Overcoming Options Paralysis and Completing Your ‘To Do’ List
Entrepreneurs usually value prior planning. There are many different types of planning and organizing systems off course but there are some common characteristics of most of them that sometimes become a problem. One of them is the problem of breaking things down into too many options and over-complicating the planning process…. Resulting in ‘options paralysis’.
'Options paralysis' is a commonly used psychological term that describes what happens when you are given too many choices. Having too many choices is a byproduct of the age we lie in. A good example of it happens when you go to the supermarket and have to choose a certain type of soup.
If there's only one type of soup, it’s an easy choice. On the other hand, if there are twenty types of soup, which is usually the case when stores carry the normal ‘name-brands’ plus their own store brands (which are probably made by the same companies)….you’ve got a more difficult choice.
In that case, you might find yourself browsing for ten minutes before coming to a decision. Some studies show that in some scenarios people actually just leave without buying any soup. What's more, being forced to choose from so many options can sometimes trigger a stress response and cause you to experience a certain level of anxiety.
The anxiety (for some people) comes because they constantly wonder what their meal would have been like if they would have chosen another brand.
We encounter similar circumstances in business and it can also be a serious problem if you're constantly frozen by choices and unsure of how to proceed. Even worse, if you keep finding yourself in this position you can end up 'fatigued' by making so many choices, rather than actually the implementation of the choices, to the point where you start making bad decisions – or struggle to make decisions at all.
How to Prevent Fatigue and Paralysis
So how do you prevent this options paralysis and avoid 'overwhelm'?
It’s not hard. One option is to try and avoid making 'small' decisions that can tax your decision-making capacity throughout the day. Steve Jobs did this by usually wearing the exact same thing. This left him with no need to make the choice of what to wear and therefore (he felt) he had more energy to make important work decisions.
During your work day, letting someone make your lunch or having a set meal plan can help you to feel less exhausted by decisions you'll have to make later on.
Another useful strategy when faced with decision choices at work is to create yourself a guide in anticipation of situations you know you’ll face eventually. This could take the form of a flow chart which can channels you to the best decision. Or perhaps it might be a spreadsheet such as those used by purchasing departments to select the best providers to win contracts.
Finally, (and this is the most important) you need to learn to not waste time on regretting past decisions. While this might be easier said than done, this type of mental discipline can be trained and what it essentially means is that you won't be wasting energy making 'retrospective decisions'. Make up your mind, then move on!
How to Make Sure You Complete Your To-Do List
There are many different kinds of activity planning but “To-do” lists are probably the most common. In theory they are helpful tools that can make you more productive than you otherwise might be. But while they are generally intended to help you complete more work, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they can end up having the precise opposite effect and make you get less done.
This happens if you are the sort of person who is continuously writing to-do lists and who is never actually getting anything done. You waste more time planning than doing and the very tools, procedures, and results of all your planning become a quagmire.
Also, for some people a to-do list can actually be a very convenient way to put off getting real work done and thus a form of procrastination. And if you're constantly writing to-do lists that don't get done, that’s certainly counterproductive.
So… to-do lists are valuable, but only when done right. Here are some common-sense tips on how to help you do them correctly…
- Keep Them Short
One way to help yourself complete your to-do list is to keep it as short as possible. If it is too long, it will not only be daunting to take on but it will also be unlikely that you're going to complete the whole thing. In that case, you’d be better off making a shorter to-do list that you can actually complete – even if it means leaving a few things for tomorrow.
- Put the Most Fun/Easiest Item First
Many people think they should do the most difficult tasks first and they will put those items at the top of their lists. Although this might seem like a good idea in theory, that’s not always the case. In fact, it can actually end up being a negative thing if it results in you putting off doing the work at all.
Imagine it's the first thing in the morning. You just got up. If you're one of those people who wakes up very slowly (like me) you very possibly might be a bit groggy and you might not have the mental constitution to do something you're not really excited about. In fact, you’ll be more likely to find an excuse for putting off the work at this time of the day. Because of this common human tendency, some people find it better to put an easy task right at the start so that you can ease yourself into the work.
- Don't Complete the Last Task
This might seem counterintuitive, but to make yourself more productive tomorrow one of the best things you can often do is to be slightly less productive today and to leave the last task started but incomplete.
The reason this tends to work very well is because the human brain hates unfinished work. In other words, the fact that something is started will mean you feel compelled to complete it at the start of the next day. And at that
So, it's that simple. Following these guidelines will usually make sure that you chose wisely among your entrepreneurial options and take action on those choices. So…get going.