In a 2000 study, researchers set up two tasting tables inside a grocery store. At one, they had 24 exotic flavors of jam for customers to sample and purchase. The other had just six flavors.
More customers were drawn to the table with 24 flavors, but those customers were ten times less likely to make a purchase (3%) when compared with the customers who tasted just one of six flavors (30% made a purchase).
We are drawn to options. If we have several options from which to choose, we are going to produce a better result than if we didn’t have a choice.
It only takes a few options to produce the best result we can. When we have too many options, we spend all our time deciding and we never make a decision. We become stuck, like Aesop’s fox.
This is called analysis paralysis. One way or another, too many options can be detrimental to our productivity.
Here are a few strategies to overcome this choice overload and get unstuck.
- Eliminate any option you can. 70% of the shoppers who bought jam made their decision by first eliminating the flavors they didn’t want. The word decide comes from the Latin word caedere—to cut. (So does the word scissors.) Anything you can do to cut away options will help you make a decision.
- Automate any decision you can. Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, and Barack Obama always wore the same outfit. They decided once what they wanted to wear, bought several, and put that decision on autopilot. Instead of wasting precious early-day decision making energy on something that’s only going to affect your life for the next 10 hours, focus on the decisions that will matter in 10 years.
- Delegate any decision you can. This is a variation on the previous theme, but any decision you can delegate is a decision you don’t have to make. In addition to conserving your capacity for making decisions, you’ll be developing someone else’s capacity for making decisions.
Another common cause of analysis paralysis is FOBO: the fear of a better option. We don’t just want to make a decision, we want to make the right decision. The best one.
What if the cactus jam gets old quickly? Should we have gone with the huckleberry? What if the mutual fund we pick only earns 8% annually instead of 9%? What if I’d learn more about accountability by reading The 12-Week Year instead of The Four Disciplines of Execution?
What if…? What if…? What if…? There’s no end to “what ifs” if you keep looking for them.
Don’t worry about it.
Make a decision. If it turns out to not meet your needs, make another one. If you learn something new, make another one. Most decisions are easily reversed. (Not all, but most.)
Eliminate, automate, and delegate every choice you can, then give yourself a deadline. Make the best decision you can. If you need to make another one, make another one.