Magical Thinking and Managing Your Expectations

By Paige Wilcox

quarterly planning

dateWed, May 19, 2021 @ 11:05 AM

Have you ever been particularly busy with work—maybe leading up to a big event or project deadline—and tell yourself, "OK, things will calm down once this is done, so I just need to power through right now to get everything done."
quarterly planning
In powering through, you pack your day full of meetings and tasks that simply must get done in order to meet your deadline, but each day, you managed to accomplish far fewer things than you expected. You thought you could get everything done, but the list of leftover 'must-get-dones' builds and looms. 
Over-estimating with the best of intentions what you can get done in a given day is what Harvard Business Review's "Be More Realistic About the Time You Have" article refers to as magical thinking:
"We persuade ourselves there’s no harm in overambitious plans because they help us overachieve. And especially with remote work, we are convinced of the need to show others our value through overwork. Yet when we indulge in magical thinking, we can disappoint others who depend on us, miss deadlines, feel depleted, and lose our inspiration."
And a brutal truth that compounds this snowball effect is that your workload is not temporary. Once you've hit your current deadline, you're going to have another after that and so on, so be mindful about what you can actually accomplish in any given day so that you don't burn out.
How do you be mindful and realistic about what you can accomplish? How can you better manage expectations for yourself and your team?
In planning for the quarter ahead, first reflect on the previous one. What did you set out to accomplish? Did you succeed? What worked well? Where did you fall short? 
The answers should inform and shape expectations for what you can achieve this quarter. More likely than not, you tried to accomplish too much. Prioritize the big things you want to get done this quarter. Limit yourself/your team to 3-5 strategic priorities. Being realistic about your goals and allowing for the time and space to work on them will set you up for success.
Think about the last time you went to a restaurant. Do you trust the quality of your order when there are a million things on the menu? If you're like me, you're resigned to the reality that your order will likely be mediocre at best. I trust places with smaller menus because I think that the fewer the options, the more likely the restaurant is to do those few dishes really well.
So cut down your menu for the quarter, and focus on cooking a few items really well...are we all hungry now? Set realistic expectations for your goals for this quarter (and what you can accomplish each day), and then go get something good for lunch.
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Paige Wilcox


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images