Do you ever feel like you’re working hard, but no one really notices? In fact, the harder you work, the more people seem to expect of you…
You’re not alone.
But here’s the good news: It’s all your own fault.
Yes, it’s true that life has its share of challenges and curveballs, but the simple truth is, you have a ton of control over your own life. All you have to do is learn how to manage expectations.
Now, you might be inclined to think, “Jake, you’re a successful business owner. Of course you think everyone has a ton of control over their own life.”
But I wasn’t always a business owner.
I started my career working as a web analytics consultant for Adobe. I was fresh out of school and I’ll admit that I was far from the brightest or most talented consultant on the team.
That meant it took me a lot longer to do the same work as my teammates. As a result, I was working more and earning less than almost everyone on my team.
Not a good situation, right?
To make matters worse, things didn’t seem to be getting better with time. Yes, my skills were improving, but my overall workload was increasing as well. I was going nowhere…fast.
Identifying the Problem
After a few months, I decided that something needed to change. Working harder wasn’t helping me reach my professional and personal goals — I needed to work smarter.
So, I asked myself a simple question: What do my clients actually expect from me?
To answer that question, I sat down and read through the terms and conditions of our client agreement. What I read there shocked me. On average, we were doing way more work for our clients than was outlined in the contract.
Good for the clients? Sure. But there was a problem.
On the introductory call, we basically told the clients, “You’ve paid for X billable hours, but we should be able to get the projects outlined in the contract done much faster. With the rest of those billable hours, here are some cool things we’re going to do for you.”
Essentially, we were resetting our clients’ expectations. Now, just to meet their expectations, we had to do a lot more work!
Making a Change
With all this in mind, I decided to try an experiment. Instead of telling my clients about all of the extra things I would do for them on the kickoff call, I would simply use the call to review project expectations — per the actual contract.
I then worked hard to meet their expectations. If I managed to complete the project early, I would then use the remaining billable hours to do something extra as a surprise for the client.
All of a sudden, I wasn’t increasing expectations anymore. Instead, I was exceeding them.
As a result, I was working less and my clients were thrilled with their results. Now, I’ll be honest, the solutions my teammates were providing were still better than what I could achieve, but who did clients call to rave about? Me.
Managing Expectations at Work
There’s a simple moral to this story: Successful employees effectively manage expectations.
To do that, however, you need to understand exactly what your job is…and what it isn’t. Odds are, if you’re reading this article, you’ve taken on quite a few tasks that aren’t (or shouldn’t be) expectations.
Going above and beyond is an awesome way to prove your worth, provided that your extra work doesn’t become extra, uncompensated expectations. If you are going to do more on a regular basis, your boss should be willing to pay you more.
But, if you’re a bit of a “yesaholic,” you’ve probably picked up a lot of extra work without really meaning to. You’re overworked and underappreciated.
Something needs to change.
To fix things, make a list of your current tasks and projects and how much time each one takes. Then sit down with your boss and go over the list together. Identify what your real expectations are and the tasks you should let go or let someone else take care of.
It can be a bit of a scary conversation, but if you are in this situation, you are probably a pretty valuable employee, so most supervisors will be willing to work with you.
Incidentally, as you put together this list, it’s usually best to inflate your time estimates by around 10–20%. Things don’t always go according to plan, so leave yourself a bit of buffer time. That way, when life happens, you can still meet your boss’s expectations.
And, if everything goes smoothly, you can use that extra time to actually exceed their expectations!
[Related: 9 Biggest Professional Breakthroughs of 2016]
Managing Expectations at Home
The good news is, this idea works just as well at home as it does at work.
For example, I used to tell my wife that a project would take 4 hours. Then, something would inevitably come up and the project would eat up the whole weekend. Or, I’d tell her that I would be home at 6:00 pm and then walk through the door at 6:20 pm.
Not a great way to meet — let alone exceed — expectations.
Now, I will admit that I’m much quicker about figuring things out at work than I am at figuring them out in my home life, but I eventually discovered that managing expectations is a great way to make my wife and family happy too.
These days, I don’t tell my wife I’ll be home at 6:00. I say 7:00. That way, when I get home at 6:20, I get a hug and a kiss…not a frustrated “where were you?”
So, if you’re killing yourself at work and no one seems to care, don’t blame your boss, your coworkers or your spouse! They might be part of the problem, but ultimately it’s up to you to solve the problem.
It might be a bit nerve-wracking to sit down and reset expectations, but if you make the effort, your workload will be more manageable and your extra effort will be more appreciated.
Originally published at www.glassdoor.com on January 16, 2017.