By Manny Rodriguez, M.S.
bSci21 Contributing Writer
How do you behave when it comes to decision-making? Do you spend a long time thinking over every single decision? Are you sometimes afraid of making the wrong decision? 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?
You may be suffering from paralysis by analysis.
Paralysis by analysis is the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome. This state of over-thinking about a decision leads the individual to the point where a choice never gets made, thereby creating a paralyzed state of inaction.
Paralysis by analysis can be observed in the workplace, such as the way that information affects workplace productivity, dating (Stone 2015), and even general happiness (Kaiser, 2014).
A person faces analysis paralysis when he/she is
- Overwhelmed by the available options
- Over complicating the decision when it could very well be quite simple
- Compelled to pick the “perfect” decision, thereby delaying making a decision until due research is done
- In deep fear of making a wrong decision, hence stalling or avoiding decision making to prevent a wrong decision being made
Some Organizational Behavior Management studies have paid attention to the behavior of decision-making utilizing teleconferencing (Rawlins, 1990), the use of intermittent reinforcement (Hantula and Crowell, 1994), and most recently discussing function of decision making in organizational culture change (Houmanfar et al., 2015). Beyond the field of Organizational Behavior Management, Paralysis by Analysis has been written about conceptually, offering some “tips” on how to avoid it all together.
So, if you frequently experience paralysis by analysis, especially when you are in the midst of your professional work, don’t fret; try these 9 tips to help you get through it all.
Note: Be sure to pair enough reinforcement for making your decisions so as not to be completely derailed by negative consequences. Each of these tips can help you contact some form of positive consequences towards making a decision, avoiding paralysis by analysis.
Tip #1. Differentiate between big and small decisions. Ask yourself:
How important is this towards making a decision?
Will the outcome of this decision make a difference a year from now?
What’s the worst thing that can happen if I don’t do this?
Give only the time and effort that your analysis deserves, based on its importance and positive outcomes to you and others.
Tip #2. Identify your objective(s). Do you know what the end goal is? Do you know what decisions need to be made today versus in the future? Your objective should be to achieve something from the decision – making progress on a project or fixing a problem.
Tip #3. Perfection is not the key. Unless it’s a life-altering decision, perfection isn’t the key. Making a decision should simply be a step towards the right direction of an ultimate objective (see tip 2). It is ok to have a “ok” decision to support making progress towards your end goal.
Tip #4. Eliminate the bad options. Having too many options can lead to further frustration. Remove the clutter to free you up to make a decision. If you are not sure how to eliminate the bad ones go back to your objective for making this decision (see Tip #2), identify the options that will definitely not meet your objectives, and get rid of them. If you are still not sure, move to tip #9.
Tip #5. Pick one and go. If you are stumped by the options and you are not sure which one to pick but none of them would be harmful or detrimental to your objective, then just pick one and try it. You can evaluate the outcome of the decision over time but at least you made a decision and didn’t allow yourself to be paralyzed by over analysis.
Tip #6. Let go of your history surrounding decision making. Start anew, do not over think about how you made decisions in the past, especially if you are one who suffers from paralysis by analysis. Simply start fresh, work through your objectives and the options, all towards making a decision.
Tip #7. Set a hard time limit. Your time is precious, and thus setting a 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 how best to set a limit. That being said, most organizations are looking for progress to be made and thus you may already have a time limit set for yourself. If that is not the case, set one for yourself to avoid over analyzing.
Tip #8. Delegate the decision to someone else. This tip is a little tricky 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. Be sure you know what the decision is, what the implications are in regards to consequences to your objectives, and then evaluate over time the impact of the decision.
Tip #9. Get the opinion of someone you trust and go with it. This is slightly different from tip #8 as you are still in the driver seat. You are seeking council, advice, mentoring from someone you trust. The goal here is to listen so they can help you make the decision. Use this tip wisely as your “someone” will be looking for you to take their advice or at the very least make a decision.
Do you suffer from paralysis by analysis? We would love to hear from you in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!
References for your Reading Pleasure:
Boss, J. (2015). How to overcome the analysis paralysis of decision-making. Forbes.com. Retrieved on November 12, 2015, http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffboss/2015/03/20/how-to-overcome-the-analysis-paralysis-of-decision-making/
Chua, C. (2015). http://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/10-tips-make-decisions-quickly-like-ninja.html
Kaiser, S. (2014). 9 Things to stop overanalyzing if you want to be happy. Mind Body Green.com. Retrieved on November 11, 2015, http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-15454/9-things-to-stop-overanalyzing-if-you-want-to-be-happy.html
Hantula, D.A. and Crowell, C.R. (1994). Intermittent Reinforcement and Escalation Processes in Sequential Decision Making. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, Volume 14, Issue 2, June 1994, pages 7-36
Houmanfar, Alavosius, Morford, Herbst & Reimer (2015). Functions of Organizational Leaders in Cultural Change: Financial and Social Well-Being, Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 35:1-2, 4-27,
Kane, B (2015). The Science of Analysis Paralysis: How Overthinking Kills Your Productivity & What You Can Do About It. Blog.todolist.com. Retrieved on November 12, 2015, https://blog.todoist.com/2015/07/08/analysis-paralysis-and-your-productivity/
Rawlins, C. (1990). The Impact of Teleconferencing on the Leadership of Small Decision-Making Groups. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, Volume 10, Issue 2, February 1990, pages 37-52
Stone, E. (2015). 3 Ways to Stop Over-Analyzing Your New Relationships. Your Tango.com Retrieved on November 12, 2015, http://www.yourtango.com/experts/elizabeth-stone/stop-over-analyzing-relationship.
Manny Rodriguez, M.S. has over ten years experience, working with organizations across the globe within the Fortune 1000. He is an accomplished practitioner in the field of Behavior Analysis, highly regarded by his customers and colleagues alike. Manny is especially skilled at facilitating business teams to execute strategic plans and preparing leaders to engage employees to reach their maximum potential. Manny holds the position of Director of Continuing Education and Product Development for ABA Technologies, a pioneer in online professional development of behavior analysts, and is also the President of the Organizational Behavior Management Network. You can contact him at email@example.com.
Manny Rodriguez and ABA Technologies, Inc provides products and services for Behavior Analysts and the general public. Online Professional Development in ABA, Coaching/Mentoring Behavior Analysts, Speaking engagements such as Workshops/Seminars/Webinars, and Expert Consulting in ABA, OBM, Instructional Design and Teaching Behavior Analysis. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.