You have been operating in a stupor for 3 weeks, flitting from one case to another and facing a task list with no end in sight. Nights and weekends are filled with worry over forgetting minuscule details, stressing over the next day’s work, and wondering if a reprieve will ever come. You are overwhelmed, simple choices are morphing into agonizing decisions, and productivity is diminishing. You are suffering from decision paralysis.
To Choose or Not to Choose
Decision paralysis, or analysis paralysis,1 is the state of over-analyzing or over-thinking a decision so much that sifting through and weighing out options actually prevents decision-making.
Feelings of inadequacy or burnout can lead to decision paralysis.
Feelings of inadequacy or burnout can lead to decision paralysis. Sufferers often feel so conflicted over seemingly small details that they cannot choose among options because they fear their choice may have cataclysmic results.
Perfect is Not Always Best
Making a “perfect” decision is not the goal. There is not a right or wrong choice. Every decision has pros and cons. Unless life-threatening, it is all right to make an “OK” decision. Sometimes the cost of taking more time to reach a decision outweighs the selection itself.1
Self-compassion is integral to self-support through a crisis. Fostering a shame-free environment, a workplace that is nonjudgmental, is key in helping colleagues who suffer from decision paralysis. Team members who feel supported in their decisions and hear the mantra “There are no wrong decisions” are more likely to respond with quick and confident conclusions.
Take the following steps if suffering from decision paralysis.
Differentiating between big and small decisions determines how much energy to spend making each choice. Create a ranking system based on the decision’s importance. Consider the potential outcomes or impacts, the urgency of the decision, and the worst thing that could happen. Break a question that seems large into smaller pieces and face it one step at a time.
Capitalize on Past Approaches
In the midst of a paralyzing choice, take a moment to reflect. Examining how past choices were made provides a road map for future decisions. Consider what helped when making decisions, how decisions were made, and what resources were used.
Ask the same questions of a paralyzed team member to help him or her uncover additional information.
Go It Alone or Ask for Help
An introvert may need to set aside some quiet, alone time to meditate, while an extrovert may need to reach out to team members, friends, or family to brainstorm options together.
Promote Coping Skills
Enhancing coping skills combats or prevents decision paralysis altogether. Reduce stress in other areas of life: Order takeout to reduce the “What’s for dinner” blues, skip book club, or join a carpool for the kids’ activities. Simplify areas of everyday life to save more energy for confronting confounding choices. A good night’s sleep, a run, or a yoga class can clear the mind for decision-making.
Use Tools of the Trade
Use responsive communication tools when stunned by the options. Websites, diagrams, models, maps, and algorithms can provide new ways of looking at problems and may jumpstart the flow of ideas and solutions, leading to a confident and timely decision.
It is easy to become overstimulated, exhausted, inundated, and finally paralyzed when making seemingly simple decisions in fast-paced environments. Enhancing coping skills, enlisting others’ help, adopting a shame-free mantra, reducing pressure, and looking at past decision-making methods moves team members suffering with decision paralysis toward a confident choice.
Editor’s note: Lisa Hunter, an alumnus of Colorado State University, is an advocate of the human–animal bond and veterinary–client communication, and interim clinical counselor for The Argus Institute at Colorado State University.
Jane R. Shaw, DVM, PhD, is associate professor of veterinary communication for professional excellence at Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. She is a recognized expert in veterinarian–client–patient interactions, implements the communication curriculum at CSU, and conducts skills-based communication workshops nationally and internationally.