What is the maximum amount of water you can put in a 16-ounce glass? 16 ounces — no more. Pretty obvious, right? Well, then why don’t we treat ourselves the same way? Our culture promotes putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to accomplish an unattainable amount of work in too little time (too much water in our cups). As a result, we’ve overexerted our mental and physical capacity and wear ourselves down day after day.
I had the hard realization not too long ago that I had in fact been doing this subconsciously to myself for years. When someone finally told me I was over capacity and not setting fair expectations for myself, I felt like a ton of bricks was lifted off my shoulders. It just wasn’t practical to live like that and I soon learned that it was actually okay to take it down a notch to a more to a reasonable and attainable level. If you think you might be doing this to yourself too, my goal is that you gain a refreshed mindset after reading this post.
The issue with to-do lists and expectations
Let’s say you are a big to-do list person. Saturday morning comes around and you stare down at your list for the day. Nine things to do — and each will take well over an hour. Things such as laundry, grocery shopping, a workout, and so on. But at 6pm, you have dinner plans with friends — something you have been looking forward to all week long. First, you need to get through these nine items. So you spend your Saturday rushing around to get everything done (likely not enjoying any of it while your mind is set on the next activity). Then 5pm comes around and you realize you’re only on to-do list item number six. There is no way you can get the other three done given how much time each will take. And by now, you’re exhausted which is affecting your energy level and enthusiasm for dinner with friends that night. You’ve probably been there, right? And if not on a weekend, definitely on a weekday.
In this scenario, either way you lose:
- By overfilling your to-do list, you’re unable to complete it and thus feel like a failure for the day — all because you set the wrong expectations for the day. How could you ever satisfy them? You couldn’t.
- You were so focused on your to do list that you de-prioritized being ready for your dinner plans. Now, you’ll be tired and less than enthusiastic during dinner, which is no fun for anyone.
So how do you set the right expectations for the day?
There are only a certain number of hours in a day and different activities take different amounts of time. That’s obvious. But put into action, it’s hard to determine how much you can truly fit into one day so you can accomplish it all — and ideally with less stress. Sure, nine things sounds impressive, especially for a Saturday but in that scenario, it just wasn’t feasible.
Here’s how I approach scheduling each day to set the right expectations and end on a successful note:
- Intentions: Each day I aim to wake up and make an intention for myself for the day. Such as, today I’m going to meet 3 new people to grow my business, or today I’m going to kick off redesigning my website. This intention will help you determine what’s important and what’s not that day.
- Available Time: Open up your calendar and notice how many hours you have available to get things done, both work and non-work related.
- Priorities: Prioritize the activities in your day and note down which one(s) might need to get pushed off to another day — and be okay with that.
- Smart Scheduling: In your calendar, actually schedule each activity. The important step here is not just to aim to do something at a random time, but during a time you feel you’re best suited to get it done. For example, I am best at writing in the morning and at night, so I schedule writing during those hours.
- Timeframes: Set reasonable timeframes to get things done. For example, don’t give yourself an hour to complete something that could very well take 1.5 hours. That will also set you up for failure.
- Accept Flexibility: Be okay with moving things around your day progresses — you always need to prepare for the unexpected. If a last minute meeting comes up, or a relative calls, or you need to pick someone up, be okay with those happening and simply shift your schedule around. Life happens!
- Reflect: At the end of each day, evaluate how well you gauged the length of each activity. Were you way off? Spot on? Take that input and implement changes where needed the very next day.
By knowing our personal capacity levels each day, we can set better expectations each day and feel better about our accomplishments each night. I also recommend that you save time for yourself each day. Whether it be meditation or breathing activities to calm your nerve, cooking or baking if you enjoy that, working out, or other hobbies like playing an instrument or learning a new skill. Don’t just fill your day with work-related tasks. Focus on you too!
Setting the expectations of others
Alongside understanding and accepting your own limits comes the strength to say “no” to others when they ask things of you that you either simply cannot do, or do not have time given your day’s schedule to do.
There are only a certain number of hours in a day and if you’re already at capacity based on your new form of scheduling, you’ll have to consider doing something someone asks of you on another day — so long as it’s not a pressing priority. Only if an urgent matter comes up should you shift your schedule, otherwise stick to it to be fair to yourself.
If you have a to-do list written out right now, or perhaps you keep the list running in your head, then open up your calendar (digital or physical, whichever you use most) and begin scheduling out your activities.
Prioritize that list, estimate how long each task will take and realize when you are best at performing it. Once you’ve filled up your available hours, take a look at it. Did everything fit? If not, chances are you’ve been over-exerting yourself for a long time and now is the time to wake up and shift your priorities. Become comfortable with what’s not a priority and be okay with pushing it off to another day, week, month, or maybe even never if it’s not important. It will take practice to get used to this (it took me about a month), but now I’m completely off to do lists and end each day I’m much more satisfied with what I’ve done. I hope you will be too!