How Lowering My Expectations Increased My Productivity and My Mood

posted by Andrea | 10/12/2015

playing with james

{photo courtesy of Nora!}

We’re a little over a month into the school year, and I’m happy to say that wrangling 3 children 3 and under while Dave is at school has gone much better than I expected it would.

Most days, everyone has been dressed, fed, and ready to go for the day by 9:00am — and we’ve even gotten out of the house several times for various errands and adventures!

I assume that part of the reason things are going somewhat smoothly is because I’ve learned to relax a bit more. Plus, Nora is older and more capable. However, another BIG reason I’m not totally overwhelmed is because I’ve tried to be very realistic with my expectations.

My personality is the type to “go go go” all day long. I enjoy having a full schedule, I thrive on productivity, and I’m 100% “quantity over quality” when it comes to menial household tasks or other low-level to-dos.

I just want it DONE! 

I love crossing things off my list and can easily feel discouraged if I have several undone items left on my list at the end of the day.

I realize everyone does not share my intense passion for productivity (oh, what a world that would be!) However, if you do, today’s post might offer a very valuable lesson 🙂


For starters, I definitely don’t want this post to sound like I’m encouraging anyone to be lazy, stop setting goals, stop striving for “better”, or to set super low expectations so we never need to experience failure.

NO!! That is definitely not the case. 

However, for those of us who are very driven to succeed, self-motivated, and like to push, push, push until there is nothing left, lowering our expectations might be the key to productivity (or at the very least, a much better mood!)


Let me give you a few examples from my own life.

1. Daily To-Do’s with Kids

Before I had children, I could make mile-long to-do lists and almost always finish everything on my list. I could wake up early, have all the hours in the day to myself, go to bed whenever I was tired, and know that I would always be able to get a solid night of sleep.

After adding 3 children to the mix, I now only have a couple of uninterrupted hours every day… and I almost never have a full night of completely uninterrupted sleep (which obviously means less energy the next day).

In the beginning of my motherhood journey, I felt defeated almost every night when I looked back on my mostly un-done to-do list. I thought something must be wrong with me and that I would never be able to handle working + household chores + motherhood.

However, the real issue was that I simply had very unrealistic expectations of how much I could accomplish as an overly-tired new mother.

Over time, I slowly found my groove again — and I continue to figure out better and more efficient ways to do everything that is important to me each day. I’ve also become much more realistic with my expectations and have said “no” to many MANY opportunities that don’t align with my main goals.

What I’ve noticed is that by being more realistic about what I can truly accomplish in a given day or week, I tend to focus all the time and energy I do have on the tasks that are most important to me. 

This means I’ve scaled WAY back on any outside commitments I agree to. It means I’ve said “no” to many amazing business and personal opportunities because they just aren’t realistic for me at this point in my life. It means I’ve given up all social media except a few moments on Facebook. It even means that I’m willing to settle for a less-clean, less-organized home than I might ideally prefer.

2. Grocery Budget Increases

Last year, I shared how our grocery budget has tripled over the past few years — partially because our family is growing, but also because I am no longer willing to drive to multiple stores, or hunt for every single coupon, rebate, and sale. I have other things that are more important to me right now — and although I used to LOVE finding all the best deals, it’s not something I enjoy anymore.

I just want to go to one store, buy everything we need for the week, and get out as fast as possible.

However, it took a while for me to learn to lower my expectations and not feel guilty spending significantly more money on groceries each week.

Even a full year (and another child) later, I still often catch myself thinking, “but I could get this cheaper at another store.” Thankfully, my more sensible side intervenes and reminds my frugal side that I’m shopping with 3 young children so saving $0.50 or even $5.00 isn’t worth it if it means going to another store!

You can better believe that lowering my expectations for our grocery budget has significantly increased my mood — and certainly helps me get the shopping done in much less time than if I were driving to multiple stores for every last deal!

3. Landscaping and House Projects

Many of you know that Dave and I really enjoy working on our home — we’ve done A LOT of improvements over the last few years!

However, we really have to be careful with how high of expectations we set for ourselves because it’s very easy for us to dream big, and then feel defeated after a project is left undone, or not done exactly like we were envisioning.

