When I was a graduate student working on my MBA, the professors worked to ingrain in us the principle of satisficing. Satisficing, a combination of the word ‘satisfy’ and ‘suffice,’ is the process of finding a solution which will sufficiently satisfy the requirements, without necessarily finding the best solution. It requires a balance between the needs and the time and/or resources allocated to meet those needs. It is a principle that applies in everyday life and the workplace just as much as it did in graduate school.
The process by which our professors endeavored to teach this principle was to assign more work than could be done in the allotted time if a student was continuously striving to complete each assignment to the best of his/her ability. If a student worked diligently, however, it was possible to complete all of the assignments satisfactorily. The professors recognized that most MBA students will work in very demanding careers and that they will need to learn to balance their work loads to achieve all that is asked of them. This will require some compromise–everything will not be able to be done perfectly, but everything can be done well enough to meet the needs. Those of us who learned this lesson early found ourselves graduating at the top of our class. Those who didn’t struggled to complete the program.
The principle of satisficing works well in many areas of life, although I’m certain there are some areas in which the best solutions must be found. I personally employed this principle in my home as the very busy mother of three young sons. My oldest son was only 19 months old when my twin sons were born. I was determined to be the best mother that I could be and so I worked furiously to keep my house in order, cook healthy meals from scratch, and volunteer in my church while caring for these three very busy little boys. Consequently, I was stressed and exhausted most of the time. It didn’t take long to realize that I couldn’t do everything to the highest standard and maintain my sanity.
I had to lower my standards to levels that would meet the needs sufficiently and satisfactorily rather than perfectly. My house was not ‘company ready’ all the time, but it was cleaned regularly and the boys always had clean clothes to wear. Sometimes I bought canned spaghetti sauce and boxed cake mixes rather than making them from scratch. Occasionally I rearranged the furniture to hide a stain I couldn’t get out of the carpet.
Satisficing is a good principle to employ at Christmas time. The holidays can be a time of great stress for those who become overly focused on doing everything perfectly. We can never achieve the perfect holiday and striving to do so generally results in creating stress and chaos. For many years I resisted sending out a newsy Christmas letter in my cards because I felt it lacked the personal touch. I spent countlesss hours each December writing long, handwritten notes to each Christmas card recipient. The process took so much time that I would get behind on my shopping and gift wrapping. I would find myself rushing through the mall madly scrambling for gifts, rather than enjoying the sights and sounds of Christmas. When I found myself dreading sending out Christmas cards, I knew I had to make a change. Since I began typing a Christmas letter, the cards get done faster and are no longer a source of irritation and I have more time to enjoy other aspects of the holidays.
This year I would encourage each of you to examine your holiday traditions. If something no longer fits your family or is causing too much stress, let it go. You can have a wonderful Christmas even if your house does not boast the best decorations on your street. Your holiday meal can be delicious and memorable even if you serve store-bought pies. No one will notice if your gingerbread house is slightly misshapen, or if you skip the gingerbread house altogether this year. You will likely never achieve the ‘perfect’ Christmas holiday but you may very well find a balance that will allow you to have a holiday that is sufficiently close to your ideal for you to feel a great deal of satisfaction.