Analysis paralysis is the state of over-thinking and second guessing which choice to make.
You might be faced with one of these scenarios:
- are you overwhelmed by the abundance of available options?
- do you over-complicate the decision when it should be simple?
- are you tortured by the fear that you have to make the ‘perfect’ choice?
- do you have a fear of making the wrong choice?
- are you worried about what others might think of your decision?
from Greek analysis “solution of a problem by analysis,’ literally’ a breaking up, a loosening, releasing,” noun of action from analyein “unloose, release, set free; to loose a ship from its moorings,”
from Latin paralysis, from Greek paralysis “paralysis, palsy, ‘literally’ loosening,” from paralyein “disable, enfeeble,”
from para- “beside” (see para- (1)) + lyein “loosen, untie” (from PIE root *leu- “to loosen, divide, cut apart”). Figurative meaning “loss of energy, loss of the power of performing regular functions”
Have you faced analysis paralysis before? Do you tend to overthink your choices, to the point where you feel paralysed and don’t make a decision?
How Creatives Overcome Analysis Paralysis – 7 tips
Creatives often face analysis paralysis. Writers often call this writer’s block. Filmmakers are often faced with choosing between two different actors or DoP’s and end up delaying and delaying a project. If either of these situations seem familiar, you are in the right place.
Personally, I waiver between being an annoying perfectionist, to someone who races to the finish line overlooking details (like typos when I’m writing!) and creating embarrassing havoc that causes me painful consternation and sleepless nights!
In this article I am going to try to share what I have learned about running Raindance over the past thirty years. Most days I have to make many decisions, mainly small. But every few days I need to make a medium range decision, and a few times a year I need to make a major decision – one that will affect the future of Raindance for the next months or even years.
1. Is it a big decision or a small decision?
The biggest lesson i learned was to put the decisions I needed to make into two piles: Big ones and little ones. My anal side pushes me to make a list. If you were beside me in the Raindance office you would see my little black book with pages of lists.
Every time I am faced with a decision I ask myself these 3 simple questions:
- How important is this decision?
- What is the impact of this decision – is it short term? Or long?
- It is all goes wrong, what is the worst thing that could happen?
If the decision isn’t going to make any difference a month or two from now and if there are no serious consequences from making a bad decision, then it is a small decision. Just make it. Observe the impact. Then move on.
What makes a big decision?
Sometimes you will be faced with a decision that will have an impact a year or more from now. Sounds like a big decision! Other times, you will be aware of the impact of a bad decision. This could create a tangle down the line that will take an enormous amount of energy to unstitch. This is a big decision. Don’t do what I’ve done too often in the past and rush it. Take your time to weigh up all the options.
Few decisions are as important as you think they are. Often they have very little impact on our career. Only a few decisions have the ability to affect your career in the long run.
Examples of small decisions:
- which type of cellphone will you buy
- which movie will you watch and study
- what lens to use on a camera
Examples of mid-term career decisions:
- what city are you going to live in
- whether to collaborate with someone on a project
- which organisations / schools should you join
Examples of big career decisions:
- whether to sign a long term contract with an agency / producer / director
- what creative career path to follow
- deciding on your personal branding
- maintaining a personal relationship / starting a family
Before you commit to a big decision, have a look at your career objectives.
2. What is your objective?
In November 2020 I was sitting in a British Independent Film Awards board meeting. We were discussing the future of the awards. So many arts organisations, theatres and cinemas have been decimated by COVID. We were struggling with how to handle the transformation of the BIFA’s into a charity. This is a question I’ve grappled with since I founded BIFA back in 1998.
The BIFA’s have run more or less the same way since I founded it in 1998. When the new directors came on in 2015 they brought very ambitious plans to expand the company and increase its profile. To do that we would need more staff and resources. Given the type of film organisation it was, applying for charity status seems like an obvious decision, but as anyone who runs a private business knows there are certain advantages to avoiding the corporate constraints a charity would bring. We were floundering.
Then, a board member I hugely respect asked 3 simple questions:
- What do you want to achieve?
- How do you measure success?
- Who is your audience?
Wow! I was immediately able to see the future. And I could measure success by manifesting a future without financial stress.
I think these 3 questions are excellent for filmmakers too. Why do you want to make this film? Are you in it for the money or for the glory of festival awards? And who do you think will be attracted to your film once complete?
