing to Have All the Answers in Advance
It’s easy to believe that you couldn’t possibly begin until every last question has been investigated, and every final detail has been decided. This eye for detail can, of course, be a strength, but when misused, it provides the perfect excuse for inaction.
Escape this trap: Only plan the most crucial details in advance and allow some details to be filled in on the fly. Trust your future self to handle it!
2) Asking for Endless Second Opinions
Okay, so your careful research has indicated that twenty people like the sound of your project. That’s great! But what if the twenty-first person doesn’t like it? Better keep asking… just in case someone, somewhere, doesn’t like it.
Asking others for their opinions is useful and important, but there has to be a stopping point.
Escape this trap: Have confidence in yourself and your ideas. Recognize that not everybody needs to like what you do; as long as somebody appreciates your work, that may be enough.
“Every little detail must be perfect before we start. What color will the border be on the logo? Should it be two pixels wide? Or three?! WE CANNOT POSSIBLY LAUNCH UNTIL WE KNOW THIS.”
Escape this trap: Remind yourself that it’s better to have a product out there with an imperfect logo (or to have an imperfect job, or whatever) and then change it later if necessary.
It’s usually okay to make necessary course corrections later, and it’s better to have something than nothing.
4) Being Unable to Tolerate Uncertainty
Sometimes I get stuck because I’m seeking something I can’t possibly have: a cast-iron guarantee of success in advance.
Escape this trap: Remind yourself that crystal balls don’t exist, and that a little failure usually isn’t the end of the world.
(And if failure would be the end of the world, perhaps that’s a sign that you’re biting off more than you can chew on this project. Is it possible to scale it down to a level where failure doesn’t mean certain doom?!)
5) Overuse of Lists, Systems, Tools
Systems are great, but we’ve all heard of the student who spends all their time making a revision timetable and never doing any actual revision.
Escape this trap: Review your use of time. A good rule of thumb could be that no more than 10% of your time should be spent making systems; 90% should be spent using those systems.
(Of course, pick a percentage that works for you. A good rule of thumb is never to blindly copy anyone else’s rules of thumb.)
The Main Thing: Act!
All of these ideas push us towards action and away from rumination. Planning is wonderful, but when it becomes endless and unproductive, we need to escape the over-analysis trap and get started.
Once you’ve determined that you’re doing analysis unnecessarily, take your first step of real action, and trust that the preparation you’ve done will make the second, third, and following steps smooth enough for you to handle.
Do you have any tips for breaking out of endless analysis? Share with the community in the comments!
Neil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety. Along with writing more books, he puts his time into standup comedy, computer programming, public speaking and other things from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you found him at www.walkingoncustard.com and on Twitter as @enhughesiasm.