When was the last time you had a terrific idea and did everything you could to implement it right away?
For me, it’s been a long time. I have lots of ideas, and since my imagination has very few boundaries when it comes to feasibility, many of them are best left in the admittedly entertaining “impossible and/or impractical ideas” folder that takes up more of my brain space than it should. But there’s another folder, not too far away, that I’ll call “actionable ideas”. This one’s full of perfectly implementable ideas that get stuck there because of my inability to execute. I take these ideas out and look at them all the time. I even use the answer box to look into how other people might be doing similar things, or I write about them, watch videos, buy books, brainstorm…in other words, I get lost in the research process. Nearly every idea I come up with is in this vortex of analysis paralysis.
Perhaps easy access to information has played a part in this problem. Back in the days when you had to put on pants and go to the library, it was easy to draw the line on what was a reasonable amount of research into your idea. Eventually you went home and took action. But on the internet, no one knows (or cares!) if you’re wearing pants, so the process can continue far beyond its utility. Sure, you can learn every single thing about every aspect of your idea, but then you’ll be very old, and no one will care anymore.
So, what does my analysis paralysis look like?
- I assume someone has already thought of a better solution than I have, or could.
- I assume there’s a good reason that a) the problem hasn’t already been solved, or b) the idea hasn’t been implemented by someone else.
- Embedded in this assumption is the secondary assumption that I’m not qualified enough to be part of the group of potential solution providers, so I should just shut up and sit down.
- I assume that there’s something wrong with my idea, obviously, or someone else would have done it already.
- I somehow get past 1, 2 and/or 3, and begin the process of researching, collecting resources, writing about it, asking friends for input, setting up collaboration tools, buying a bunch of books, talking it over and deciding I need more background information, and then watching my focus and motivation die in a smoking pile of open tabs, overstuffed Evernote notebooks and the reams of notes I’ve taken from half a dozen tutorials, but—you guessed it—haven’t taken any tangible action on.
So what’s the solution? Action. I’m not suggesting that every single idea I’ve ever had, even the ones in the “actionable ideas” folder, are destined for success. Surely the actual good ideas in that folder are the minority, and even those need refinement, development and revision. But they won’t get any of that if they stay in the folder.
So! Here are the tangible steps I will take to rid myself of analysis paralysis:
- Keep moving forward. Every step toward guiding an actionable idea into the light of day is a positive step forward for that idea, and for every other actionable idea. I will develop the good habits associated with trying things out, and the concomitant habits of making changes, adjusting my goals, and even deciding when an idea isn’t as good as I thought it was. None of these crucial habits will get the practice and development they need if I don’t keep moving forward.
- Remember that I don’t have to know everything. Internet comments can easily lead one to believe that if we don’t have all the information there is, and haven’t considered every angle, we can’t share what we know, or what we think, online. Instead of letting this stop me from sharing my ideas, I’m going to start seeing each encounter with criticism as an opportunity to engage and to learn. Of course, there’s nothing to learn from a mean asshole whose only contribution is to be horrible, so I’ll learn this about such people instead: how good it feels to delete them and carry on with #1.
- Know that some of my work will suck, and that I’ll fail at things. Many others have said this better, but here’s my take on it: If I don’t ever try anything, or put myself out there, or turn my ideas into projects, I’ll never fail, and nothing I create will ever suck. But I’ll have bupkis as my life’s work.
- Find my tribe. Charming and brilliant as I am, I cannot appeal to everyone. I can’t attract readers and clients who want to learn from a charming millennial, a seasoned corporate veteran, or someone with a background in coding. I am not any of those people. But somewhere out there, there’s a core readership I can cultivate, who want precisely my perspective and advice. I need to find those people.
- Create a weekly plan. I’m a big advocate for the 5-year plan, but for the purposes of this self-improvement project, I need something a little more targeted. This is a step I’ve planned to take for years (yes! years!) and my procrastination stops today. I’m an old-fashioned gal when it comes to lists and plans, so my weekly plan will go into a paper planner, with an abbreviated electronic version to use as a backup and checklist. Each idea I want to implement will be broken into manageable steps, and every week will have a goal.
- If I want this to be a job, then do the damn work. This one doesn’t need an explanation.
If you, like me, suffer from analysis paralysis, and want to share your strategies for coping with it in the comments, do! Or, better yet, go get started turning your ideas into projects, and your projects into a living.