Everything’s Not Awesome, It’s An Unrealistic Expectation

Posted on December 10, 2019

Lego Movie 2

The Buzz with Jordan Rae Hillman, Director of  Planning & Development for the city of Jackson, Mississippi

  • What I’m Listening To: Daring Greatly Audio Book, Brene Brown
  • What I’m Watching:  The Mandalorian

We (humans) are terrible at estimating how much time we need to complete a task. We commit to way too much and have unrealistic expectations. Throw in a highly persuasive and influential Mayor, City Manager, or other leader and chaos will ensue.

My schedule gets overbooked regularly. I lead a large department that covers a lot of ground. I often stack meeting requests back to back, and squeeze meetings in at the last minute. I have multiple individuals who are able to schedule for me – some under my direction, others I am not in control of. Many of these requests for meetings or tasks are for what someone believes is a crisis. Crisis moments feel emergent and seem like they must be done immediately.

Over-scheduling pulls my focus off my established projects and our strategic goals. If I don’t have block of at least 2 hours dedicated to my projects, I don’t even open my project management to do list. I don’t even try. I then leave defeated and feeling as though I haven’t moved the needle, made an impact, or contributed. I don’t feel productive by sitting in meetings. Even if the meeting is the most productive meeting ever. It’s not how my brain and value system works. I feel productive when I produce.

When I have unrealistic expectations, everything is not awesome. I get into my own head. I start running through long list of challenges my city currently faces. I am tasked with addressing many of these challenges. And then a song from Lego Movie 2 starts playing in my ear at full volume.

Everything’s not awesome, Everything’s not cool, I am so depressed, Everything’s not awesome

But, if you listen to the song in the entirety, it gets better and has actually become my theme song lately.

Everything’s not awesome, Things can’t be awesome all of the time, It’s an unrealistic expectation, But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, To make everything awesome, In a less idealistic kind of way, We should maybe aim for not bad, ‘Cause not bad right now would be real great

It the last chorus, the song says “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make everything awesome in a less idealistic kind of way”. So what does that mean? I have to account for our less than stellar ability to estimate time and energy needs for things. I also must accept that some progress is still progress. I have to protect myself from over-scheduling and crisis response. And leave the unrealistic expectations behind.

The following tools have helped me gain back some control and manage myself in a kinder, more realistic way, while also dedicating time to those things I have determined are my priorities.

  • Say no. This one has to be the hardest. I stay on a script that goes like this: That is a great idea, but I can’t do that right now. We have established a strategic work plan for the year. That work plan is aggressive and I have to stay focused on it. The response to me saying no and being honest – instead of agreeing to do something and failing to deliver it – has been freeing. The response I have received from others has been mixed, but mostly respected. I want to set the example for my team to not over commit to tasks and scheduling.
  • Schedule meetings for 90 minutes. For a 60 minute meeting, give yourself a buffer on both sides. You need time to perform any actions needed from that meeting. I also use that time to catch up on email, phone calls, signatures, and other things my team depends on me for. If I went back to back with no break, the pile of email, messages, and signature folders gets overwhelming.
  • Step back and frame the crisis. Is this really a crisis? What is the worst thing that can happen if this is delayed? Will this have an impact on the big picture in 1 year? 10 years? Crises have a way of resolving themselves if I delay my attention a day or two.
  • Schedule production time first. I now schedule 2-3 hour blocks 3 times a week for my projects. It is not a priority if no time is designated to it. I have recurring time blocked on my schedule to protect my production time. This may be the most transformative practice I have started.

Try to be realistic with yourself, your manager, your team, your mayor, your family, and anyone else about the amount of time you have and what you can achieve with that time. Clarity on your ability to deliver will bring results back into focus in a healthier and less stressful manner.

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