How To Take The Right Action And Avoid Pandemic Paralysis

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Let’s face it, you’re uncertain about the future and you’ve decided it’s (almost) impossible to predict what might be coming next. You’re wondering if you should hold off on all new decisions until you know more—and you think it might be better to just hit the pause button until things get back on track.

While your rationale for inaction is reasonable, also consider that choosing to wait and watch isn’t always the best course. After all, you don’t want to be paralyzed by your concerns and you don’t want to miss opportunities. Robert Frost may have said it best, “The best way out is always through.”

Here are the areas to consider when you’re deciding when (and whether) to move forward.

Consider The Costs Of Inaction

Putting off a decision—not to decide—is to decide. Of course, you can legitimately put off some decisions, but in many cases, if you delay a decision, it’s the same as deciding against something. Often when we consider decision making, we calculate the costs and risks of acting. We’re not always as clear about the costs of inaction, but we should be. Inaction has a cost, and by standing still, you may miss opportunities. If you don’t take the new role, you may miss the chance to expand your responsibilities. Or if you don’t make an offer on the new house, you may not be able to move into that neighborhood for months or years to come. Inaction can come with costs, just as actions can. If you’re choosing to delay a decision, you are choosing to take no action. Be sure you’re doing so with clarity about what you might miss.

Consider The Risk

When you take action, you have the opportunity to learn early and in smaller—often less risky—increments. Situations are always changing, and the world moves forward all the time. If you take action, you can jump into the flow and be able to adapt along with the situation. If you’re an independent consultant and avoid investing in new business technology, you won’t have an opportunity to test and try early. You’ll miss the incremental learning toward the next new tech solution—and the next. Or in another example, companies improving their offices or bringing people back to the workplace (in a safe manner, of course), have the opportunity to learn how to work differently, develop new norms and get comfortable with how things are changing. If you simply wait, your inaction could make it harder to catch up.  

Consider The Message You’re Sending

By not taking action, you may inadvertently be sending a message about stagnation. People generally appreciate action and decisiveness and, in fact, people perceive those who act to be stronger leaders than those who waffle. By sitting back, you may cue that you’re unsure, lack confidence or haven’t done your homework to know the right way to go. Also consider the broader effect on your culture. People want to work with teammates and leaders who pay attention and act based on what they see. Customers want to do business with companies who are responsive and forward-leaning. If you don’t act, those around you may conclude that you or your company are stagnating or failing to attend to the needs of employees or customers.

Consider Time And Energy

Sometimes, inaction can be the result of analysis paralysis—where you’re so busy comparing and evaluating, you just can’t act. Be aware that your rumination may be taking a negative toll. Putting so much effort into determining, data gathering and defining may detract from energy you could put into moving forward. Too much cogitation can cost your company. If you’re considering the purchase of a pricey new piece of software, and you spend too many person-hours deciding whether to purchase it, you are actually costing the company more through over-processing.

Consider Others

Most of us, no matter what kind of job we have, affect others with the decisions we make. If you choose not to take action, you may be impeding someone else’s process. By not offering support or not approving a next step, you may be causing your colleague’s project to stand still as well. Don’t let your own fear or anxiety become a bottleneck to the progress of the larger system.

Consider The Future

Acting can put you closer to your ultimate goals and by not acting, you may put yourself behind. You know every step is important to your overall career journey. If you’re in a wait-and-see mode on a new or expanded role, you’re not making progress to your ultimate career objectives. As Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” By taking steps forward, you’ll be more likely to stay engaged, motivated and optimistic about where you’re going.

It’s certainly not wise to make decisions without a thorough evaluation of the costs and benefits. And the bigger the decision, the more caution you’ll want to exercise. But also balance the need for action. Consider the costs of inaction and the learning you’ll gain by moving forward. Be sure you’re not sending a message of stagnation, putting too much energy into an ineffective decision-making process or creating bottlenecks for others. Most of all, don’t miss a future opportunity by not acting in the present. There’s a lot of uncertainty today and while you may be craving a ‘pause’ button, the best way out may instead be to keep moving through.



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