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You’re overthinking it: 6 ways to prevent project paralysis

“If you want to do something, if you want to make something, if you want to create something, I’ve learned that you can’t be afraid to do it wrong. You have to dare to suck.”

—Justin Timberlake

When was the last time you dared to suck? You know, by putting your work out in the world knowing you could have continued to review, refine, rework and maybe even recreate altogether before ever letting it see the light of day.

You’ve been there, right? At that creative ledge, either by yourself or with your team, wanting to take the here-goes-nothing leap that comes with stamping a project final…

…only to step back and tinker some more.

Tinkering is understandable. You want the finished product to be in the best state possible. But tinkering deserves a beer drinker’s reminder: Know when to say when. Nitpicking can go on. And on. And on. It’s done with the best intentions. You may even downplay the significance by saying you’re “tweaking” or “fine-tuning.” But that’s just it: You don’t have to hit the nuclear button to blast a project—and the timeline it’s on—to bits.

Having budgets to answer for, and bosses to answer to, creates pressure to dot every last i and cross every last t. If you’re not careful, however, the project can succumb to paralysis by analysis, a.k.a., “overthinking it.”

Which brings us back to the premise of this post: Daring to suck. It can be uncomfortable, especially in collaborative settings where multiple people provide input. Daring to suck requires the courage to possibly “do it wrong,” as pop superstar Justin Timberlake wrote in his book, Hindsight & All the Things I Can’t See In Front of Me.

However, by resisting the urge to overthink, you can get your message, product, service or experience to market faster, which enables you to assess and address what is not working quicker. You can also keep from jeopardizing your performance, creativity, motivation and happiness.

So how can you avoid completely missing the mark without causing project paralysis? Here are six tips that can help break the cycle of overdoing it with scrutiny at every turn:

  • Appoint a point person. Lean on someone capable of consolidating everyone’s feedback so it’s easy to understand and implement. This person should have the ability to think critically and determine whether the feedback is warranted, but also have the authority to table or veto.

  • Talk—don’t type—it out. When working through possible creative changes, hold firm on having face-to-face discussions. Bouncing questions and ideas back and forth in chat rooms or collaborative docs inevitably leaves loose ends untied.

  • Stick to the schedule. Seems pretty simple, no? Project managers could tell you some stories. Review windows for specific portions of the project (i.e. content, design, development) are established for a reason. Going rogue has a ripple effect that often forces sacrifices elsewhere.

  • Be your first (and toughest) editor. Before sharing your feedback, critically assess what you believe needs to be addressed. Based on your knowledge of the project, ask yourself if the changes are necessary or nice to have. “Need” and “want” are not the same.

  • Review at a regular pace. For an authentic sense of how something reads, looks or works, analyze it “at game speed” (to use a sports metaphor). You can find fault with almost anything when you’re combing through in slow motion.

  • Consider releasing versions. We all like to check boxes that signal work is complete. But who says complete has to mean “final”? And why must final mean “set in stone”? Be open to iterating once your work is in the market. Refine after you’ve collected some market research, not before. Let the audience you want to win over dictate what’s good—or not good enough.

Think of these tips like a buffet. Select what will work best based on the project itself and the processes you have to follow. Or, just go for it. Try ’em all at once.

Either way, dare to suck. If your projects could talk, chances are they’ll thank you for it.