Being thoughtful and deliberate in your decision-making is a great trait to have as a leader. It’s overthinking you have to watch out for — when your contemplation becomes so consuming that it leads to stress, worry and inaction, rendering you unable to make decisions.
COVID-19 conditions can promote overthinking, as workers experience higher rates of burnout, emotional exhaustion and company culture erosion. What’s more, without the face-to-face interactions and in-office discussions we’ve come to rely on, it can be challenging to make and trust our decisions. This is even more true for leaders, who have to manage teams from afar while also thinking about things like return-to-office plans, talent acquisition and a lot more besides.
Overthinking sucks up time and energy that could be better spent on more important parts of your job. So how can you break out of your cycles of overthinking and eliminate — or at least minimize — decision fatigue?
Here are four things you can do to help curb your overthinking for a healthier, happier work life:
1. Plan, but don’t worry
When starting something new, there’s a lot of potential for overthinking. Maybe you’re leading a new project, and you can’t help but think about everything that might potentially go wrong. You spend time anticipating all the mistakes you might make and how to fix them — or even how to explain yourself if the project turns out poorly.
While planning ahead can help you make better decisions, there’s a difference between planning and worrying. If you’re only focused on all the ways things can go wrong, you won’t be able to see what’s going well.
Recognize that when it comes to making decisions as a leader, there are often no obvious right or wrong choices. Try to focus on being prepared rather than thinking too far into the future. At the end of the day, it’s about trusting your intuition and moving forward based on what seems right for you and your team.
2. Evaluate the consequences
Another way to curb your overthinking is to evaluate the impact of the issue or decision. Are the stakes really that high, or are you blowing them out of proportion in your mind?
If you’re unsure, try applying the 10/10/10 test to your situation. Let’s say you’re leading the launch of a new product at your company. If you’re overthinking a decision and worried about making a mistake or failing, think about how you’ll feel about your decision 10 weeks, 10 months or 10 years from now.
This framework can help put things into perspective; if you doubt you’ll even remember it in 10 weeks, it’s probably not a consequential issue, and you can focus on more important things.
However, if you think you’ll still be impacted by your decision in 10 years, you’ll know to put more time, energy and resources into your choice.
3. Take a break and switch gears
If you know you’re overthinking but find yourself unable to get out of your head, try to switch gears.
Take a break so you can approach challenging situations with a fresh perspective. For the best results, aim to fully disconnect from work on your break, whether that’s by taking a walk, doing some mindfulness exercises or chatting with friends.
Taking a break actually helps increase productivity. In fact, workers who take frequent breaks end up getting more done, according to a study into the work habits of employees.
There’s a neurological reason for this: our brains work in bursts of high productivity for a while and then switch to low activity, so making your habits mirror your brain activity is highly effective.
After taking some time away, you may realize that whatever you were thinking about is much more manageable than you thought and be able to approach the problem with renewed energy.
4. Take time to reflect
Last but not least, consider scheduling 20-30 minutes a day to reflect on your worries or overthink to your heart’s content.
While this may sound counterintuitive, studies show that it can actually be an effective way to reduce anxiety.
By designating a constrained, limited amount of time a day for focused worrying, people not only spend less time doing it overall but often end up finding a solution to their problems during this time.
To sum it up …
Overthinking can have a negative effect on your health, but often, you can learn to harness it and use it in more productive ways.
By ditching perfection, evaluating the consequences of your worries, switching gears when needed, getting input from your peers and taking time, you can build healthier habits and conquer overthinking once and for all.