How To Be Productive When You're Feeling Overwhelmed With Options

How to be PRODUCTIVE when feeling overwhelmed by too many choices.

As a technology coach, I’m noticing otherwise smart people struggle with information overload.

The truth: They’re having a tough time making decisions.

As a society we went from having an information drought to a full-scale Vegas all-you-can-eat buffet, all in the course of approximately 15 years.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like I’m drowning. We’re all drowning. In advice, in gurus, in opinions, in options, and in technology.

Basically: We’re drowning in data.

Do you remember how our grandparents told us how they had to walk four miles to school everyday? (And usually these tales include walking sans shoes in the snow, uphill? Oh, and both ways were uphill no less, although I never could figure out exactly how that worked.)

Well, we’ll be telling our kids how when we were their age we had to use special books called “encyclopedias” to do research.

We’ll tell them that research required a visit to a library to look at these special books. We’ll describe how there was something called the “Dewey decimal system,” not Google, that organized our data and information.

It really wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t have unlimited information at our fingertips. It wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t have smartphones and ubiquitous Internet connectivity.

It used to be that knowledge was power because access to information was semi-difficult to obtain. It required going to a library and hoping against hope that they had what you needed.

Today knowledge isn’t a commodity.

It’s freely available and it’s at our fingertips.

Shoot, companies and our governments are collecting volumes of data faster than they can even begin to process and analyze it!

And instead of being empowering, this overabundance of information is actually having the opposite effect: It’s crippling us.

Like a starving Ethiopian’s stomach wouldn’t be prepared for a Vegas buffet, I’m seeing people struggle with consuming and processing the volume of information available to them.

In fact, I’m positive all this data impacts our productivity.

I see “paralysis by analysis.”

We’re not accustomed to consuming data at this rate, nor are we used to having so many choices available.

We didn’t use to have 20 different options for tools that basically do the same thing (except with sometimes minuscule variances).

Lay out all these incredible options in front of someone and they get paralyzed. They’re overwhelmed by all the choices.

Then we seek and welcome distractions.

Instead of narrowing down options (which is hard work), we welcome distractions (which are much more fun).

It’s sure convenient that it’s so easy to get distracted with social media, or that your sleek “smart” phone continuously notifies you about something you’ve “just got to see.”

It’s simple to seek just one more expert’s viewpoint instead of committing to a choice.

Then there’s buyer’s remorse.

Have you made a decision, paid good money, and then learned that the better – no, the “perfect” tool, was just one more Google search away?

I have.

It feels yucky.

And the next time you need to make a choice, you’ll recall that same icky feeling of buyer’s remorse. It’s like it’s programmed into your psyche.

The next time you’re faced with a decision, you’re even more wary of making the wrong choice. So instead, you’ll do more research. Or seek a distraction…

Here’s the truth: Too many options and data points cause indecision.

Indecision means you’re in limbo. Limbo means inaction. Basically nothing’s moving forward.

So today, I’m giving you permission!

I give you permission to make a choice and completely accept that it might turn out to be just “okay.” (Besides, perfect is a myth.)

I give you permission to read the opinion of only one “guru,” and nobody else’s. (Go ahead, ignore the comments too.)

I give you permission to make a mistake, so you can make progress anyway.

I give you permission to leave that email unread in your inbox. Forever.

I give you permission to delete that app you kind of like, but just don’t use much.

I give you permission to setup that tool you’ve been researching, and just give it a try for 20 minutes. (Bet that 20 mins will tell you more than all that research did.)

I give you permission to ignore all the comments you’re supposed to “like” on Facebook for an entire afternoon and just get work done.

I give you permission to be “old school” by pretending you don’t have access to unlimited data, views, gurus, opinions and options.

Instead of being overwhelmed by too many choices, make a decision – be it good, bad, perfect, or flawed.

Then share that decision with me in the comments below. (Or, if you need a little help, share where you’re stuck and I’ll chime in with suggestions to get you unstuck.)

Today let’s use all this data and all this info and make it work for us, instead of it holding us back!

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Published by

Lisa Burger

Lisa Burger is a friendly technology coach, expert translator of geek, and the founder of StartUp!. Lisa's industry experience included information systems, enterprise networking, and information security. She also has a bachelor's degree in computer science.

Today Lisa uses her knowledge and approachable friendly style to assist individuals and businesses with discovering technology solutions that simplify and improve their lives or business. In addition to all the nifty tech stuff, she also has a soft spot for sushi rolls, yoga, barrel racing/rodeo (she used to complete), and drinking iced chai lattes.

If this post was useful, join Lisa on Twitter (@slostartup) or send her an email at

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  • evaychen

    Hi Lisa, Loved this article. It’s feels so liberating to get permission not to have to keep up with all the latest technology, emails, social media, and and feel pressured into buying all the latest shiny objects out there. Wish I read something like this months ago. All these distractions keep you from the fundamentals of a successful business and actually getting stuff done! Thanks for writing this.

    • Glad you enjoy this one, Eva.

      I was definitely in this cycle when I first started my business. It’s so easy to be distracted, but once you recognize the pattern, accept that perfection is a myth that holds you back, and focus on getting stuff done (instead of researching every last drop of info out there) – it’s amazing to see where your business goes.

  • Three cheers and let’s pour the wine!

    I couldn’t agree with you more on this, Lisa. I seem to spend a lot of time up on my soap box preaching simplicity — “Get back to basics, people! And a simpler way of life.” Of course, that carries over to business, as well. The rapid pace of changes in technology, alone, are enough to make me dizzy! While I’m still beating my head against the wall trying to learn how to use some new biz-building tool or some social media channel, more tools and SM channels are popping up all around me. Sheesh. Sometimes I swear it’s not humanly possible to keep up. At least it’s not for me.

    Wonderfully worthwhile message!!

    • Thank you so much, Melanie.

      I think you’re right. It’s not humanly possible to keep up – and it’s okay. The trick is to recognize that, and not allow all the possibilities overwhelm your world.

      But of course, that’s easier said than done… 🙂

      So, do you have any decisions you’re going to tackle by going a bit “old school”?

      • “So, do you have any decisions you’re going to tackle by going a bit “old school”?”
        The answer is a resounding YES!

        Do you remember “handwriting”, Lisa? (Just joking. Of course you remember.) Instead of always sending electronic greetings, I want to make the effort to write a note of thanks or a “just because” note … on actual paper! … and send it off … postage stamp and all. It’s old school, for sure, but I love it when I get greeting cards and letters in the mail. I bet other people would, too. 🙂 Also, I’d like to do more offline networking and make more phone calls versus occupying space in someone’s already crowded inbox.