A Simple Approach to Living With Less

Overcoming Paralysis by Analysis

Do you ever become so overwhelmed by all you need to do that you end up not doing anything at all? You make lists, consider what’s most important, think about what you should do first, and stress out that you aren’t getting anywhere. That’s called “Paralysis by Analysis” and it happens to me all the time.

Getting zapped by over thinking a solution or a decision is never fun. Most of the time you are keenly aware that you aren’t making any progress, yet it’s still hard to break free from it and go after what needs to be done. I suppose paralysis by analysis isn’t as big of a problem for all personality types. Some people are good at charging ahead full-speed. (Although that can bring along other challenges as well.)

What is Paralysis by Analysis?

On the outside, paralysis by analysis may look like simple procrastination. While it may appear to be avoidance, it is actually deeper than that. Some projects are so overwhelming that the best way to attack the job may not be clear. We are scared of doing it wrong or it becoming too difficult that we develop this huge mental block about it.

When we first started our transition to minimalism, there were several times that the clutter just paralyzed me. Dealing with sentimental gifts that had been passed down to me were guilt inducing and paralyzing. Trying to decide what items to save for our kids to grow into like books and games was tough as well. Even every day battles like the huge pile of computer parts that moved in over the weekend is something that I’m avoiding. I don’t know where to start on it, so I just keep avoiding it and walking right past it.

How to Overcome Paralysis by Analysis

So what do you do to get control of the clutter, project, or decision that is paralyzing you?

  1. Realize that you’re in control. When it comes right down to it, you’re in full-control of the situation at hand. You make your own decisions and no one can drag you into taking action.
  2. Get some objective feedback. I count on my husband to help me see things with fresh eyes. When you’re too close to a project or decision you often miss some very obvious steps to take. Getting outside input can help jump start our progress.
  3. Put the worst case scenario in perspective. Think about things logically. In most cases, you only have positive things to gain by making progress. You might not be any worse off by doing nothing, but think about how great it could be if you accomplish it.
  4. Jump right in. Whether you prefer to take little bites at a time or jump in full force, just go for it! ANY progress you make will feel 10 times better than not doing it at all because you didn’t know where to start.

Do you have paralysis by analysis right now? Do have any tips for what helps you overcome that feeling? Please share with us in the comments.

For more tips on how to handle a house full of clutter, check out my book Family-Sized Minimalism.


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Article originally published on 03/28/2011

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  1. setting deadlines for myself is something that I’ve found helps as well. Like when researching a purchase (which you could literally do FOREVER). I obviously want to get the best deal and the highest quality whatever so… the decision will rarely get made unless I say to myself, whatever I can learn in … two weeks or so is the information I’m basing my decision on.

    The other thing that comes to mind is that I am often paralized from moving forward because of fear of making the wrong decision. Your suggestion about worst case scenario can help here too. What’s the worst that could happen if I choose to buy this over this or get rid of this instead of keeping it.

    Good Article. Thanks. Lorie

    • Faith Janes says

      Thanks for your comment, Lorie. I like your idea of a self-imposed deadline for research and “getting ready” for a project. Good plan.

  2. Ha, ha. I’m suffering from paralysis by analysis right now. That’s why I’m perusing some blogs instead of getting started. For me, it a huge database configuration that I’m not entirely sure how to complete. I’m a Web designer by day, but NOT a programmer. When I have to delve into things like databases, I freeze up. I know I have to do it, but even the thought is so daunting that I want to quit before I’ve started.

    Thanks for reminding me that I am — in fact — in control, but it sure doesn’t feel like it today! 😉

    • Faith Janes says

      Oh fun. 🙂 My husband is a web developer so I often hear tales of unknown worlds of coding and databases. I just nod and smile and pretend it all makes sense to me.

  3. Hahaha! This has been me for most of the month. Sure, I got things “done” but I felt overwhelmed by one project that has been on the burner for months. Lots of guilt and inertia and paralysis when I thought about it.
    Thanks for the kick in the butt =)

  4. Though the current state of my home is what led me to this site, I notice “paralysis by analysis” when I have a work deadline. I’m a graphic designer and find that if I don’t have an idea *as the project is being given to me* or I feel I don’t have enough information to move forward (even though I thought I did), I get panicky and bogged down because even though I might be actively working on a solution, the idea that it might not be the *only* perfect one freezes me up.

    My friend Darlene calls “perfect” “the P word” and has eliminated it from the vocabulary of her household. A supervisor and friend used to repeat: “Perfect is the enemy of good enough.” Sounds reasonable but I must learn to practice it.


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