Productivity and GTD

What "Satisficing" Is and How It Affects Your Personal Productivity

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez

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“Satisficing” is a term that the economist Herbert Simon coined in 1956. It’s actually a cross between the words “satisfying” and “sufficing”, and comes to say that when we have to make a decision, we generally don’t waste much time evaluating all possible options, we just choose the first reasonable option we find.

We might think that, when we face a problem, the logical model to make a decision would be: (1) collect all possible information, (2) identify all possible solutions, (3) compare them and (4) choose the best one. However, Gary Klein, author of Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions, after studying for a decade how decisions are made in critical situations—short time, little information, and changing conditions—concluded that people usually don’t make comparisons. We take the first reasonable option that comes to our mind, we quickly evaluate potential problems and if we don’t find any relevant issue, we have the solution.

This is mainly because humans do not have the cognitive resources to optimize decision-making: we cannot accurately assess each of the possible outcomes, we cannot properly estimate the probabilities of each outcome, and the capacity of our memory is quite limited.

This behavior is taken into account in environments such as marketing and design of websites, where users and customers are always in a hurry and choose the first thing that catches their attention and covers a minimum threshold.

Optimizing each of your decisions or just picking a good enough choice is something that largely affects your personal productivity. Of course, there will be some problems which consequences require a comprehensive analysis of all possible solutions. But they are a tiny percentage of your problems. Most of them would be perfectly solved by a satisficing approach.

Related article: You don’t need to be so organized.

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