Although many leaders I’ve known have used this word to describe ineffective employees, I’ve never quite understood the concept. We’d actually be better off if more people spent more time thinking about what they should be doing or how. Yet about two-thirds of adults today claim that overthinking or overanalyzing is a real problem for them. Perhaps their primary concern is less about the need for contemplation and more about inaction.

That said, when faced with uncertainties or challenging unknowns, many do have a tendency to introduce unnecessary complexity into their decision making. One part of the problem is the false assumption that complex problems require complicated solutions. This affliction, known as the sophistication bias, tends to bedevil those in positions of higher authority. (This I know because I’ve had coachees who suffer from this clinical disorder.) And deliberating longer than needed, especially when under the pressure of deadlines, can increase one’s anxiety and stifle solution finding. But the cause isn’t overthinking – it’s either ruminating, self-doubt or flawed decision making.

Those who ruminate invariably focus on the negatives. They’re caught up in a whirlpool of regret, implausible outcomes and “woulda-shoulda-coulda” self-talk. Fixating on unwarranted criticism or failures makes them overly cautious and fearful of committing even more mistakes. Yet all learning and innovation is fundamentally error-driven. This isn’t a consequence of overthinking; it’s the result of not thinking clearly or critically.

The truth is we can’t know everything, control everything or predict everything. No one ever has. So, the antidote to this affliction in leading or managing others lies in following four simple steps: 1. Make an appointment with yourself to figure out how to deal with it. 2. Make two lists – what is controllable and what is not. 3. Prioritize what you can do and what you can’t do and then put in realistic start dates for what you can. 4. Visualize your current problem disappearing because you’re now committed to action. If you doubt this last step, it’s called mind over matter. Seriously.

Many tasks (both big and small), on first sight, appear daunting and overwhelming. This can induce thought paralysis – “I just don’t know where to begin.” Our brains default to a temporary freeze mode when confronted by formidable predicaments, the possibility of failure or letting others down with a sub-par performance that may damage our self-esteem. The threat of feeling incompetent or being perceived by others as stupid creates a cognitive dissonance that inhibits creative momentum. This is especially the case for those whose self identity is tied to their performance.

The brain’s executive centre (the prefrontal cortex), which is critical to making effective decisions and self-regulation, generally keeps the more emotional parts of our brain (the limbic system) in check. During times of uncertainty and high stress, however, the balance shifts and parts like the amygdala, which is responsible for identifying threats, start to dominate our thinking. Fear and self-doubt overwhelm follow through.

This mental obfuscation is compounded by baseless assumptions, unreliable memories, unwarranted beliefs, oversimplification, logical fallacies and hard-wired biases. These are not pathologies – they’re simply properties of the human condition. And it doesn’t help that we now live in an age of misinformation and disinformation – an ever-increasing onslaught of highly technical, opaque, inconsistent and contradictory information that inundates, confuses, polarizes and even angers us. Amidst this cacophony of noise, we become incapable of detecting the critical signals.

How can we restore the balance and take charge of what needs to be done? First, calm yourself – breath deeply and slowly for about four minutes (inhale, hold and then exhale deeply five times/minute). This activates the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system. Next, shrink the task into smaller chunks, starting with “where will I begin?” You can begin anywhere … the point is to start. (If you don’t know where to begin a writing task for example, start with the last paragraph – presumably you know that because it’s the reason why you’re writing.) Create a realistic, therefore attainable, schedule (time, place and duration) for each specific step in your plan. Lower your expectations of perfection – the objective at this stage is simply to progress. All great work is iterative and none of it is mistake-free. Do overs make things brilliant.

If the challenge is a massive list of little to-dos, prioritize it. Not everything is equally important. And deciding which is more or less important isn’t that difficult; the problem lies in the doing. Begin by setting aside at least 10-15 minutes and remove the distractions – put away or shut off your phone, clear your desk and set a timer for 15 minutes. Distraction fuels procrastination. Don’t multi-task. This beginning step requires your full attention. Then re-align your list of tasks in the order most likely to stimulate action. You might start with the most important or the most urgent or the most enjoyable or the easiest or by doing something important for someone who’s important to you.

The trick to getting things done is the satisfaction and energy you feel by checking something off the list. That momentum – making stuff happen – instills a feeling of accomplishment and injects a dose of dopamine into your neural circuits. Dopamine is the drug that motivates us to continue and nothing ensures that reality more than building on early successes. As Dr. Teresa Amabile of Harvard University said, “Of all the positive events that influence work life, the single most powerful is making progress in meaningful work.” When this happens, however small the accomplishment, we become more productive, creative, engaged and motivated.

If you can’t get started on a task, ask a co-worker, family member or friend to do it on the understanding you will reciprocate in future. Delegation does not mean dumping menial, unpleasant tasks on others. It’s purpose is to empower and engage them while infusing your own work with a different point of view. Movement ensues. Don’t look for perfection from them; just look for new ideas. Even if you disagree, you’ve turned on your brain. Clarify your specific, measurable expectations around the timing of deliverables. When you delegate a task, keep a log – jot down your expectations and the date of assignment. A good delegator is like a good coach – before asking, know what tasks they can and can’t handle.

Self-doubt fuels procrastination and overanalyzing. This leads to diving too deeply into the superfluous, less meaningful or irrelevant details while ignoring the more salient priorities. The solution is to embrace progress (in the form of nurturing baby steps) and put a bullet in the notion of ideal. No one is without flaws; so why would you think you’re the exception? The object of life is getting better. If it satisfies most of the critical criteria, then it’s ready for delivery. Not everything is a priority and not every priority is equal. The goal isn’t to eliminate deep thinking; it’s to stop it from spiraling into inaction and apathy.