To an outsider, our home renovations look fabulous — we are the only ones who know where the little imperfections are. We are not professionals (and we have 3 kids!), so if we set unrealistically high expectations for ourselves, we will almost always be disappointed — not to mention, our projects would take 3 times as long!

By having slightly lower expectations for our various house and yard projects, we are able to accomplish more, finish faster, and enjoy our progress much more.


Like I said above, these are just a FEW examples from my own life… I have many more 🙂

And although I love the fact that I’m often able to be more productive, one of my favorite results of lowering my expectations is the positive effect it has had on my mood.

I no longer flop in bed feeling defeated by the lack of progress I made that day. Instead, I’m usually encouraged by what I did accomplish, as well as motivated and excited to make more progress the following day.

Of course, there are always “off days” when nothing goes right; however, there many times when I fully complete my to-do list and work ahead on things I want to accomplish later in the week (talk about a motivating “high” for this productivity lover!)

Again, the point of this post is NOT to encourage laziness or the lack of goals. Rather, I hope it helps you to stop and really think about what exactly is most important to you right now, at this point in your life — as well as create a more realistic picture of how much time you actually have to devote to those important things each day and each week.

Once you have that figured out, you can then start to plug away at those important tasks and (hopefully) not feel guilty saying “no” to some of the other tasks that are less important for you at this point in your life.

What are your thoughts on expectations and productivity?


Filed under: WorkProductivityGoals

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  2. Laura


    I’ve definitely had to lower my expectations a LOT since having a child. One way I do it is to add in a lot of “buffer” time to my weekly plan, and also to break tasks down into even smaller steps. So, for example, I can rarely get a blog post written in one sitting anymore, so instead I add “Start blog post”, “Continue blog post”, “Finish blog post” and “Edit blog post” to my list. And I spread them out over 2 days. (I also keep what I call a sh*t list on hand which is populated with extra tasks I can easily add to my schedule if I’m more productive than usual, but keeping them on a separate list means I don’t feel bad if they don’t get done.)


    Andrea Reply:

    Amen to “more buffer time”. What used to take me 20 minutes now takes over an hour if all 3 kids are coming along!

    And also, your “sh*t list” sounds almost exactly like my weekly to do list!


    Laura Reply:

    I hear you! Long gone are the days when you could just grab your keys and go. I have a difficult enough time with one, so I can’t even begin to fathom what having three is like. I take my hat off to you!


  3. Michelle


    So true, our main job is to be a mother and to teach our children. Those other things do not matter and are not the job God gave us when He gave us children. It’s an encouragement to us mothers to see we don’t have to do it all, we need to be realistic with our time and with what’s important.


  4. Kristen @ Joyfully Thriving


    There is a time and a season for everything! Like you, I’m constantly adjusting my expectations as well…and the days (and months) go so much easier when I do! Great post, Andrea!


  5. Juds


    I subscribe to the Grant philosophy of living.

    “My formula for living is quite simple. I get up in the morning and I go to bed at night. In between, I occupy myself as best I can.” Cary Grant

    It might seem a frivolous approach, and maybe it is, but it works well when planning my day and weeks of stuff that has to be done.

    It is easier now that I am retired, but I am still a busy grammy, and I am certain that it would greatly complicate managing with children, as well.

    When my daughter was young I always knew that she would most likely not remember that there was dust on the bookshelves, and that she would always remember that I had time for her. That helped balance for the times when we had places to be, deadlines and responsibilites to meet.

    Sounds pretty much like what you do.


  6. Kelly Hess


    I agree with lowering your expectations. I too have three kids and work full-time outside the home. You often have to sacrifice a few things in order to be content with others. I use to doing multiple stores/trips for grocery and household goods. I find now that I stick with 1-2 stores and only 1 drug store when there is a week of really good deals. I sometimes still kick myself because I know I can get an item cheaper, but then again I don’t have the time to go to that one store to get that one item. As far as cleaning, I now have a cleaning lady come every two weeks to deep clean. I was not able to keep up with the cleaning and be able to spend time with my kids. I am however able to keep up on the maintenance cleaning.


  7. Emily


    I agree with you 100%! Great post!! I often find that child training trumps my to-do list most days in this season of life. God has given me these precious little ones to raise for His glory and I have to remember that is more important than crossing off the to-do list. 🙂