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Managing Expectations - Preventative Management

These past two days have been a bear for me.  As much as I have gotten better at reading my surroundings and coworkers, I completely went off course.  I went as far off course to say that I have been in a two day silent freakout!  Only this afternoon did I get the opportunity to reconcile my understanding of a serious work situation, but not until after it felt like my head was going to split in two pieces like a ripe melon.  It was an experience of misplaced expectations, so alarming that had accelerated my pace enough to be farther ahead in my work than I realized.

The most repeated advice I have given at work is managing the expectations of others.  This doesn't mean controlling or manipulating other peoples' expectations. To me it means gaining an objective mapping of what others expect me to do, say, or deliver.  The difference between knowing what is wanted by others, and giving them what is needed is the profit margin of efficient time and resource management.

That sounds cold doesn't it?  If you do everything that everybody wants of you, it will certainly result in a burnout condition.  At first it may seem easy and satisfying, but will quickly become overwhelming and utterly time consuming.  If you take a moment to notice, most people don't really need everything that they say.  In some cases, the remarks or requests are casual, and aren't necessary to fulfill, just simply heard.  Unfortunately, this is difficult to ascertain, especially when you are getting acquainted with new people and work environments.
When we meet people for the first time, it is important to make a good impression, and not let on how really difficult we are (or am I talking about myself?).  I recently started a new job six months ago, and have a very familiar recollection of what it was like to be in a new environment.  It is important to show people that you have just met, that their views have validation, and that their concerns have importance.  As noted earlier, it is easy to accommodate requests and expectations at first, but it is also important to begin logging and categorizing the kinds of requests and expectations people have, and how valid those are in the big picture. 
Wherever you go, there will always be "needy" people who will suck the marrow out of your bones if you let them.  Hopefully, this person isn't your direct superior.  In another article I will talk more about reverse-interviewing, but for now, suffice to say, it is important to know who you are going to be working for when you take a new job.  Fortunately in my case, I don't have needy superiors, but you never know who will be your superior in the future so watch out!
The people in our lives, whose expectations we need to manage include not only co-workers, but customers, clients, subordinates, family, and member of our communities.  Each of us only has so many hours per week and a finite amount of energy to expend on tasks to satisfy the expectations of others.  It is vital that this energy and time be subjected to a budget just as is done with money.  Priorities must be set and followed or one can find themselves overspending in low return tasks while neglecting important demands.  Once we fall behind, the fouled expectations become terrible liabilities that will actually increase the personal capital that we have to spend in order to fulfill obligations.  If you find yourself in this cycle, you have overdrawn your abilities, and need to take an inventory of how you are satisfying obligations and the expectations of others.  Operating in this particular mode is fatal to relationships, and can toxify your personal life.
In many facets of my professional and personal life, I have discovered the particular expectations that people have of me.  Most of these are relatively simple, and easy to satisfy expectations, that when taken care of ahead of time increase people's appreciation of me, and dampen any frustration they have with me.  I call this the Preventative Management of Expectations (PME).  Here is a short list of this types of things that I am sure many of you can identify with (I sure can):
Wife PME
Toilet Seat Down, Toothpaste capped, bed made, laundry in the hamper, complimenting her cooking, complimenting her nails when done at the salon, calling before bedtime while traveling away from home, etc.
My Boss PME
Coming to work on time, informing him of upset conditions, explaining budget overruns before deadlines, meeting project deadlines.
My Direct Report PME
Approving purchases regularly, communicating important information from staff meetings, taking interest in their improvement progress, allowing them to vent to me in private, cutting them some slack when they occasionally lose their temper, holding them and their peers responsible in an equal fashion.
People I just meet PME
Holding the door open, saying please, saying thank-you, respecting their personal space, watching my foul language (not easy),  including new people into conversation and activities.
All of these above short lists have one thing in common, they are all easy low-energy tasks that have a huge potential for payoff.  When you are digging yourself out of a hole, you are spending several magnitudes of energy and time more than you would by developing the habit of performing simple preventative tasks.  The profit margin is the time and energy you have left to do the things that are important to you.  If all of your time is spent tending to others, the lack of personal gratification will result in burnout. 
Burned Out on Public Accounting?
from www/
After burning out, you aren't worth anything to anybody, not even yourself.  Burnout is a condition that results from a lack of gratification whether it comes from others or ourselves.  Overspending our energy/time in the long run will place you in a collision course with a burnout condition.  I have been there before, and the reconstruction necessary to restore your capacity is far more intense and resource demanding than the simple habits listed above.  If y.ou want to stay ahead with your personal energy and time like you would with your money, then spend it wisely.  Or you will simply end up like this . . ..
Relax! It's just a costume



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