By the way, should you ever have trouble deciding who your audience is, check out the brilliant strategy devised by Dr Kira-Anne Pelican in her Deep Characterisation class.
3. Do you suffer from the curse of perfectionism?
Nothing in life or filmmaking is perfect. Or so I have learned. You will likely have very specific goals for your writing and filmmaking. But what if you fail to achieve them?
What is more, you might fall into the rabbit-hole of perfectionism.
Filmmaker, colleague and film director Simon Hunter has very clear advice. If, he says, you wait for the perfect script you will procrastinate forever. Simon’s advice is to recognise that no script is ever perfect. Just make sure it is good enough.
Perfectionists might be shocked to hear this. They will argue that everything you do should be to aim for perfection in every creative project. I don’t agree.
Let me explain.
Let’s say you have a really good idea you are giving birth to. It could be a piece of music, a screenplay or movie. And let’s say you need something or someone to become available for the perfect piece. Rarely does this happen. As artists we are always making the most of the resources at hand and they are rarely, if ever, perfect.
I’ve learned that you make your creative decisions with what you have at hand. and keep moving on. Unless of course, you are faced with a major decision. In which case, don’t rush to a decision. Take the time you need to explore each of the available options.
4. Can you edit out bad options?
There have been times when I have made a long list of options. The list can get very lengthy. As a result I’ve found that my thinking gets cluttered.
See if you can edit out the bad decisions and end up with 2 or 3 choices. Then revert to #2 above:
Ask yourself which decision choices best serve your main objective?
5. Which childhood stories still paralyse you?
I have a dear friend here in London who seems paralysed by making a simple decision in a grocery store. Which toothpaste to buy? Or, in which supermarket to shop. Yet, when faced with big decisions, like which house to buy, or where to go on holiday they are capable of deciding at the drop of a hat.
Turns out their parents were always reminding them to be frugal. It turns out that they were heavily criticised if they made the wrong decision about simple household items.
This is what Celestine Chua would call childhood stories.
Flitting between two small items that are essentially the same is no big deal at all. What is the difference? A few pennies? It’s the fear of buying the ‘wrong’ thing, and being thrown back to the dread of being judged by a parent or mentor. And bingo! Analysis paralysis.
I grew up within a religious sect – the gentle people. I was told that going to the movie theatre was wrong because it housed the devil. It took me a long while to realise the huge power and benefit of movies. It was only when I overcame my so-called ‘childhood stories’ that I was able to embrace a life in movies and start Raindance.
6. Can you set a deadline?
Another variation of analysis paralysis is based on Parkinson’s Law.
Parkinson’s Law is the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
If you allow an hour to do a task, it will take exactly 60 minutes. If you set a deadline of three weeks to finish a draft, it will take three weeks. If you embark on a creative project and don’t set a deadline, you will never finish.
Whenever I am asked to write a blog post, I ask ‘What’s the deadline?’ I can then schedule it in.
I’m also in the enviable position of being offered many different opportunities. It’s what I love about my work at Raindance. I’ve learned to give each new project a time budget and I keep track of the minutes of each phone call, each email I need to write and each meeting. For some new opportunities I’ll devote 10 hours. Others a 100 hours. The amount of time I budget depends on whether or not it’s a big or small opportunity. This has really helped me manage my time.
When one has a deadline and goes over the time allotted, then one runs the risk of spending time on a decision that isn’t worth the effort.
7. Do you have a mentor?
It’s really important to be able to sound out ides with someone you trust.
When I started Raindance I was very lucky to have two or three people with whom I could bounce ideas. I didn’t always agree with them. But I always felt the time they gave me helped clarify my decision making ability. And I felt a lot more secure at making decisions that were unorthodox and disruptive.
Raindance has a body of mentors on a variety of filmmaking topics, from screenwriting to directing to producing. This is a paid service, but you might find it useful to get some advice from a working industry practitioner.
I’ve learned a painful lesson about analysis paralysis. It usually means I have been obsessed with minuscule details. The cure? Ask yourself why you have this extra time to spend on these tiny details. Ask yourself if there are bigger creative goals you can set for yourself. Can you write new blog posts, make new videos, learn a new skill?
I think you will find that any hint of analysis paralysis is banished when you set more ambitious creative goals for yourself. Those niggling little and petty decisions will be dealt with swiftly. And you, and your creative projects will rise to the next level.