Overthinking Can Be Dangerous

Posted by on Feb 2, 2012 | 0 comments

Today has been a flurry of non-activity.

Well, not at my desk, at least not today…but have you ever looked at the clock and realized that you had accomplished nothing but had spent hours mulling things over? I imagine we can all remember a day (or a month) when we managed to while away our productive time being unproductive.

Mulling is good in moderation. Overthinking is dangerous, at any level.

What about…

  • the nonprofit organization that feels disconnected from their donors and wants to reach out, but spends a year putting together a plan before sending even one email?
  • the well-meaning development officer who wants the thank you note to be perfect, but in the creation of this perfection allows weeks and months to go by before a simple thank you is sent to the donor?
  • the fundraising department that can’t reach consensus on a new database and stops updating donor information on the old database until a decision is made?
  • the weekly column that’s due on Friday, but on Wednesday still isn’t drafted?

How can these overthinking efforts be corrected?

Fundraising is an “in the moment” industry. Yes, it’s also a long term effort. Yes, we are working on sustainable, long-term relationships. But the reality is, if you miss the moment, it’s gone. Another moment may provide the opportunity for another timely ask or a personal thank you, but the initial opportunity is still lost. You missed it.

So, let’s work on planning, but not overthinking our efforts. How can we do avoid analysis paralysis (a favorite term of a former boss)? Here are a few tips to get you thinking (not too much) about how to rethink (not too much) your thinking processes:

  1. Track your thoughts – use a ledger and keep track of the time you spend contemplating or reworking or rewriting a project. Take a real look at the time spent preparing and add a value to it (X hours x hourly rate). Does this pencil out, is the value of time to project realistic?
  2. Analyze your purpose – stop for a minute, change your focus and try to determine why you are giving something so much thought. Is it because of self-doubt, a colleague’s criticism, a former negative reaction, a hoped for promotion? Discern your own motivation and critique it’s merit.
  3. Take a break – sometimes we overthink because we’re unable to begin doing. Take a break and you should return refreshed and ready to begin working, rather than thinking.
  4. Redirect – change your focus. Think about something else. Force your mind to stop thinking about one issue and ponder something else (but don’t overthink it!).
  5. Set parameters – for instance, set a time limit on your “thinking/planning” process. Once the time is up, go to work on the project. If it’s doesn’t come together after a predetermined amount of time and effort, do a second “thinking/planning” session, followed by a work session, and repeat. Until you are successful.
  6. Give yourself some slack – you are not perfect. Ask a colleague for their input, recognize that first drafts are exactly what they appear to be – first drafts. Overthinking your first effort reduces the time you will have to edit and rewrite on a second go-through.
  7. Envision the bigger picture – be realistic about the import of this project. Don’t give it more attention, thought, time or effort than it should receive. Balance your time carefully to best manage everything and reduce overthinking to a minimum.

Don’t give this blog post too much thought. Just read it, embrace it, and run with it: send out that thank you note today, work from a simple spreadsheet today, outline the content for your weekly column today, call a donor today….

Make tomorrow a flurry of activity! Don’t overthink, just think and do!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *