Satisficing Decision Making: When More Effort Leads to Fewer Results

a month ago   •   4 min read

By Colton Hicks

We're often told that, to be successful, we need to work harder and put in more effort. But this isn't always the case.

Sometimes, putting in more effort doesn't lead to better results. In fact, the opposite can be true—there are activities that decrease in value when you add more time and effort to them. This is why it's important to know when something is "good enough."  It'll save us time and allow us to maximize our efforts on higher leverage tasks.

This is known as satisficing decision-making. And in this article, we’ll discuss why it's important and how to handle these opportunities.

Why It's Important to Stop at "Good Enough"

It’s not wise to maximize time and effort for every decision in your life.

We’re all given the same 24 hours a day. So there’s an opportunity cost to every decision you make. Whenever you say “yes” to a decision, you’re simultaneously saying “no” to tons of others. So if you want to create optimal outcomes, you'll want to focus your time and effort on what matters most.

It's also critical to be aware of decision fatigue. Throughout the day, you have a limited reserve of decisions you can make. Eventually, you'll exhaust this reserve, and your judgment will be of lesser quality. This is because you've depleted your energy and no longer have the mental bandwidth to make effective decisions.

Satisficing is how we can address opportunity costs and decision fatigue. It frees up time so we can maximize our productivity elsewhere. It also allows us to respect human nature and our limited capacity for decision-making throughout the day.

As an example, let’s say you wanted to exercise more. Going from no exercise, to just a little bit, can make a big difference in your health.  But exercising too much can cause injury and chronic inflammation.

Doing just a little bit of exercise is a great investment of your time.  But there's an opportunity cost of working out too much.  The sweet spot is the optimal solution.

In some areas of your life, stopping at “good enough” is better than doing more.

Diminishing Returns: When Taking Action Begins to Hurt Your Results

So how do you know when you've reached a satisfactory or adequate result? As decision-makers, it's important to understand the concept of "diminishing returns."

Diminishing returns means that each input you add leads to a decreasing rate of output. To put simply, it's the point where the benefits of taking action start to decrease as you put more effort into it. This is demonstrated in the image below:

Personal Excellence

For example, think about washing your car.  If it's pretty dirty, then washing it will provide obvious benefits. At some point, though, washing it more doesn’t make it much cleaner. This is the point of diminishing returns.

Here are other situations where you'll likely experience this phenomenon:

  • Deciding what to wear in the morning.
  • Stressing out over a work project.
  • Picking a restaurant for dinner.

For these types of decisions, it’s important to know when to stop. You don’t want to spend hours researching which restaurant to eat at when a satisfactory decision exists. The same goes for deciding what to wear in the morning—if it’s “good enough,” move on and focus your energy elsewhere.

Understanding how to handle diminishing returns in your life will allow you to better invest your time and be more effective.

The big takeaway is that we should all learn how to be an imperfectionist in areas where “good enough” is more important than "doing more."

The Art of Being an Imperfectionist

An imperfectionist is someone who, within the context of diminishing returns, looks for the optimal point where the least amount of effort generates the greatest return.

They're someone who's happy with “good enough.”

The beauty of being an imperfectionist is that it allows you to limit decision-fatigue, freeing up time and energy. It’s not about being lazy or making sub-optimal decisions.  It’s about understanding when more effort won’t lead to better results.

Here's how to be an imperfectionist:

  • Maximize your time in areas that give you exponential returns, not diminishing returns.
  • Seek the sweet spot between too little, and too much effort.
  • Respect your limited decision-making capacity.
  • Let go of the need to be perfect.
  • Always be aware of opportunity costs. Ask yourself: "What else could I be doing with my time?"

What decision will you start satisficing today?


Next Steps

When we satisfice, we are looking for the optimal solution that generates the greatest return and frees up time. It allows us to make optimal choices that respect human nature and our limited capacity for decision-making. So, the next time you find yourself stuck in decision-making mode, ask yourself if you're experiencing diminishing returns! It just might save you time and energy.

Want to learn how to use human psychology to your advantage and make progress towards your goals? Check out our article: How to Gain Leverage on Yourself and Finally Accomplish Your Goals.

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