Our complex brains have the ability to think logical thoughts and feel emotional reactions. However, there are instances when too much information deters our ability to make good decisions. We can become overwhelmed with information and our brains are too cluttered to process it and make decisions we won't regret later down the line.
You may have heard the term, “analysis paralysis.” It's very real, and it refers to a mental state when you’re faced with an endless supply of information, so rather than taking action, you feel stifled and can’t make a decision. You feel stuck — literally paralyzed. According to the Oxford Dictionary, this term gained popularity during the 1970s when The Times (British daily paper) referenced it. Before that, business strategists used a variation of the term to describe decision-making processes and the challenges associated with sifting through endless amounts of data.
Today, we struggle with even more information than what was available decades ago. The constant buzz of our digital devices, social media temptations and the flood of news can contribute to feeling as though we’re drowning in our thoughts. We never get a break, and even when we do take time to relax, we often find ourselves scrolling through our news feeds, not even digitally detoxing.
We may find ourselves at work filtering through multiple emails while running from meeting to meeting (often texting or responding to an email en route). After a long day, we take one last peek at our phones from our beds to make sure we have not missed the latest news or Instagram comment. And then, finally, we go to sleep.
Since our brains are continuously processing information, how can we ensure that we’re making the best decisions?
Our professional success often depends on our sound cognitive abilities. For example, in business settings, our jobs require us to be problem-solvers or innovators with solid critical thinking skills. But without clarity of thought, we may not make favorable decisions that advance our work.
So how do we efficiently analyze a problem or situation and come up with the right solution? And how do we avoid information overload in the process? We need to sharpen our analytical skills.
Fortunately, analytical skills can be learned and strengthened.
Analytical skills refer to the ability to collect and analyze information, solve problems and make informed decisions. They involve data analysis, critical thinking, creative approaches, and other important skills. Having these skills can help solve a company’s problems (and your own), increase productivity levels and, therefore, benefit both yourself and the company for which you work.
Because employers look to hire people with the ability to investigate problems and find solutions in a timely, efficient manner, it's important that you can talk about these skills in an interview.
Here are four steps you can take to hone strong analytical skills.
Starting tomorrow and for the next 30 days, get up 25 minutes early, shuffle your feet to a writing desk, grab a pen and paper and write. Do not edit what you write; what comes out of your head and onto the paper should be stream-of-conscious, long-hand writing. The key is to fill out three pieces of paper (front and back) that act as a container for unproductive thoughts that may distract you throughout the day.
Better known as “Morning Pages” (developed by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way), this process will help you empty the clutter in your head, broaden your perspective for the day and ignite a little creativity. This process is a commitment. But you’ve got nothing to lose (other than 25 minutes of sleep time) and so much to gain — an analytical skill test that'll help you in solving day-to-day issues.
Block off your calendar for dedicated thinking time every day. During this time, you can sit at your desk, take a walk or relax in your car with the windows down. Wherever you are, allow your mind to target one difficult problem you are trying to solve, and do some reasoning.
Or, with a pen and paper, create a list detailing the pros and cons of your difficult problem. Alternatively, take a blank piece of paper, write down the problem on the left side of the page and the desired result on the right side of the page. In the middle of the sheet, jot down as many possible solutions as you can come up with to problem solve. Whatever method you choose, this dedicated time will allow you to think productively and visualize solutions. It's an analytical approach that'll have you solving problems in no time.
This isn't so much taking an analytical approach; rather, it's asking a coworker for help, perhaps by offering their own analytical approach — you just have to listen. We can often forget that our colleagues are valuable resources. When you are working through an obstacle or idea that you’d like to solidify, schedule time with a colleague to can gain a different perspective. You may also leverage that colleague's advice to help you think through the issue. Before asking for help, however, be clear on your issue and the questions for which you're seeking help. For example, do you want them to offer advice? Or do you want them to ask you questions that will help you clarify the situation? Either approach may help you spark a creative thought you had not considered previously.
While some aspects of social media can be distracting, on the positive side, resources like LinkedIn are a great tool for tapping into a wealth of experts. If you’re part of a professional group on LinkedIn, post your question or problem on that group’s page. LinkedIn users are usually willing to offer advice, and you will build your professional network during this process.
All kind of professions require an analytical mind and the ability to think logically. Companies large and small not only require these strengths, but they value them and reward those who boast them.
Whether you’re dealing with time-management issues or overwhelmed by the influx of continuous data on a daily basis, making a few conscious steps to get in the appropriate analytical mindset is key to overcoming analysis paralysis. With some critical thinking, you’ll be able to fine-tune strong analytical skills, start reasoning more before decision making, and problem solve like Sherlock Holmes.
Yon Na is a leadership and organization development professional with 20 years of corporate experience. She has worked with some of the most admired companies on the planet: Warner Bros. Entertainment, The New York Times, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson. As a leadership development professional, Yon has helped hundreds of individuals fine-tune their unique talents through coaching and facilitating workshops. To learn more, please visit https://yonnaphd.com
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