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In many fields, there is a primary task: write a program, compose a song, cook a meal, lose weight, grow a garden.

In support of this, there are:

  • Tools: knives, spades, exercise equipment, and apps.
  • Secondary tasks: sharpen your knives, count your calories, fertilize your soil, configure your computer.
  • Schools of thought: organic gardening, paleo diet, functional programming.

It's possible, even for skilled professionals, to spend too much time and thought on the supporting tools, tasks, and techniques, to the detriment of the overall goal.

Example: Imagine a skilled chef who spends 25% of their time reading about, buying, and caring for their knives. They cook well, and their knives serve that purpose, but the time spent is excessive for someone whose real goal is cooking.

The idiom I'm looking for is not:

  • "Analysis paralysis", where you get stuck and can't make any decisions. They make decisions, their priorities are just a bit confused.
  • Masked incompetence, as may be the case with a "gear ninja" in the military or a "Gearhead" or having "Gear Acquisition Syndrome among musicians.

The person makes decisions, accomplishes tasks, and is competent, but could use their time more effectively by being less obsessed with secondary concerns.

Is there a good general idiom for this?

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4 Answers 4

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Perhaps to suffer from analysis paralysis

Analysis paralysis is an affliction people get when they overthink a problem or situation and can't make a decision. The affliction can affect individuals or groups of people as they encounter multiple options or solutions and need to choose the best one.

What is analysis paralysis and how to overcome it

Analysis paralysis, also known as “paralysis by analysis” is the state of overthinking or over-analyzing any circumstances so that a decision or action gets too much delayed or never taken, and paralyzes the outcome. Or as Barry Schwartz called this as the paradox of choice.

To simplify, a person going through analysis paralysis becomes lost in analysis and evaluating various ideas or information required to make a decision that becomes impossible to act and affects the outcome

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  • That's similar, but what I'm thinking of doesn't lead to inaction. The person is still making decisions and accomplishing tasks, just at an impeded rate due to the distraction. Nov 16, 2022 at 15:10
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    @NathanLong I'd say this fits well, analysis paralysis may not indicate a total lack of a decision, but rather that it takes a long time. I see the term used in board gaming circles to describe someone who takes a very long time to plan their moves, to the point of being a detriment of the flow of the game, but they do eventually make a decision. Nov 16, 2022 at 22:37
  • This does not seem correct. Analysis paralysis is where you are stuck and unable to proceed. But OP is talking about a situation where we can proceed but we are merely wasting time "preparing" instead of "doing". There is no paralysis: nothing is stuck or blocked.
    – equin0x80
    Nov 19, 2022 at 20:46
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The phrase that comes to my mind is "getting bogged down in details".

A "bog" is a muddy swamp. So you can imagine that "getting bogged down" in details is like getting stuck in the mud. If you talk too much about the details of something, you won't move forward with more important discussions.

You can find recent examples in this corpus

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  • OP is not asking about level or depth of detail, but about amount of time spent.
    – equin0x80
    Nov 19, 2022 at 20:44
  • @equin0x80 Amount of time spent is exactly what this phrase is used for.
    – Andrew Leach
    Nov 19, 2022 at 21:09
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The idiom is "waste of time" (noun) or "wasting time" (verb). You're overthinking it, just like the chef and his knives.

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Intemperate (Wiktionary)

Lacking moderation, temper or control.

    intemperate language; intemperate zeal

Indulging any appetite or passion to excess, especially the drinking of alcohol.

Wasteful (Wiktionary)

Inclined to waste or squander money or resources.

If only "niggles-lover" was a word.

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