When I'm not stuck in analysis paralysis (more on that in a moment), I love folk singer Joan Baez’s insight that “action is the antidote to despair.”
However, have you ever noticed that sometimes the desire to take action is what leads to despair (or at least discomfort), especially if you don’t know how to do it?
To give a personal example, this is my first week back to my regular office space after over two months and I started the day off feeling confused on what to do.
After having spent 10-ish weeks running my business while country-hopping through South East Asia (December) or practically never leaving my parents’ house in Germany (January), I couldn’t just get back to a regular working routine the second I got back to the United States.
I wanted to take massive action but I wasn’t clear on what that could look like. By asking myself one of the following questions (guess which one?), I managed to get back on the horse. Without that question, I might have just stayed stuck in analysis paralysis, instead of being productive and seeing my projects to completion.
Of course, your situation might be very different to the one I was facing this morning.
That’s why my “Massive Action Framework” contains 3 distinct phases and a total of 6 questions. Together, these cover most issues that hold people back from taking action.
Let’s jump right in:
Phase 1: avoid analysis paralysis by conducting a pre-action analysis
The term “paralysis analysis" basically means that the habit of over-analyzing often keeps people from simply taking action.
Those of us who are pretty intellectual by nature are most likely to suffer from analysis paralysis because we (erroneously) believe that we can think our way out of a situation.
(Spoiler alert: we can’t. Believe me, I’ve tried…)
While you have to avoid analysis paralysis, this doesn’t mean that you should jump head-first into taking action without any prior thought. A little planning can go a long way when it comes to increasing your productivity.
The key is to have a good structure that allows you to analyze the situation without over-doing it.
The following four questions will give you that structure:
1. What are the steps you need to take?
Sometimes, people don’t take action because they don’t know what they should be doing. This question helps you gain more clarity on how exactly you can take action.
A word to the wise: if you can’t answer this question, it’s tempting to skip it and to just start doing something.
Don’t give into that temptation! When we take action without clarity on what to do, we’re like dogs chasing their own tails. That doesn’t sound very efficient, does it?
If you don’t know what steps to take, your task is to sit with that question until you gain more clarity.
Having just gone through a similar process this morning, I know that that’s not the easiest thing to do, particularly if we feel pressed for time.
That’s where discipline comes in. Make yourself sit with that question, particularly if you don’t want to. Keep in mind that it’s ultimately way more efficient to spend time getting clear on your priorities than spending that time doing something that doesn’t actually matter.
When you find the answer to that question, write it down, preferably on a piece of paper with an actual pen. (In general, I find that when it comes to productivity, pen and paper is superior to digital approaches.)
→ A potential answer to this question: “I need to answer two inquiries from potential clients and then I need to send out an email to my list and announce my new course.”
2. What potential obstacles might get in the way?
Sometimes people don’t take action because of (real or imagined) obstacles. By getting clear on what might get in your way you can then trouble-shoot in the next step.
When answering this question, keep in mind that obstacles can be of a physical/logistical or of a purely emotional nature.
Sometimes, we don’t take our fears seriously but the truth is that it’s often easier for people to resolve logistical challenges than emotional ones (particularly if they don’t have a trusted friend or coach to help them through it).
→ A potential answer: “Answering the inquiries is easy enough but I’m afraid of sending out the email, announcing my new course. It’s a big step forward.”
3. What support do you need to remove these obstacles?
So often, we forget that we can ask other people for help. By asking yourself this question, you won’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need to do it all by yourself.
→ A potential answer to this question: “I need to call my friend Mindy. She’ll be excited about what I have proposed and that will encourage me to send off the email.”
4. When will you complete this?
When you try to avoid paralysis by analysis, it’s helpful to set deadlines. In general, I would encourage you to set short deadlines (hours or days as opposed to week/months) because people tend to treat these as more real than longer ones.
Keep in mind that setting short deadlines might require you to break down a larger task into smaller ones.
→ A potential answer to this question: “I will finish answering the inquiries today. I will draft the email tomorrow and call Mindy to get her feedback and support. After that call, I can send off the email.”
Phase 2: Action
After answering all these questions, it’s time to go and just do it. When people are stuck in analysis paralysis, they often look for a secret to taking action. The secret is that there’s no secret.
Just do the thing.
Phase 3: Post-action analysis, instead of paralysis by analysis
After taking action (you did take action, didn’t you?), it’s time for another quick analysis. The key here is not to get bogged down in excessive detail or to be hard on yourself about real or perceived shortcomings.
Instead, this phase is all about taking stock of what happened and to gather valuable insights for the future.
These two questions will help you with that:
1. How did it go?
Quickly jot down how it was to take action for you.
→ A potential answer to this question: “Once I got started, it was surprisingly easy. I feel proud of myself for having done this.”
2. What can you learn from this for the future?
By answering this question, you can gain valuable insights for the future. Write down your answer to this question every time you’ve gone through this process and regularly revisit what you have written down in the past.
That way, you integrate these lessons into your life which will make it easier and easier for you to take action in the future.
→ A potential answer to this question: “It’s so helpful to have support. Without Mindy, this would have been a lot more challenging.”
When it comes to any framework for moving out of analysis paralysis, the danger is that people just read the information without actually applying it.
Please don’t fall into this trap. After all, as Roy T. Bennett put it: "Dreams don’t work unless you take action.”
Let’s make your dreams work! Begin by asking yourself the first question, the one that helped me this morning. Then, follow through on your plan.
I look forward to seeing you on the other side!
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