THE BLOG

Eradicate Overwhelm at Work by Bridging the Expectation-Reality Gap

05/12/2015 03:40 pm ET | Updated May 11, 2016

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One thing I know for sure after two decades of coaching uber achievers; they have high expectations of themselves. Not just normally high but really high expectations. It's a curse and a blessing. And, for most high performers, it's a conundrum.

High achievers posses super human ability to accomplish volumes in a day. They are gifted, talented individuals capable of ginormous achievements. Their expectations to achieve, on the other hand, are often out of sync with reality...said with all due respect to my super achieving colleagues.

The real challenge--given their lofty expectations and that pesky thing called reality--an extraordinary performer winds up with diminished achievement. Why? The chasm that exists between their expectations and reality creates stress and overwhelm at work and at home. Additionally, they are underpaid which impairs their power to engage needed resources. They work into the wee hours of the night, squeeze more into each day, and use their weekends to catch up on what didn't get accomplished during the week. Sound familiar?

Subsequently, they are burned out. Creativity and innovation go out the window as they attempt to hold the frayed ends of their business together. The ability to think clearly, make strategic decisions, and take their business to the next level is clouded by fatigue. Sleep deprivation leads to restless nights. Exhaustion triggers poor nutritional choices that exasperate the situation. And round and round it goes...

Bridging the Gap
To visually demonstrate the expectation--reality gap, grab a piece of paper. In the middle of the page, from left to right, draw a line and label it "reality." At the very top of your page, draw another line from left to right and label it "my expectations."

In between those two lines, write the following words--stress, burnout, fatigue, crabby, angry, short fuse, overwhelmed, easily distracted, decision avoidance--and whatever else the gap triggers for you.

Bridging the gap between expectations and reality isn't easy. It beckons you to make changes in how you think and act. Yet, it begins with simple questions each day:

  1. What is it that I expect of myself?

    For a crystal clear understanding of your expectancies, don't just make a mental list--document each and every detail. The ability to see all that you expect is a real mind-bender.


  2. What is realistic to achieve given my current commitments?

Stop "piling on" or biting off too much each day. Respect your boundaries.

  • What needs to be done today?

  • Prioritize activities, using a Daily Goal Planner, starting with those directly related to your goals.

  • What can be scheduled for another day?

  • Easier said than done--until you close the books each day with a sense of accomplishment rather than defeat.

  • What can be delegated?

  • Assign qualified staff or service providers to handle activities better suited to their skill and qualifications.

  • What needs to be deep-sixed?

  • Expectations are not engraved in granite. After careful reflection, many expectations may no longer be relevant.

    Entrepreneurs bridging the expectation-reality gap find success when pairing questions with actions, such as:

    • Pare the daily "to do" list from 12 to 3.
    • Balance meetings throughout the week to allow time each day to stay on top of what really matters.
    • Launch into the day with the "one thing" that means the most to the future of the business. Until the "one thing" is complete, everything else is a diversion.
    • Say "no"--a lot!
    • Establish boundaries to properly manage the expectations of others

    It all sounds so simple--and it is.

    Simple is not the same as easy: easy means with little or no effort. Aligning your expectation-reality gap--and all the fulfillment, satisfaction, inner peace, calm, joy, and happiness that accompany it--is well worth the effort.

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