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Hang On, Let Me Overthink This!

“Something feels funny. I must be thinking too much!”, Winnie the Pooh

Last year I invested in a new weekly planner format. I thought I should formalize my planning process. Get away from my scribbled Post It notes and take the process more seriously. Supersize it.

This planner was a new “shiny object” designed to enhance my creativity and assist me to design life goals! The pages were loaded with cool, motivational quotes and spaces for crafting reflections on thought provoking questions. I should be able to plan out my whole life with this thing! Right? Wrong. At least for me.

I found that I got stuck in planning instead of doing. The trap is that planning feels like you are doing something useful. I found myself spending more time thinking and less time doing.

A study conducted by Grace Hawthorne, a professor at Stanford University Institute of Design and behavioral scientist Allan Reiss scientifically measured creativity by using brain imaging.

 “Participants in the study were placed into a magnetic resonance imaging machine and asked to draw a series of pictures based on action words (for example, vote, exhaust, salute) with 30 seconds for each word. The participants later ranked each word picture based on its difficulty to draw. The tablet transmitted the drawings to researchers at the d.school who scored them on a 5-point scale of creativity, and researchers at the School of Medicine analyzed the

MRI scans for brain activity patterns.

The results were surprising: the prefrontal cortex, traditionally associated withthinking, was most active for the drawings the participants ranked as most difficult; the cerebellum [the part of the brain traditionally associated withmovement] was most active for the drawings the participants scored highest on for creativity. Essentially, the less the participants thought about what they were drawing, the more creative their drawings were.”

These findings suggest that overthinking a problem makes it harder to do your best creative work or problem solving.

If you love the thinking process too much, consider less planning, more doing. The process in my new planner was so complicated that it became overwhelming. Instead, take baby steps. In order to attain goals, the key is identifying small, simple steps that can be acted on quickly. As you take more action, you will progress steadily toward your goals.

As for me, I have gone back to my simple weekly planner format and scribbled notes. Now that the “paralysis by analysis” has ended, my creativity has returned and I am executing on ideas!

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