My new approach to productivity is managing expectations, not time. So far, I am experiencing more peace than I ever have before. Am I getting more done? I think so, but I honestly don't think much about it. For me, quantifying how much I do is no longer the point. If you're interested in having more satisfaction with your task management approach and life in general, read on.
Expectations are at the heart of our difficulties in virtually every area of life. Childhood expectations of receiving candy, toys, and parental attention can lead to tantrums and tears. Teen expectations of success in school, competitions, and popularity contests of all types can lead to depression and fearfulness if those expectations aren't met. Adult expectations of career success, marital bliss, and parenting ease may result in financial stress, divorce, and family breakdown. Even expectations of God can lead to disappointment and separation from Him.
I know many people whose unmet expectations have led to lifelong difficulties. Don't you? I believe women are particularly prone to the heartache of disappointment. There are women who are still unhappy that they had a C-section after hoping for a natural labor; women who are still bitter about the gifts they didn't receive; and, women who are still hurting because a friend wasn't there for them. Expectations unfulfilled create hurt, anger, and fear. Hurt, anger, and fear create division and damage to others. Division and fear create loneliness and the damage we do to others creates guilt. All of these dominoes fall when we lead with our expectations.
Let's discuss expectations within the time-management sphere. Suppose you have made a list of things you really want to accomplish tomorrow. You are in the middle of working on your goal of getting into shape. You are very pleased that you have been getting up early six days a week to work out. You are also working on your bad habit of arriving late. You plan to get to work early and cruise through your massive list of tasks. You are looking forward to the sense of accomplishment that comes from checking them all off.
At 3 a.m. the next morning, you're awakened by a sick child. At 6 a.m., your alarm goes off but you're not even in bed. You've been up with two sick kids, cleaning and comforting. There is no way you can work out the way you feel. You decide to sleep an extra hour instead. You just assumed that your husband would stay home with the kids since he knows how crazy busy you are right now. Instead, you have an argument about it before he finally agrees to stay home with the sick kids. You still somehow manage to leave for work early, but drive into the worst traffic jam of the year. You arrive late to work. When you arrive, you learn that your assistant is home sick. You will not be able to finish many of the tasks you have to do and now you're in a horrible mood. You are upset that you weren't able to meet your goals and you feel guilty about what you said to your husband. All this from the expectations you had about your day.
Whatever your life situation, you can probably see yourself in that example. Our expectations of ourselves, others, circumstances, and God can cause us great difficulties. So why do we have them? Although the connections our brains make between events are part of our design and for our good (e.g., a honking horn invokes a reflex to hit the brakes and avoid an accident), we can overuse them. Expectations can become a way of asserting our authority over our lives. We can behave like ambulance drivers who expect everyone to get out of our way; our destination takes priority. Expectations allow us to imagine that we are in control. We aren't.
Proverbs 11:17 says, "When a wicked man dies, his hope perishes; all he expected from his power comes to nothing." My expectations of what I can achieve in my own power amount to nothing but disappointment. My new attitude of waiting to see what God has in store for me each day gives me the peace and joy that I crave. Does that mean that I plan for nothing? Of course not. I had a packing list for our weekend camping trip. I had a meal plan, too. But because I had no expectations, I wasn't at all upset when a dead battery pushed our departure time back. I wasn't stressed when lack of sleep had my three-year-old screaming. After all, what did I expect?
When we refrain from expectations, we allow ourselves to be continually surprised by God. Isaiah 64:3 reads, "For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you." I had never been to the lake we camped near this weekend and hadn't even thought about what it would be like. I was thrilled by its beauty. I wasn't expecting good weather, but that's what we had. I wasn't expecting the kids to play all day in the sand without fighting, but they did. What a blessing!
If I've sold you on the benefits of having no expectations, you might be wondering how to live without them. Here is what I have learned about living this way so far:
Step 1. Recognize your expectations. I didn't realize that I had so many expectations of myself, my family, my circumstances, and God and that they were really creating unhappiness. Begin every day by asking yourself, "What do I expect from this day?" and be honest.
Step 2. Release your expectations. Prayerfully offer your desires for the day up to God and ask Him to give you what is best instead.
Step 3. Reject expectations. Throughout the day, your expectations will return to you in the form of thoughts. You can identify them in "should" statements concerning yourself or others. Immediately pray and/or quote Scripture about God's trustworthiness in these moments. John 14:1 is a good one: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God ; trust also in me."
Step 4. Receive forgiveness. Sometimes your expectations will give you trouble even when you've followed steps 1-3. At those times, know that your heavenly Father forgives you. Ask for forgiveness from those you've been harsh to and ask for forgiveness for yourself. You will have it!
Step 5. Rejoice in what God has for you. Throughout the day and at the end of the day, thank God for His plans for you. Even when it's been a struggle, God will use it for your good.
I certainly didn't expect this post to be so long, but it's been a blessing to write. Thank you for reading!