Prevent frustration and overwork with these powerful, yet simple tools

Rhythms, rituals, and questions guaranteed to help you clarify your thinking and set clear expectations when working on a team
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When work­ing on a team, have you ever been frus­trat­ed because a project did not turn out quite right?

It turns out that our expec­ta­tions are often linked to frus­tra­tion and over­work. If we want to pre­vent frus­tra­tion, we must con­sid­er how we com­mu­ni­cate our per­son­al expec­ta­tions. Con­sid­er these ques­tions:

How often do you clear­ly set your per­son­al expec­ta­tions?

How often do you com­mu­ni­cate those expec­ta­tions to your team?

Do you do that a way the brain is wired to under­stand infor­ma­tion?

Do you review your expec­ta­tions and results con­sis­tent­ly?

In this post, I’ll help you learn how to be clear with your team and your­self. Appro­pri­ate­ly clar­i­fied expec­ta­tions will pre­vent frus­tra­tion, pre­vent busy work, pre­vent over work, and help you achieve more focus and momen­tum.

First, some thoughts on personal expectations (internal processing)

Per­son­al expec­ta­tions are a pic­ture of what suc­cess looks like. But because it’s a per­son­al expec­ta­tion, it’s high­ly like­ly that no one else knows it, except for you. For some, the expec­ta­tion could be as sim­ple as every­one show­ing up in the same room at the same time. For oth­ers, it looks as elab­o­rate and orna­ment­ed as Dis­ney­land.

Notice expectations everywhere

We must grow in our aware­ness of our expec­ta­tions. We have expec­ta­tions for how to spend our per­son­al time, expec­ta­tions on when you will leave work, how many vaca­tion days you will use, and how hot that caramel mac­chi­a­to will be…

Every time you go anywhere—a gas sta­tion, a web­site, a con­fer­ence room—you have an idea of how things will unfold. You expect the noz­zle on the gas pump to click off when your tank reach­es a cer­tain lev­el. You expect web­sites to be easy to nav­i­gate. You expect con­fer­ence rooms to have chairs and a place to plug in your lap­top. You could prob­a­bly tell me sto­ries of times when your expec­ta­tions were NOT met. And I bet you wouldn’t have to look at any notes!

On the oth­er hand, when our expec­ta­tions are exceed­ed, we are wowed. When our expec­ta­tions are not met, we get frus­trat­ed and dis­con­tent. To avoid frus­tra­tion, notice your expec­ta­tions.

To avoid frus­tra­tion, notice your expec­ta­tions.

It is easy to grow numb or for­get about our expec­ta­tions. It takes less ener­gy and effort to do the brave work of think­ing before we “do.” The prob­lem is many of us do not take the appro­pri­ate time and ener­gy (ener­gy is the secret killer in this sce­nario) to fig­ure out what we real­ly want to see hap­pen.

In our work envi­ron­ments, it might seem sim­ple and obvi­ous that we should agree on expec­ta­tions before jump­ing into doing our work. How­ev­er, it’s all-too-com­mon for peo­ple to jump into a task, take it to com­ple­tion, only to find out you and your team or boss are on a dif­fer­ent page. To work toward bet­ter clar­i­fi­ca­tion, we must set expec­ta­tions on a reg­u­lar basis. To illus­trate this, we will look at rhythms and rit­u­als.

4 Steps to Prevent Overwork and Frustration

Whether you are a dis­ci­plined per­son or more of a free spir­it, we all oper­ate our lives with a set of rhythms. Again, we must become aware of our rhythms, regard­less of how you might be wired. Some of us are more inten­tion­al about how we struc­ture our days, weeks, and lives — while oth­ers pre­fer a more free-flow­ing sched­ule. Both are great!
One prob­lem is that we keep things junked up in our head. The sim­ple solu­tion is to get things out of your head.

1. Set your personal expectations by thinking through your situation smarter

The 5 Cs tool (internal auditing)

Audi­tors at the Gov­ern­ment Account­abil­i­ty Office (GAO) use a set of ques­tions to fig­ure out what’s hap­pen­ing with­in a team. Below is the con­densed ver­sion. You can view their full set of tools at [https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-14–704G]

  1. What’s the cri­te­ria for suc­cess? (How do you think should it be? The client? The team?)
  2. What’s the cur­rent con­di­tion or real­i­ty? (How is it?)
    • What’s the gap between the cri­te­ria and the con­di­tion?
  3. What’s caus­ing the cur­rent real­i­ty?
  4. What is the con­se­quence of the cur­rent real­i­ty?
  5. What’s your rec­om­mend­ed cor­rec­tive action to poten­tial­ly solve the issue?

