Contrary to conventional wisdom I believe the ability to think deeply is both a strength and a weakness. Whether it's useful or counter-productive depends on the circumstance.
Overthinking can be productive
When you spend hours pondering a problem you naturally develop deep insight into that problem.
You take your time, consider all the things that could go wrong, devise solutions, and explore a ton of nuances.
This insight enables you to devise unique ideas and solutions you're unlikely to discover without thinking really hard.
Overthinking can be counter-productive
Thinking without action is obviously pointless; work is a prerequisite to achievement.
Despite this, if you act without thinking you'll probably get nowhere. It's like trying to use a hammer whilst blind-folded; it's extremely ineffective.
Think too much and you'll get nothing done. Think too little and you'll also get nothing done—or at least nothing decent.
Therefore the solution is to find a balance—an equilibrium that yields the greatest results.
Finding the right balance
I think this balance is subjective. It depends on a few things:
- The scenario (some tasks demand more care/thinking than others)
- How you operate best (everyone is different)
Personally, as an INTJ I'm always lost in my head. It's easy for me to get stuck there. When I'm confident in something I also usually find it easy to grind on it, but if I'm not I'll often become lost thinking about the problem until I'm confident I've found a solution.
In my case knowing when I'm thinking too much or too little is an intuitive sense. I'm not sure what it's like for other people, but I have trouble with it. It often holds me back so I'm trying to develop it.
The thing that's helped me the most is journaling. This is because the act of writing down your thoughts achieves several things:
- Structures your thoughts
- Stops any repetitive thought loops
- Enables you to reach solid conclusions
It's like a reset for your brain; journaling compiles and organises all the things you've been pondering.
When I journal I often feel a sense of clarity afterwards, whereas before my mind was in haywire.
A good example to illustrate the double-edged nature to overthinking is my work on Vibite.
In total I've spent over 700 recorded hours working on (and that excludes all the unrecorded work and time spent thinking about it).
Most of that time was spent overthinking the hell out of the project. Although that seems counterproductive on the surface, I am confident it was still a productive use of my time for several reasons.
First of all, I've found the project extremely challenging and unfamiliar. Alongside being forced to learn a ton of new skills, taking my time to think things through and do things properly has massively enhanced my skill-set due to deliberate practice.
Secondly, overthinking the idea has refined the idea a ton. It's completely changed over time and I seriously doubt it'd even be possible for it to happen quickly. It's been a slow, arduous process.
Conventional (and wise) startup wisdom is to rapidly test your product using an MVP. This is true and I agree with it, but in this case I honestly think the idea was so unrefined up until recently that it wasn't even possible to build a legitimate MVP.
Sure, I could've built something with whatever I'd thought of at the time, but the idea back then was so different to what it is today that it wouldn't have even counted.
Despite this I have definitely spent way too much time thinking about the project. The upside is this experience has helped me structure my thought process so I'm less likely to do that in the future.
Overthinking can be good or bad. It depends on the situation and how you work most effectively. Learning the balance between thought and action is a skill that can be developed.