The Art and Science of Managing Expectations

The following is a guest post by Art Gelwicks. Art is a solutions consultant by profession and a technologist by passion. Since Day-Timers and Palm Pilots, he has always had a soft spot for turning processes into successes and techniques into tools. An experienced speaker and trainer, Art spends his time focused on finding ways to make things work more effectively, regardless of the technology involved. A father of three and husband to a wonderful wife, Art recognizes the importance of balance between home and work. You can find his work at The Idea Pump, and you can follow him over at Google+ and Twitter.

Every day we are constantly bombarded with things to do, requests from others, follow up items and more. Personal or professional, it seems there isn’t a moment that goes by that isn’t driven by the expectations of yourself or others. It’s the art and science of managing those expectations that creates the difference between success and stress in our day-to-day lives.

External Expectations

Email. Instant messaging. SMS. Social media. Phone calls. The list goes on and on but they all have one thing in common. Every one of these creates expectations on us as people. Ever heard these before?

  • “Did you get my text?”
  • “What do you think about Joe’s post on Facebook?”
  • “You should post that picture on Instagram.”
  • “Did you call your mother?”

Expectations coming from outside sources are perfect candidates for managing the Idea Pump way…capture, act, report. When you recognize someone has placed an expectation on you, whether it is for something involved such as a blog post or something simple such as hanging up your coat, capture it. Use your productivity tool of choice – whether it’s Springpad, Evernote, Google Keep, or [insert name of tool you like here]. Get it recorded. Managing an expectation can only begin when you know what is expected. Also, make sure you note who placed that expectation on you. That tidbit of information is critical when you get to the third step in the process.

Now act on the expectation. Maybe not immediately (remember this is managing expectations, not prioritization) but make sure the expectation is met. Success with action is determined by your understanding of the expectation, so make sure when you are doing the capture step you are absolutely clear on what is expected of you. Think about it as, “What is the criteria for the person expecting me to do this for them to consider me successful?”

Once you have captured and acted, you have to report your success. I know it sounds silly for minor things, but it is essential in establishing credibility on meeting expectations. If you write and post the blog article, make sure you send the follow up email so the expector knows you did, don’t just count on them to see it. If you’ve done a list of chores, go back to whomever assigned them to you and confirm they are done. More than just confirmation, you are getting validation in your process for managing these expectations.

Internal Expectations

These can be the most insidious types of expectations because the only person to report to for confirmation is ourselves. We put an amazing number of expectations on ourselves every day, from taking care of the finances to watching that latest episode of The Big Bang Theory. When dealing with internal expectations, there is an important second part to the capture step: expectation valuation.

There are two main drivers in life: Wants and Needs. If you need something (food for example), there is a measurable result if you don’t meet that need. If you want something, the result of not getting it isn’t as measurable as it is emotional. If I want a new tablet but don’t get it, I am not likely to suffer any measurable consequences as a result, but my emotions may pay the price. When capturing personal expectations, make sure you know which are needs and which are wants. It is in this way when you evaluate the expectation just before acting, you can decide is it truly an expectation that needs to be met at that time.

Expectations are a way of life. There is no way to get through life without dealing with the expectations of yourself and others. Success and stress management come from understanding those expectations, addressing them, and then confirming them as met so you can close the book on each and move on to the next.

Photo credit: Lioness65 via SXC.HU