How to Meet and Exceed Expectations On Time, Every Time

How people relate to us and judge us often comes down to one concept: are we able to meet the expectations they have?

Our customers or bosses determine what work they’ll trust us with based on how well we meet their expectations. Even friends decide if they want to invest in a relationship with us based on expectations and fulfillment. For example, if you meet someone for the first time and arrive 30 minutes late without notice, the person you meet is unlikely to want to grow the relationship. Alternatively, if you promise a customer that you’ll finish in three weeks but finish on budget within a week, they are likely to return. Whether it’s a friend or a colleague, everyone around us creates opinions of us based on whether we are as reliable or interesting as they expected us to be.

It might sound simple but meeting expectations on time, every time, has become one of the most difficult skills to master. That’s because we have dozens of expectations -- and often, we don’t even know what they are.

Have you ever wondered how to earn favors for the next promotion or to build the most inspiring circle of friends? Here’s how to master expectations:

To master expectations, understand them

Expectations can be defined as ‘a collection of beliefs about what the future holds’. They come in three forms:

  1. Relationships: Someone expects something of you as friend, a neighbor, or a relative. For example, if you are taking care of a friend’s dog, you are expected to feed the dog.

  2. Business: A customer or boss expects you to accomplish something by a specific time, or at a specific level of quality. For example, you must meet a sales quota by the end of the quarter to satisfy your boss’s expectations.

  3. Your own mind: You expect something of yourself by a specific time. For example, you expect yourself to be financially independent by age 30.

Expectations also come in various levels of formality. At the lowest level, there are expectations built into any relationship. Society defines what it means to be a friend, a sibling, or a lover, and to reject these norms often means fighting an uphill battle.

At the next level, there are informal (often verbal) commitments that you make to friends and colleagues. At the highest level, there are formal expectations put in writing with customers and creditors.

Most people understand these levels, but often do not place enough effort into meeting expectations with less formality. At times, it is more important to be a good sibling or help a sick relative instead of meeting a customer’s demands.

To get better at understanding expectations, we must catalog our expectations regularly. Many people catalog their expectations in lists, but miss critical items. Here are three ways to capture expectations completely:

  1. Catalog throughout the day: Carry paper with you and write down everything that is expected of you as you pass through the day. Making a habit of writing down expectations in context will make you less likely to miss something.

  2. Mindmap using a whiteboard: Adding a structure or a pattern to the way you produce ideas can significantly improve thinking. A whiteboard is an effective visual tool for drawing expectations. Start with a circle in the center of the board and branch out with ideas that are central in your life. For example, start with a center circle that says me and branch out with family, startup life, investments, health and learning. Then, in each branching idea, you can start to write specific expectations in that context.

  3. Contact people who have expectations: Inherent in every expectation is a person who is expecting something to happen. Make a list of the most important people in your life and call them regularly to discuss expectations.

Seven ways to meet expectations every time

Once cataloged, meeting expectations is a process that can be improved. Here are seven ways to improve:

  1. Understand each expectation: The first step to meeting an expectation is understanding that expectation. Communicate with the person who has the expectation until you have a level of clarity and can write it down. Having a written expectation will enable you to focus your efforts and outsource some of the work.

  2. Organize time: The most common reason for missing expectations is lack of time. The best way to maximize time is organizing it. Time can be organized linearly and in blocks. First, organize linearly, using the start and end dates to create a timeline of what needs to get done. Second, block out specific sections of the day to accomplish specific tasks. Treat the blocks as scheduled meetings and don’t allow interruptions.

  3. Ask for help early: Two common mistakes are being afraid to ask for help or using Google as a cure-for-all. The best path to answer a question is to ask someone who has done it before. They will be able to explain things better and faster than Google searches. Also, you should ask for help as soon as possible. Although you could find a solution yourself, it is faster to ask someone else.

  4. Prioritize and apply 80/20 rule: To maximize productivity, it is important to only focus on the tasks that make the maximum impact. Using the 80/20 rule (concept that 20 percent of work produces 80 percent of the results) will eliminate most of the required tasks by cutting down the time to meet each expectation.

  5. Get the right team in place: Having the wrong team or the wrong person on a team is like having a disease. They infect others and make it difficult to get anything done. It is critical to hire slowly and fire quickly. Too many people hold on to bad teams or don’t spend enough time getting the right people on board. It is better to not have enough excellent staff versus too much terrible staff.

  6. Spend resources wisely: It is tempting to use money and resources quickly when they are available. Instead, think of every resource as a meal you have left on a deserted island. You will eventually run out if you don’t use it wisely before escaping or producing more food.

  7. Hustle to get things done: Working in a box is the slowest way to get things done. Hustling is the fastest path to success. The art of hustling is finding unconventional ways of doing things that are on the fringes to accomplish your goals.

Putting these seven steps together will help you meet your expectations on time, every time. What strategies do you implement to meet and exceed expectations?