Done is often better than perfect.
At any given time in our lives, we have one or two things that would be the most effective use of our time and abilities. Of course, this is always relative to our goals and desires. In order to be doing our “best”, we need to have a goal in mind first.
This is extremely important to understand in achievement oriented spheres of life like school and work. For example, as teacher, the most important thing to focus on, generally speaking, is the teaching and learning provided to students. I’m still not entirely sure why teaching gets lumped in there, as student learning is probably sufficient.
This means that any of the work we do as teachers is by its nature “most effective” when helping students to learn. Other work is acting less effectively.
Within any day, we have about eight hours at work and about 16 hours of waking time. We can use that to do our “best” work relative to helping students learn more or better, either now or in the future. Work that doesn’t meet this aim is not our best work.
If you follow to this point and agree, then all we have to do is apply the economics idea of opportunity cost. This says that as we expend our energies on one thing, by default we cannot spend those same energies on another thing. This is very important to understand.
A few tasks common to the teaching profession include entering grades into some kind of markbook, writing student comments on a quarterly report, or creating units in some sort of computer program that administrators can see and overview. Some of this helps students to learn more or better in the present or future, but many would agree that not all of it does nor that even most of it does.
As soon as we recognize that fact, that whatever work we are doing can be contributing to student learning or not, we should immediately go into one of two modes. What Barry Schwartz refers to as “satisficing” or “maximizing”.1 Satisficing is doing the minimum required to get the job done, whether buying a product in the store without comparing online for hours ahead of time or in this case updating grades in a markbook quickly without much thought.
Maximizing is the opposite. Spending as much time as possible or needed to perfect the choice or product you are working on. Doing this too often can detract from your other work and Barry Schwartz actually believes that satisficing is the “maximizing strategy” overall. This means being very careful in what we decide to apply maximizing behavior towards.
Anytime I hear someone say, and my father is the worst offender I have ever known, “That anything worth doing is worth doing well,” I immediately recognize that person as ignorant of the concept of scarcity as it relates to time and energy and the necessity to make decisions in how we utilize those two resources. We can’t do and be all things to all people. Many of us can’t even reply to every email that comes across our inboxes and this strategy would imply that we not feel an overwhelming need to do so.2
Choices always have to be made. Choose better. That means choosing intelligently. That means choosing with a goal in mind and marshalling all your resources and abilities to do achieve the goal and batching the rest of life into the “satisficers” box to be done with the minimum of effort and distraction as possible.
Only then will we have more time to attack the things that really matter to us in life.