When perfect is the enemy of good

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Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

One of the common refrains you heard last week as the GOP healthcare plan marched to its demise was Republicans saying that “we're letting perfect be the enemy of good.”

The bill, of course, was Not Good for long-term care providers in that they tend to appreciate Medicaid funding for taking care of elderly people in nursing homes, along with having, say, essential health benefits covered.

But there is a lesson for us all in their failure, which is how often do we dig in our heels and end up with nothing, or, in the Republican's case, ultimately accept the upholding of a law they hated so much they made it a centerpiece of their campaigns for the past seven years?

One of the top areas I see the problem of attempting to reach the perfect in long-term care relates to new technology. Over and over again we hear “But it takes so long to install. It's too expensive. What if something better comes along?”

A certain amount of this is prudent, as research into any vendor or multi-year contract is part of your job, and technology can change quickly. But at a certain point holding back makes you the person who doesn't yet have a smartphone because they're waiting for something better to come along. I'm sure the iPhone 11 will be amazing, but do you really want to be the person holding out for that?

We also can see perfect as the enemy of good in approaching our email inboxes. Many of us want to achieve “Inbox Zero,” but that standard can be paralyzing. We can break it down into better ways to get through what we can: Answering/sending for 10 minutes every other hour, filtering emails by level of importance or telling certain members of your team to IM you if they need something immediately. Accept the need to triage rather than attempt complicated surgery.

There's also recognizing that agonizing over decisions in an attempt to reach perfection doesn't make you happier or result in a better decision. Gretchen Rubin, an expert in happiness, talks about the difference between “Satisficers,” who are those who make a decision once their standards are met, compared to “Maximizers,” who want to make the best possible decision. It's not that satisficers are lazy or have low standards, but they are able to see how most decisions don't have to be agonized over.

Of course, the decision-making process also has to be occasionally separated from actions. Let's take housework: I'm a person who will rush through washing dishes or wiping the windows because, let's face it, it's boring. I would rather have the ability to say “That's done” than have it be perfect. The problem, of course, is that I often end up with dishes with spots on them or windows that have streaks. While we can't let perfect be the enemy of good, we do have to still have high standards. That means when you see staff cutting corners, whether it's in lifting a resident or in answering an alert, you need to figure out how to help them do better.

In hiring decisions, it's also necessary to ask if you are being a “Satisficer” versus a “Maximizer.” We've all had circumstances where we're so desperate to fill a position that we jump at someone who seems, well, fine. But if you're metaphorically re-washing their dishes, you should ask yourself whether you set the bar at the right level.

Finding the balance is challenging and it is not always, dare I say, perfect. But by recognizing whether we are setting lofty but achievable goals, or ultimately hurting ourselves or our organization through perfectionism, we can better move forward towards greatness.

Follow Elizabeth @TigerELN.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.