Let’s face it, this is a tough time. People are breaking down. Especially where children aren’t going back to school, working parents are struggling to manage emotionally on a day-to-day basis. Many are caring for their parents or sick relatives, or alternatively, the pain of being alone much of the time. With so many pressures on top of what was already going on in our daily lives, it is easy to become overwhelmed. I love the quote, “Happiness is managing expectations.” One of the best ways to navigate stress and anxiety of this time is to manage expectations – both of others and yourself.
Managing the Expectations of Others
Many people’s to-do list is so long it doesn’t fit on the paper anymore. When stress runs high, heaven help the person who calls up to ask where their report is at 7:00 in the evening! Instead of getting so close to the edge that we are toppled by the last straw, it helps to manage the expectations of other people upfront. This includes setting realistic response times and refusing to commit to time frames that you know you can’t meet. It is easier to tell people that you can’t meet their preferred deadline during the first conversation, rather than agreeing to the deadline, panicking as it gets closer, and letting someone down at the last minute. It may feel hard in the moment, but over time, it will save you tremendous grief by setting proper expectations upfront.
It pays to be strategic. If your boss gives you yet another piece of work, ask him or her what they would like you to de-prioritize so that you can complete the new assignment. This simple question can remind the boss that there must be trade-offs, at least in terms of prioritization of work, if more is to be assigned. The conversation about priorities and shifted deadlines also helps to put you and your boss on the same page as to what is the most important piece of work to complete. You are much likely to keep your boss happy if you agree on what is most critical to finish.
Managing Expectations of Yourself
When we think of “managing expectations,” we don’t often consider the application of the phrase to ourselves. But it’s a cliché that we are our own worst critic. When we don’t live up to our own expectations, we may punish ourselves more than anyone at work ever could without being arrested. Managing your expectations of yourself is critical for your long-term success.
How do you manage your expectations of yourself? Start by being realistic about what can be done in the time available. Don’t use the best-case scenario as the starting point for what you’ll be able to accomplish. Builders often buy 10% more tile or trim than they calculate that they’ll need, simply because in life and in sawing materials, we sometimes miss the mark. Build time in to be interrupted, or for a fire to flare up.
One of my friends has a cartoon on her fridge that says, “I think I’ll try to accomplish something today. Like getting through it.” Keep your expectations of what is possible in check.
Under-promising and Over-delivering
One of the best things about managing the expectations of others and yourself is that you allow for the opportunity to under-promise and over-deliver. Business owners are told to “surprise and delight” their customers to earn their long-term loyalty. By setting expectations properly in the beginning, you allow yourself the opportunity to surprise and delight. At that point, the worst-case scenario is living up to the expectations you set to begin with, which is a very good outcome regardless.