I recently saw a podcast post titled something like: “How Thinking Kills Willpower“, and I thought – well yes, I think it does. When I listened though it was actually discussing decision fatigue and how, after several hours of making countless decisions, we get worn down and we’re much less able to make good choices. Also great points – and there are some good strategies for reducing the amount of decisions you can make in a day (like laying out your clothes the night before, or eating the same breakfast each day). But the idea of thinking, or overthinking, getting in the way of doing wouldn’t leave me.
I started thinking about how sometimes, if we think too much, we can make the wrong decisions – even when we’re thinking about those very things we’re trying to work on.
Is Too Much Thinking a Bad Thing?
Thinking is usually regarded as a positive activity and something we should all spend more time doing. So how can thinking too much actually be detrimental?
Take exercise for example. We might decide that we’re going to exercise 5 times a week to get healthier. But on day 3, we wake up and start thinking about how we really need to rest our muscles, how we didn’t sleep enough and an extra hour of sleep is more beneficial than the exercise for today, and how we’ll over do things, and how we can actually fit in some exercise later in the day, and how 4 times a week is more than plenty anyway. Then we roll over and go to sleep. None of that thinking was necessarily incorrect and they were all valid points, but ultimately, this ‘thinking’ probably got in the way of achieving our goals.
Or take writing. If we decide that we’re going to write a regular blog (or spend some time each day writing an email series/copy for our website or whatever), after a couple of days we can easily convince ourselves that this is no longer the highest priority, that now is not the best time for writing, that it’s important to maintain our social media presence, that our numbers really need some analysis right now, that we actually write much better in the evening/morning, that new research shows that less frequent, longer posts are more effective, etc etc. Again, it’s possible that some of this thinking is quite valid, but we’ve got in our own way.
In fact, our minds are really good at convincing us of almost anything. Anything to avoid doing the things we know we need to do.
Overthinking gets in the way.
In reality, most of what we need to do is actually pretty simple. But unfortunately it also involves hard work (or at least work that is not on the path of least resistance).
It seems to me that our brains (well at least mine) try to complicate something that really just needs time and effort put into it. Are we subconsciously doing this just to get out of hard work?
But thinking obviously cannot be a under-rated either. We’ve all made mistakes where a little more thinking would have avoided. So I think the key here is to…
Separate Thinking and Doing
Make a plan, then do the plan. Forget about perfecting the plan. Once the plan is made, stop questioning and adjusting, correcting the plan. Just do the plan until a pre-agreed point in time when you will assess your progress and the validity of the plan.
What does this mean? Here are a few different business examples…
Your goal: Increase sales by 10%
Your plan: Spend 2 hours a day contacting prospects
Do NOT overthink things and decide to:
- Hire a sales coach
- Redo your landing page
- Get a brochure made up
- Build a complex database for tracking your clients
- Investigate outsourcing to an outbound sales team
Instead, simply spend the time getting on the phone and contacting your prospects. Depending on your sales cycle, after a month or more you’ll have much better information and can decide what the best use of your time is for increasing sales.
Your goal: Be a better manager and get the most from your team
Your plan: Meet with each of your direct reports for a weekly update meeting
How overthinking can derail you:
- You decide that you’ve already chatted with Jane enough this week so you can miss your weekly update
- You decide that the client proposal is too important so you’ll skip this week’s updates
- You decide that John is doing so well you don’t want to interrupt his groove so you’ll skip his meeting
- You can’t face discussing that awkward issue with Malcolm so you postpone his meeting
Instead, simply do the meetings and have the conversations – good, bad and otherwise. In a couple of months you’ll have enough information to know whether this approach is working or whether you should make some tweaks.
Your goal: Reduce your outstanding debtors
Your plan: Contact 10 overdue debtors every week
Be careful you don’t go into overthinking mode and decide to;
- Skip your calls this week because there’s plenty of cash in the bank at the moment
- Skip calling business XYZ because you spoke with them last week
- Skip your calls because no-one is responding
- Start investigating outsourced debt collection services
- Skip calling business ABC because they’re such nice people and you feel sorry for them
- Skip calling business DEF because they’re awful people and likely to throw some criticisms your way
Instead, just sit down each week and make your calls. Don’t think too much about who to call, just go through your list and make the damn calls. After a few months, you can assess whether this approach is making a difference.
Do the Things You Said You’d Do
These are just some of the ways that overthinking can ruin things. While it’s quite possible that some of our ideas and alternative uses of time might be better than our original plan, if we’re honest, we’re usually thinking of them because we’d rather not do the task at hand. Instead, we need to stop thinking that there’s a perfect plan out there and understand that good execution will beat a great plan any day. Or as someone more clever said…
“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” George S. Patton
So, what to do?
Pick something you’re working on and articulate your plan in a very concrete way. Then choose the time you’ll reassess things (maybe put it in your calendar). Then, stop thinking about it – because it’s not smart, it’s just overthinking. Then, simply do the things you said you’d do!
Have you sabotaged your plans by overthinking things?