Your expectations are failing you.
I’ve had some version of this conversation with several clients (and myself!) this past week:
Me: What would you like to focus on?
Client: I need to get XYZ done.
Me: Fantastic, let’s do it. When do you want it done by?
Client: End of this week.
Me: Great. What’s happening in your life between now and then?
Client: I’m traveling for 2 days, my childcare is wonky, and I have family coming in from out of town this weekend. Oh, and I have a dentist appointment later today.
Me: Wow. You’ve got a busy week. How long would this project take you if you had a fully cleared schedule?
Client: Two weeks.
Listen, I get it. I have this tendency when things are crazy busy to add another major thing to the list. Think: “Let’s paint a bedroom in the middle of holiday shopping, cooking and planning!”
But as a parent, business owner, gig-creator, artist and/or all the many things you’ve got going on - you’re fighting the overwhelm fight almost everyday, not just when things are over-the-top busy.
And your expectations of yourself simply don’t match the reality of what is humanly possible.
Don’t worry. You don’t have to (gasp) lower your expectations and produce at a sub-par level.
But - let’s be honest - your unrealistic expectations are not about being super productive.
They’re about giving yourself a hard time.
I’ve heard the way you talk to yourself. You want to do it all, then when you don’t do it all, you call yourself names. Which makes it harder to do anything, let alone ALL the things.
So, one, definitely stop talking mean to yourself. It’s not helping.
And two, let’s put a practice into place that makes you see things a bit more realistically AND make progress on all that you want to create.
There are three things contributing to the disconnect:
You don’t know your expectations of yourself.
How many times have you worked all day and at the end, have no idea what you’ve actually accomplished? You’ve plowed into your to-do list, without taking real stock of what would make it a successful day.
You haven’t taken into account other areas of your life.
You’ve determined a priority for today (I’m going to finally get my taxes done!) but you’ve forgotten that your super needs to come by to fix the boiler, the kids need help with their homework, and you have a doctor’s appointment at noon. Oh, and you definitely want to get a jog in. And grocery shopping too.
You have no idea how long your project is actually going to take.
“This call will only take me 10 minutes” (Cut to 20 minutes later…as you’re 15 minutes late to your next appointment.) Most humans are overly optimistic about how much time they have to devote to a project. Also, they radically underestimate how long it is going to take to complete said project. These two things together make for some very bad math.
All of this adds up to you feeling overwhelmed, behind and under-accomplished. Which means more crappy feelings. Which means less productivity. It’s a brutal spiral.
Let’s do a little pre-thinking and pre-planning, before we dive in. Below is the process I take myself and my clients through when there’s too much on the list to see our way to the other side.
This might seem like a long drawn out process when you have so very much to do right now. But here’s what you’ll walk away with:
An achievable action plan.
Why does this work so much better than a banging to-do list? Because it roots you into what you really want: the feeling you will get when you make what you want happen.
We are not interested in completed to-do’s or finished projects or clean houses.
We are chasing the feeling those things will bring.
So let’s do it. As you’re planning out your day or week, write down your answers to these questions:
What do I want to feel at the end of this day/week?
If you’re struggling with this, think about the feeling you currently have that you no longer want to carry around with you. You’re feeling frazzled? Perhaps calm is what you’re after. Really get specific and curious about this. (Note: “Good“ is not a feeling. Get super specific.)
What needs to happen between now and then to create that feeling?
If you’ve got 40,0000 things in answer to this, star the 3 most important. Then, circle the top priority of those three. If you accomplished this ONE thing between now and then, how would you feel?
What else is happening between now and then?
Don’t be shy. Write it ALL down. This is accounting - you need to know all the factors at play or the math doesn’t work.
With all that is happening, how much time do I really have to devote to this project?
Thursday 9am-1:15 pm? 1.5 hours? 40 minutes? 10 minutes?
How reasonable and achievable is it for me to complete this project in that amount of time?
Be honest and loving with yourself here. If you think you know how much time it will take, double it.
If the answer is “not reasonable”, what is a more reasonable and achievable expectation for this time frame?
Break it down until you have a completely doable task. What is the easiest thing for you to accomplish? (Looking at your schedule and blocking off time for you to achieve your goal is an awesome answer to this question, and IS progress.)
If the answer is “100% reasonable” what needs to move off the list and/or what support do you need to help you achieve your goal?Go ahead and move whatever you need to off your list and/or ask for the support you need.
And you’re off and running.
Even the smallest amount of progress is still progress. Getting something done on a project that has been sitting on the shelf for weeks is still a 100% improvement over last week.
Celebrate it. Good feelings bring more productivity. Dare to feel awesome.
Share with me in the comments below what happened for you as you implemented this process. What did you notice? What changes did it inspire? And what were you able to accomplish with these reset expectations?