How Choice Overload Is Impacting Your Productivity

4 months ago   •   4 min read

By Zero Machina

Have you noticed that the more options you have, the harder it is to make a decision?

You'd think that more choices would make decisions easier—but in reality, it's not that simple.  A wide range of options presents a few challenges. First, it can feel overwhelming and make it difficult to make a choice. Then you may grow remorseful and second-guess your decision.  While a bit of indecisiveness doesn’t sound like a big deal, it’s actually a bigger problem than you think.

Read on to learn about the phenomena researchers call “choice overload,” and the implications it has on your productivity.

What is Choice Overload?

Choice overload is the overwhelming feeling of having too many options, accompanied by a fear of choosing the wrong one. This is sometimes referred to as choice paralysis.

Think about walking into a bakery and seeing all the loaves of bread and sweet rolls on display. Everything looks delicious, but you probably shouldn’t buy everything on the shelves. You need to make a decision.

“A savory bread is versatile and goes with everything. Sweet bread pairs perfectly with coffee. But you could also go for something sweeter… maybe a donut?”

Now you’re stuck. You have too many options, and you can’t decide.

After ten minutes of dedicating all your mental energy to choosing the perfect bread, you finally get home with a tasty loaf of crusty sourdough. It looks great, but should you have maybe gotten the cinnamon instead? Would you have been happier?

This is a small example of how too many choices impact your decision-making process.

While your pastry selection is unimportant, imagine the cumulative effects that choice overload has on your productivity.

How Choice Overload Impacts Your Productivity

Choice overload can seriously impact your productivity.

Let's say you have more than 10 tasks to complete by the end of the day.  You sit down at your desk on Monday morning, ready to start crossing things off your to-do list. But instead of getting straight to work, you spend an hour trying to decide which task to start.

After an hour of deliberation, you finally settle on a task—but you’re so frustrated with the wasted time that it takes another hour to get into a productive mindset. With negativity flooding your psyche, you're more susceptible to distractions and busy work. Maybe you respond to a few emails,  straighten up your desk, or take a coffee break. Now it’s lunchtime.

This is an all-too-familiar case of choice overload.

It's common to feel paralyzed when confronted with lots of options. And in the time it takes you to prioritize your tasks, you could have already gotten one or two of them done.

Choice overload has additional implications for your productivity:

  • Negative Feelings: When you have too many things to do, it's common to feel overwhelmed. Everything becomes triggering: unread emails in your inbox, notifications, and the numerous projects awaiting you. You lack proactivity, and this leaves you spinning your wheels.
  • Poor Focus and Time Management. When you're feeling overwhelmed, it's easy to get stuck in what researchers call the “Sunk Cost Fallacy.” When you've invested tons of time into a task, abandoning it seems wasteful.  But this often means that you continue working on a task even though it's no longer the best use of your time. This leads to poor focus and time management.
  • Neglecting Your Health. When work feels overwhelming, it's tempting to prioritize working longer hours instead of renewing yourself. After all, there's so much work that needs to get done... who has time to take breaks or workout? But neglecting your health can lead to burnout, stress, and poor well-being.

How to Overcome Choice Overload

Now you're aware of the implications of choice overload. But what can you do to mitigate its impact on your productivity?

Here are a few helpful strategies to better manage choice overload in your work and life.

1. Prioritize Your Tasks

The best way to combat choice overload is to prioritize your tasks.

Start by identifying what matters most to you:

  • What are your long-term goals?
  • What will help you move closer to your objectives?

Once you know what's important, you can start prioritizing your tasks. Make a list of everything you need to do, then order them according to importance. Write them down, and keep them somewhere you can refer back to regularly.

As you work on your tasks throughout the day, keep these top priorities in mind.

2. Eliminate Inconsequential Decision-Making

Another way that you can overcome choice overload is to eliminate unnecessary decisions. And you do this by implementing routines.

For instance, if you often spend time deciding what to wear in the morning, set clothes out the night before or create a capsule wardrobe. The key is to reduce decision fatigue. This way, you don't have to waste time and precious mental resources picking out an outfit.

This is the power of creating routines.  By automating unimportant decisions, you can save time and energy for more important things.

3. Seek Out Support

If you're struggling to manage choice overload on your own, seek out support from friends, family, or professionals who can help.

Tell them about your goal to reduce choice overload and be more productive. Then, ask for their help in holding you accountable. For instance, you can ask them to check in with you every day to see if you've prioritized your tasks, or created routines for inconsequential decisions.

You can also join online communities or forums related to productivity. There, you can find support and motivation from others who are struggling with the same issues.

Next Steps:

Choice overload is a common problem that can lead to lots of negative consequences.  In short, the best way to deal with choice overload is to recognize the problem and address it head-on. Make it a habit to prioritize your tasks and avoid unnecessary decision-making. By doing this, you’ll be able to focus on what’s truly important and get your productivity back on track.

Want to learn more about making effective decisions to maximize productivity? Check out our article: How Willpower and Decision Fatigue Impact Productivity.

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