At some point in their lives, most people will find themselves battling “analysis paralysis” and being completely unable to get something done (or even started). Sometimes this is caused by a lack of confidence or an underlying desire to procrastinate. It can also be the result of trying to tackle something that is simply too large and becoming overwhelmed. No matter what the cause is, the result—getting nothing done—is the same. Fortunately, there are solutions to these impediments and they all start with a decision.
The choice will vary according to the exact situation but ultimately it can be reduced to selecting a task to accomplish and committing to getting it done. This probably seems like an oversimplification and a rather obvious step, but there is a lot more to it than you first see. For example, you have to not care if the decision you just made is right or wrong so long as you have begun to move. Once in motion, you can always change the direction if you need to. This is the most difficult part for those struggling with a lack of confidence.
For those of you who are overwhelmed by a large project, you need to identify something small and obvious that you can get done quickly and then do it. The first task will lead to another small piece that can then be accomplished in the same way. Of course, you might find that how you solved the first piece doesn’t fit with what you need to complete the next and now you have to change your approach. I can already hear some of you saying that if you had just spent a bit more time analyzing the project that wouldn’t have happened. That’s true. It’s also true that if you had continued to analyze the project rather than starting to develop it then you would still be at square one and possible still not been aware of the problem at all.
In both of the situations above, you may have noticed some common elements: doing something rather than thinking about it and not being afraid to make a mistake. The latter of these is probably the most important and hardest to deal with. No one wants to spend their time being wrong. Many of us grow up being told that we can only get somewhere in life is if we “do it right the first time” otherwise we’ll lose our spot to someone that can. This logic runs counter to any form of innovation. How do you do something that has been done before correctly the first time? How do you even know it is correct? You won’t until you’ve tried it.
Just to be clear, I am not suggesting that you should run off half-cocked and start projects without any planning. That is as sure of a way to fail as never getting started at all. The correct time to take the kind of step I’m suggesting is when you have a basic understanding of what you want to accomplish but you are delaying because you aren’t sure of what should be done first or if what is required can be done with your current tool set. Those are times that you need top take a deep breath and jump in. It really is ok to make mistakes so long as you learn from them.
I offer you a few quotes to back up my philosophy:
- “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Lao Tzu
- “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison
- “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” – Dr. Seuss
For those of you reading this who fall into the group of procrastinators like me, I also have some words of wisdom. Set a goal and hard dates for accomplishing your tasks. This will provide you with some additional motivation. If you are concerned about possible failure, make your tasks a little more flexible. Instead of promising finished deliverables, you can specify that you will complete a proof of concept or perform a simple experiment. Ultimately, my advice is that doing something is better than doing nothing.