Do you find it difficult to make decisions without analyzing every single minute detail? Do you hone in on specific words people say and try to decipher their meaning in a variety of contexts? Do you find that even simple projects take more time than you anticipated because you can’t get past the initial steps? If you said yes to any of those questions, then you, my friend, are an over thinker.
There is a fine balance between being thoughtful and over thinking. You want to consider the bigger picture and put energy and attention into your work, but when the “if x then y” scenarios turn into an unmanageable list of possibilities, you’ve missed the point entirely.
Here’s an example. At a three-day conference I attended recently, we were asked to create a short presentation that creatively outlined the ideas we had learned in the workshop. My group performed a silly infomercial, which was horribly embarrassing, but which was well-received. Another group did a fairy tale skit that was dramatic and hilarious. One group, though, did nothing. They admitted, once they saw what the other groups had come up with, that they had overthought the whole concept. They were either unable to get past their performance hang ups, misunderstood the assignment, or maybe even disagreed on the learning outcomes of the workshop. Whatever it was, they never got past the first step of coming up with an idea to present.
Now think of the things you do at work every day and how you might overthink those projects. I make service desk schedules, and that is definitely an area where I overthink! I spend more time than is probably necessary making sure my co-workers get their favorite shifts at their favorite desks, making sure everyone has a break, making sure there is always backup available for Interns and Reference Assistants, making sure there are always Librarians in Charge in the building, making sure the right desks are double-covered at the right times on the right days…it’s enough to make me twitchy just writing about it! And yet, I know that every person on our reference staff is perfectly capable of working at any desk at any time, that they will fill in for each other if asked, that they will step up when needed, and they don’t really need me to orchestrate to such a degree. It will all be fine. Wow, look at that – I’m cured!
If only it were that easy. When our name is attached to a project, we want it to reflect our standards. Sometimes, though, too much planning is detrimental, and as you can see in the workshop example above nothing ends up getting completed.
Practicing mindfulness is a strategy that over-thinkers can try. Worry less about past mistakes and future possibilities and make decisions that are positive right now. The workshop group could have simply made a poster that reflected their indecision. A crazy Venn diagram or flow chart that imitated their discussion would have been fine. It wouldn’t have been the best presentation, but it would have been honest and productive, and would also have met the parameters of the assignment. It would have been something.
Another idea is to limit your choices. I’ve been on committees that spent hours on chair arrangement for a workshop, or on what to serve for lunch, or on what color the button on a new web site should be. I’ve also been on committees that were given a limited list of choices from which to pick, and they managed to choose a room setup, a lunch menu, and a color scheme all in under an hour. Give yourself limited choices for regular activities and you can simply make a quick decision.
Be creative where it counts. If the choices are buff vs. cream, then even a mistake isn’t that costly. Put your time and energy into the decisions that really matter and let go of the rest. Don’t overthink it.