Jul 10, 2013
If you’ve grappled with prioritising and multi-tasking, your productivity levels must already be on the rise. Now it’s time for a radical change in the way you approach tasks and decisions by learning about the third strategy for coping with information overload: satisficing.
Simply put, satisficing is recognising when something is good enough as it is to be considered complete, instead of wasting valuable resources to unnecessarily improve it. Whether you relate satisficing to a relevant task or to making a decision, the time and effort that it can save you will increase your productivity significantly.
Satisficing: a process “through which an individual decides when an alternative approach or solution is sufficient to meet the individuals’ desired goals rather than pursue the perfect approach,” — Herbert Simon 1971
Satisficing combines the words ‘satisfying’ and ‘suffice’ and is a term originally coined by Nobel laureate economist Herbert Simon, when describing his theory of bounded rationality. He applied the theory to decision making and suggested that people did not possess the brain power to evaluate all the possible options and choose the best one when they were deciding on a course of action, and that instead they would settle for a sub-optimal option as long as it met their requirements.
Increasing Productivity Through Satisficing
While the original use of the term "satisficing" related to decision theory, you can easily apply it to every aspect of life to make you more productive.
If your boss gives you four tasks to complete in one day, you can be sure she prefers to find each task satisfactorily completed at the end of the day than to discover that a single task you have worked on is finally nearing perfection.
The opposite of satisficing is maximising or optimising, which means achieving the best possible outcome. However, if getting to that point is costly in terms of time or other resources, then the outcome may not be any better than settling for an adequate outcome.
The ideas of satisficing and maximising can be applied to many aspects of life. Take house-hunting as an example: Most people have a set of specific criteria for their ideal house.
Perhaps it needs to be within a certain price bracket, with a minimum number of bedrooms, with car parking or a garden, and possibly within a certain radius of the office. Others might need space for a full recording studio, a paddock for the pony, and a newsagent within walking distance for the Sunday morning papers – to each their own.
- A true satisficer will keep looking at houses until one comes along that meets all those criteria, and will then put in an offer right away without waiting to see if there are any better houses out there.
- A true maximiser will insist on viewing each and every one of the available houses that meet their criteria before making an offer, and will worry forever more that an even better house might have come on the market the following week.
Three Steps to Effective Satisficing
Step 1 – Decide whether to satisfice or maximise
Whether you are naturally a satisficer or a maximiser, there will be occasions when both strategies are appropriate. This often depends on the impact of the relevant task. For example, if you are performing a necessary, but routine, work task that won’t have profound repercussions, then satisficing may well be appropriate. On the other hand, tasks such as writing a CV or filling in a job application could have a significant impact on your future career, and may require maximising instead. Of course, even with these tasks there will come a point when you have to stop and say “good enough.” Of course, you’ll want to carry on improving them well beyond the point where they simply tick all the boxes.
Step 2 – Establish your minimum requirements
Effective satisficing involves being crystal clear about your objectives so that, when they are complete, you can decide the task is complete. If your boss or colleague gives you a task, ask them to be specific about their requirements so you know what is expected and can define your endpoint. Remember that quality is important. When you’re establishing the minimum requirements for your task, set the bar reasonably high. It’s a mistake to think that satisficing means settling for something that is substandard. If in the first place your objectives are qualitatively high and well defined, the results will be excellent, even if you feel there is still room for improvement.
Step 3 – Be strict on completing your task
Keep track of how your task is progressing against your minimum requirements. Be strict with yourself. However tempted you are to keep making little improvements or additions, end the task once all your objectives have been met. Worrying about whether or not the outcome really is good enough or whether you should have carried on working may take up more time and energy than maximising the task in the first place.
Suffice Not Sacrifice
Many people wrongly assume that the word satisficing is a combination of satisfying and sacrificing. In fact there is no sacrifice with satisficing, since it ensures that all requirements, goals, or aspirations are adequately met. Generally when people satisfice, they don’t know whether they have missed out on a better opportunity, or whether they could have significantly improved the outcome of the task which they were undertaking, because they stop when they have completed their targets. As long as you think carefully about the minimum requirements for the task or decision and set the bar fairly high, satisficing can still provide excellent results with a fraction of the time and effort you would put into maximising.
Jul 2, 2013
Remember we promised you we’d go into more depth about those 11 strategies for coping with information overload? Well, we’re not known for breaking promises so here’s an insightful article about strategy number two: multi-tasking.
It’s controversial. Many believe that multi-tasking actually makes you less productive, but given that the majority of employees are now expected to juggle multiple tasks during a workday, multi-tasking is something we really need to stop arguing about and just get on with.
Multi-taskers are in high demand in the workforce, and organisations will often look for employees with multi-tasking skills. In a recent interview with the Radio Times Alan Sugar suggested that the civil service could be made significantly more productive by encouraging multi-tasking.
