We all have expectations for ourselves and others.
Setting expectations isn’t inherently bad. In fact, it's useful when managing your time and progressing towards goals. But setting unrealistic expectations is one of the top reasons why we're unsatisfied by the end of the day.
So how can you adjust your expectations to make every day feel like a success? In this article, we'll explore how to win the day.
The Importance of Managing Expectations
Why is it important to manage your expectations?
Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the UK, sums it up:
"Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It's not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it's a day you've had everything to do and you've done it.
There’s a direct correlation between action and satisfaction.
If you don't complete everything you've set out to do, you'll never feel a sense of accomplishment. But checking everything off your to-do list makes you feel like you've won the day. And this is within your control.
The expectations you set for yourself will determine your feelings of success.
Let's explore a few scenarios when creating a to-do list for the day:
- You plan on finishing two tasks and end up completing three. You've exceeded your expectations and feel satisfied.
- You plan on finishing ten tasks, but you only complete five. Despite getting more done than in the previous scenario, you've failed to meet your expectations. You likely don't feel satisfied with your performance.
Notice how in the last scenario, objectively speaking, you completed more work. Yet you feel unsuccessful. The dissatisfaction stemmed from setting unrealistic expectations. This quickly turns into an exhausting cycle where you’re constantly chasing unrealistic expectations and feeling like a failure.
The key to winning the day is by managing your expectations.
What Does It Mean To Manage Your Own Expectations?
Self-management is the ability to control your emotions, reactions, and behavior. When you manage your expectations, you're in charge of how you feel by the day's end.
Daily success isn’t a volume game — you won’t necessarily feel more productive or satisfied by doing more work. Winning the day means having a plan for what needs to be accomplished, then actually doing it. And it’s more than just checking things off a list — it’s about integrity and quality.
The key is to set expectations that reflect the time and effort you're willing to put in, while also considering your current capabilities.
There are a few inner shifts needed to better manage your own expectations.
Shift 1: Be Realistic
What can you really accomplish in a day?
We live in a world with time constraints. We can't do everything we want in a day, no matter how badly we want to.
Be honest with yourself about what can be done. This doesn’t mean lowering your standards, but it does require being more mindful and strategic about how you invest your time. A few practical tips:
- Focus on "the one thing" for the day. This is your most impactful task for achieving your goals.
- Measure the inputs and stop fixating on the outputs. Cal Newport calls these input metrics "lead measures." For instance, a successful day could involve completing three deep work sessions (inputs), rather than the outcomes of that work (outputs).
Setting realistic expectations means you’re more likely to reach them and feel the resulting satisfaction.
Shift 2: Learn As You Go and Adapt
Treat each day as an experiment.
Take note of when you fall short of your expectations, when you meet them, and when you exceed them. Then adjust your approach accordingly. If you constantly miss the bar, lower it. If you're not challenging yourself enough, raise it.
The goal is to find a healthy balance where you're pushing yourself without burning out. For example, if you plan on writing for two hours but lose focus after one, try taking a short break.
Trial and error is a part of the process. The more you experiment, the more you learn about your limits and how to set expectations that work for your current abilities.
Shift 3: Give Yourself Grace
No one's perfect.
There will be days when you miscalculate your workload, are unable to focus, and feel like a failure. This is normal. The key is to learn from these experiences so you can make future adjustments. Be patient with yourself as you get a feel for what's possible.
Eventually, you'll develop the ability to set expectations that reflect your energy capacity.
Managing expectations takes patience and careful thought. But over time, you’ll set yourself up to win the day, every day.
Want to learn more about the mindset of a winner? Check out our article: Thinking Long-Term Is the Key to Sustainable Success.