Whether someone is at the helm of a major corporation or responsible for departmental decision-making in a smaller organisation, the pressure is on. Business owners may worry about their decision making, as they feel that much is riding on the outcome. They may even suffer sleepless nights in the process. Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way, and this type of behaviour can, indeed, be counter-productive.
Business advisers have a great phrase that sums this problem up nicely: the paralysis of analysis. It adequately describes the endless circle where the unfortunate executive goes through innumerable 'what ifs' and, more often than not, for no valid reason. Indeed, it's good to deliberate, but there comes a logical point where that must lead to a conclusion. Anything past that point is a waste of time and effort.
Often, the individual is simply chasing perfectionism. Psychologists describe this as a trait with the ability to turn life into 'an endless report card on accomplishments', which could be a slippery slope towards unhappiness. Perfectionists want to avoid failure at all costs and often look at things through a negative lens as a consequence. Often they are afraid of an outcome that would never happen or at least be very unlikely. And don't forget that there is an even more significant risk here: if deadlines are missed, or new business goes elsewhere, there could be repercussions.
Avoid perfectionism like the plague. Instead, break down the decision-making process into parts and decide which one is more important or will have a more significant impact. Consider how a single decision could move everything closer to the goal, and if some information is missing, decide what steps can be taken to gather it. Remember the Chinese proverb – 'The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.' This approach will certainly help with those more significant projects or decisions where paralysis can come into the frame.
Put every decision into perspective and prioritise them. Most of these decisions will not have any significant consequences, and it's essential to get them out of the way first. For example, you may need to sign up for a specific online service to help you deliver a project. If you are happy with the price and other details, go ahead and complete the transaction. If you need further research to look at alternatives, prioritise this first and delegate as necessary. The act of delegating will allow you to complete the other step as soon as you receive the essential information.
Cyril Northcote Parkinson said that work expands to fill the available time. Guard against this by setting deadlines, sticking to them, and making those crucial decisions as they come. If possible, seek an accountability partner. This may be a fellow departmental head or somebody who understands the pressures and can help drive the process forward. Setting deadlines may seem counterintuitive, as a ticking clock might be something else to worry about and become another reason to overthink. However, deadlines can generate more focus, and as they arrive and decisions are made and habits are formed.
Business executives may recoil in horror when told that they should 'trust their gut'. This may be contrary to everything they have been taught, and they may feel that they cannot possibly make a decision without research, documentation, planning or consensus. Yet, intuition can be powerful and the human brain can make rational decisions even when traditional data forms are unavailable or time is short.
Just imagine what could happen when overthinking or procrastination becomes a thing of the past. All that additional mental capacity can be freed up, allowing you to go on to bigger and better things. So, avoid the paralysis of analysis, Prioritise your decisions and avoid the hunt for perfectionism. Draw up routines so that you can do everyday chores without too much additional thought and, where appropriate, trust your gut feeling. It's amazing how much more productive you could be when you avoid over-deliberation.
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