“When I compare it to my commercial organisation, we have people who multi-task, and if you applied that multi-tasking philosophy within the civil service you would cut the labour force by half.” – Lord Sugar, Radio Times
Multi-tasking allows you to work on a variety of tasks concurrently, switching between them when necessary to ensure that they are all completed. It allows you to combine high priority tasks with low priority tasks so that the most pressing jobs get done quickly, while you make progress with the rest of your work, meaning those small tasks don’t take up permanent residence on your to-do list.
Multi-tasking allows you to deal with quick, simple tasks immediately and get them out of the way, freeing up your brain to get back to the task you were originally working on. It also enables you to use a variety of skill sets during the day, preventing you from becoming bored. When you hit a wall with one task, you have the ability to switch to something else and rejuvenate before you tackle the original task once more.
For businesses, having employees that are able to multitask brings a huge number of benefits. It means that employees are more flexible and can cover for one another at short notice as they are able to perform a wide range of tasks. It also means that knowledge and information can be shared quickly and easily. Even if an employee is focused on one task, he or she can take time to share data with co-workers if that allows them to continue with their own tasks.
The higher up in an organisation you are, the more beneficial it will be to multi-task. If you’re managing people, you need to be able to respond immediately to issues as they arise rather than putting them off until you have completed the task you are working on.
Jun 19, 2013
“Procrastination is one of the most common and deadliest of diseases and its toll on success and happiness is heavy.” – Wayne Gretzky
Procrastination is the enemy of all creativity. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Hollywood screenwriter, a web designer or – like Mr Gretzky – one of the greatest ice hockey players in history, the lure of Facebook, YouTube or an afternoon lazing in front of the TV when you should be working hard comes to us all, and it can be an absolute killer. You might not even realise you’re procrastinating until your deadline starts to loom large on the horizon, and then its panic stations.
There are lots of ways to combat procrastination, and some are easier than others. It’s too easy to say “don’t go on Facebook” or “use an app to lock you out of social media and certain websites”, there has to be more to it than that, or you can still easily fall back into bad habits.
The internet is a wonderful tool for research, inspiration and fun, but it swallows time like a whale swallows water, especially if you use it for some of these ridiculous means.
Set Yourself Goals
Setting yourself goals is a great way to avoid procrastination, and breaking them into small tasks can give you a great sense of reward every time you complete a task. If the majority of your working day is spent writing, you can split your goals into small tasks such as 1) Research 2) Choosing a topic 3) Outlining each piece of work (including making bullet points for each major point you want to make) and 4) Editing and rewriting. By doing this, you structure your work and give yourself goals to accomplish within your work. It also gives you focus, which is a vital part of avoiding procrastination and keeping on track. If your work starts to go off on a tangent and lose focus, the lure of Facebook or other distractions will become much more attractive.
My personal preference, especially when it comes to writing, is to research a topic, create a title (or headline) that sets up the piece nicely and create sub-headers that set up the rest of the piece. When I have this level of focus, I know exactly where I am and I can plough through the piece and get to the finishing line quickly. It’s also a great deal easier and less stressful to edit a full piece of work than to keep stopping and starting to try and find focus. You run the risk of becoming frustrated and bored – Never a good mood to be in when you’re trying to write something interesting.
May 21, 2013
"Prioritizing is the answer to time management problems – not computers, efficiency experts, or matrix scheduling. You do not need to do work faster or to eliminate gaps in productivity to make better use of your time. You need to spend more time on the right things…"
— C. Ray Johnson, Chairman and CEO of Underground Technology Inc., and Author of CEO Logic: how to think and act like a Chief Executive
If you’re a decently-informed person, you should recognize the ubiquity of the phrase “get your priorities straight.” Who knows how many sayings there are on the matter, but it’s fairly agreed upon that having priorities is important, and setting them is even more important.
If you’re not familiar with the Pickle Jar theory, here is the link. The theory has circulated Facebook widely and was popularized as a story of a professor teaching his students a lesson: know what’s important in your life and set your priorities accordingly. Devote our time proportionally to the most important matters in our lives. Not the small matters.
Well, it’s easy to talk about setting our priorities, but how exactly do we do that? How do busy, pressured, and stressed people prioritize and find time for the important things when the small things demand so much of our time and attention?
It’s easy. You make a daily list of tasks you need to get done and cross them off when you get them done. The goal? Cross off every item by the end of the day.
Since you’re still reading, I can safely assume that this hasn’t worked for you.
Prioritizing is essentially making that list and crossing it off. But it’s also much more than that. It’s a powerful tool if used correctly, and terribly confusing if not. It requires discipline and practice. And it requires planning and thought, which takes more time out of your day–time which you need.
However, you must take that time to prioritize. It’s part of the planning process, and failing to do so could cost you more time in the future. In fact, I insist you start taking 10 minutes at the end of each day to plan and prepare for the next. It’s good practice.
To prioritize correctly, you must take time to know yourself. Figure out how you work. How disciplined are you? When do you work best–mornings, evenings? Do you need coffee or exercise before you start your day? Are you realistic, pessimistic, or optimistic? Do you need somebody–a friend or spouse–to help keep you disciplined and accountable for what you do and don’t get done?
These are necessary questions, because they will help define what you think you can get done and by when. They will also help dictate what method of list-making will help you best.