A few other powerful questions

  • What is the prob­lem we’re try­ing to solve?
  • What item, if we focused on it for the next 3 months, would pro­vide the great­est momen­tum?
  • What are we work­ing toward?

Ask­ing ques­tions like the 5Cs gives you a pic­ture on why you’re work­ing on what you’re work­ing on.

2. Externalize your thinking using writing, visuals, or audio

Often, peo­ple jump right into a meet­ing, phone call, or con­ver­sa­tion to solve an issue with­out any exter­nal­ized think­ing. They did­n’t take the time to fig­ure out what they need to fig­ure out—and they waste your time doing so. While every­one is not an ana­lyt­i­cal thinker or “exter­nal proces­sor,” every­one will ben­e­fit from the process of get­ting things out of your head and onto a page, screen, board, wall, or oth­er mis­cel­la­neous buck­et. Where does­n’t mat­ter as much as when. The best time to do this is before meet­ings, phone calls, and oth­er team-ori­ent­ed envi­ron­ments.

Physical visualized thinking

Dig­i­tal tools are great. Some­times, they’re too close to your email and oth­er pings. So here are some ana­log tools that are great for get­ting think­ing out of your head.

  • Large post-it pages (Easel pad)
  • Reg­u­lar 3x3 sticky notes (mul­ti­ple col­ors if need­ed)
  • Slick­ynotes (a fun, glue-free alter­na­tive to Post-Its)
  • Haro­go­ma chalk, chalk­board, or chalk­board wall
  • Legal pad
  • Back of an enve­lope
  • Mole­sk­ine
  • Muji note­book
  • Field Notes Note­book
  • Rite in the Rain Note­book
  • 8.5x11 sheet of paper — col­ored or white
  • 11x17 art paper — avail­able at Wal­mart or Sta­ples in the art sec­tion
  • Graph paper
  • Doane Paper — lines and graph
  • Dot grid paper (Rho­dia)
  • White­board, White­board paint
  • Note­cards and bul­letin boards

The key with phys­i­cal tools is to find the com­bi­na­tion that is the most attrac­tive to you. If you are resist­ing writ­ing in a Mole­sk­ine, try an enve­lope, or the edge of a news­pa­per. If Field Notes are too small, try large art paper. Just try dif­fer­ent medi­ums until you find one that allows you to get what’s in your head onto some­thing in the phys­i­cal world.

Digital visualized thinking

Some­times, your mind is churn­ing and all you have is your lap­top or phone. Here are some tools to have ready to go to get your think­ing out of your head...

  • Google Docs (Set up a tem­plate)
  • Google Sheets
  • Mind Node, Mind Man­ag­er, etc (Mind Map­ping Soft­ware)
  • Keynote or Pow­er­point
  • Microsoft Word
  • Adobe Illus­tra­tor, InDe­sign
  • Ulysses
  • Scriven­er
  • iA Writer
  • Stream of con­scious writ­ing

Spoken externalized thinking

If you are dri­ving or unable to get some­thing down on paper, you can cap­ture your thoughts with a voice recorder or

  • Voice memo
  • Self­ie video
  • Voice mail
  • Tas­cam or Zoom dig­i­tal recorder

3. Share or “communicate” your thinking clearly

Now that you’ve tak­en some time to fig­ure out what you need to fig­ure out,

  • 1‑page sum­ma­ry
  • Email
  • Phone call
  • In-per­son meet­ing
  • Dig­i­tal Zoom meet­ing
  • Voice memo, voice mail, or etc

Tem­plate for 1‑pagers, emails, con­ver­sa­tions, or meet­ings:

  • Here are the main peo­ple that need to know this:
  • Here’s the bot­tom line:
  • Here’s what we need to do:
  • Here’s sup­port­ing info: (if any)
  • Here’s the cri­te­ria and dead­line
  • Here’s how often we will fol­low up and touch base
  • Here’s back­ground (if any)

4. Follow up, confirm, and repeat back

Touch­ing base with your team to make sure you fol­low through with what you agreed on builds trust. With­out this, teams can start to get frus­trat­ed and over­worked. Here are a cou­ple ideas for how to fol­low up:

  • Email — Want­ed to check in to see where we are with ________. Could you give me a 5 minute call to dis­cuss?
  • Slack or oth­er instant mes­sages Hey can we touch base about ______? Want to make sure we are still on the same page.
  • 10 minute coach­ing con­ver­sa­tion (The Coach­ing Habit) What’s on your mind? What else? How can I help?

Clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” Brene Brown

Recommended reading

Cal New­port Deep Work
Steven Pinker The Lan­guage Instinct
Brene Brown Dare to Lead

Question: how have you found ways to clarify your expectations to avoid overwork and frustration?

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