Decision Paralysis: Why it Happens and How You Can Overcome It

you got this written in blue chalk on pavement

One of my newer clients, Leslie*, reached out to me after realizing she had problems getting things done at home. The biggest obstacle was not one single project, but rather the inability to make any headway on her to-do list.

Leslie had resigned from a demanding job and arranged to start at her new company in three months. Taking a break, she figured, would give her plenty of opportunities to tackle a long list of household projects, and spend quality time with her children. But after 10 weeks off, Leslie hadn’t made a dent in the list. Additionally, routine tasks like laundry, errands and meal prep were starting to pile up. She was frustrated she hadn’t accomplished more while she had time off to do so.

Many of us are familiar with the terms “decision paralysis” or “analysis paralysis” – being unable to make a choice between two or more options, sometimes leading one to choose an entirely different option, or do nothing at all. This problem is commonly discussed in business circles – overthinking and delays cost firms time and money – but it’s also relevant at home.

Leslie is by no means alone. I see this frequently in my business, Pepper’s Personal Assistants, and it’s become more common in recent months.

Fear about making the wrong decision often stands in our way. So can feelings of being overwhelmed and exhausted. Covid-19 and other distressing events of 2020 have added multiple layers of stress and uncertainty to our lives. All of this impacts the brain, according to this recent CNN article, and causes it to slow decision making. Even the smartest and most accomplished minds are not immune: Dr. Sanjay Gupta noted that simple decisions, like choosing a tie or what to eat for lunch, were not so easy for him these days.

At Pepper’s, we have four tips that can help you deal with decision paralysis:

  • Make a list – Try to keep one list using one tool. Some people keep everything on their phones. Others use a Trello board or paper notebook. And some write each task on a separate sticky note. Use whatever option is best for you.
  • Set a timer – Keep tasks manageable by setting a timer. If you’ve got mountains of paperwork, for instance, devote 20 minutes every couple of days to sorting a pile and stop when the timer beeps. Seeing progress – even in small increments – can help keep you motivated. Schedule these small blocks on your calendar just like you would for a meeting.
  • Talk it out – Saying things out loud – what’s overwhelming, what’s on your to-do list, and why you’re feeling buried – helps in a number of ways. Verbalizing these issues can help determine what’s most important and set priorities. You can also gain clarity on what can be delegated vs. what you should do yourself. Finally, talking about your projects can decrease your overall stress level about them, especially when you have the right sounding board. In eight years of business, we’ve counseled many people on the best ways to tackle what’s in front of them and how we can help. Our team often takes on the projects they dislike the most, which lifts a heavy burden from their minds.
  • Change your scenery – If working in one area in your house becomes overwhelming, switch to another room for a while. Going outside (e.g., for a 10-minute walk or to pick up your favorite drink from a nearby coffee shop) can help shift your mindset.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to fixing decision paralysis or eliminating it altogether. But the steps above can help you make some progress. Know that you’re not alone in facing this issue. Resources are available to help you prioritize, delegate, and conquer your to-do list.

*name has been changed