Managing Expectations

New Year’s always brings about a range of emotions for many of us as we reflect upon what happened the past year and set our intentions for how we want the new year to shape itself. Many of us make resolutions, committing ourselves to goals, aspirations, and promises, most of which are broken or unrealized as early as February. It’s not a secret that the majority of resolutions fail in a short period of time. Part of this is likely attributed to having unrealistic expectations.

I’m an ambitious person by nature and generally goal oriented. After surviving some crushing failures in my life, on both a personal and professional level, I’ve come to appreciate the magic of managing my expectations. This has also been a valuable lesson learned when working with clients and setting reasonable and achievable expectations for both of us.

So what does that mean to manage expectations?

When I write about managing expectations, it means being realistic about outcomes and coming up with contingencies in case things don’t go according to the plan. It means being flexible with what the final outcome might look like. When envisioning your end goals, think about the few things that are really critical and prioritize them. Which things do you have to have, and which ones can you wiggle a bit on or even let go?

I’ve also found it helpful to avoid that devastating feeling of failure when I’m able to define my goal, but not be attached to exactly how it needs to manifest itself. For example, a common New Year’s resolution many people have is to lose weight. Some may focus on a set number of pounds to lose, but perhaps it is more useful to imagine an article of clothing you want to fit instead. Sometimes it’s more important to build muscle and tone than to reduce the numbers. The same end goal can be achieved even though it didn’t go exactly as planned.

Even though I’m goal-oriented, I’ve discovered that remaining flexible, adaptable, and most important realistic about the final outcomes has helped me to feel good about my accomplishments, especially when they don’t happen as planned (or fantasized). Sometimes it can be hard to wiggle on something that you’ve dreamed about for so long, but who knows, the outcome may also turn out better than you had ever imagined.

Holiday Shopping in the Digital Age

A couple of months ago I purchased a bookcase online. It was part of a set that also included other things like a table and chairs, bookends, lamps, etc. all with the same theme. I checked the bookends a couple of times to see if the price would go down and then let it go. About a month after that, I checked the same website for another furniture item. The selection wasn’t great and the online reviews weren’t promising so I dismissed this company and started looking elsewhere.

The problem is that I dismissed this particular company, but they have not forgotten about me. Every item that I looked at more than once on their website, clicked on to read a more in-depth description, or price compared with another site has been emailed to me repeatedly by the company. I receive emails from this company non-stop, sometimes multiple ones on the same day.

The emails are tailored to “match” my interests. For example, many of the emails advertise the bookends I looked at more than once. Or sometimes the emails alert me to a sale going on, especially if one of the items I was interested in is part of it.

Part of me wants to appreciate this customized attention I’m getting from the company. In some ways it’s a nice courtesy to be alerted when an item I’m interested is going on sale. Or to be notified about other items I might enjoy based on past purchases.

However, the other part of me feels creeped out and almost irritated by the constant bombardment of emails. It’s like being hounded by an aggressive sales person in a store when you’re really there to browse and take your time. Even though I’m sometimes tempted to look at the items in these targeted emails, eventually I get so irritated by all the emails junking up my inbox that I end up unsubscribing, or deleting them without looking.

I’ve known for a long time that my online actions are followed, tracked, and acted upon by companies looking to make money off of me. But sometimes it’s so obvious it has the opposite effect on me. Some people enjoy this personalized attention, but for me, it makes online holiday shopping almost as annoying as dealing with the long lines and hoards of people in brick and mortar stores.

Social Media and Political Ads

Recently Twitter and Google decided to ban political advertisements on their services. Facebook, however, decided to let users post them. Considering how influential social media can be, the two extreme policy decisions are interesting to consider.

On the one hand, social media is great at targeting users based on preferences and profiles. This makes it easy for users posting political ads, whether real information or disinformation, to reach their intended audience.

On the other side, social media companies are privately owned and they can make policies about what types of things are permissible to post. However, given the number of controversies in recent years about the strong influence of social media on spreading disinformation/misinformation and causing things like riots, discrimination, and potentially having an impact on the US 2016 presidential election results, it does make these types of policy decisions tricky.

It raises the question of how much control social media companies should have over the kind of content posted through their services. Is it their responsibility to be policing language and controlling what people can and can’t post? And really, how much control could a social media company have when the service is used globally by millions or billions of people. Even a small percentage of users posting inappropriate or forbidden content forbidden would still amount to a large volume to manage.

Even with the restrictions in place to ban all political ads for Google and Twitter, it could still be hard to enforce with global users and a wide range of languages being used. Equally challenging is for Facebook to determine how they are going to maintain oversight on political ads. Will they allow any type of ad to be posted, even if it contains misinformation/disinformation? This could be especially challenging now that video can be manipulated and constructed through the use of AI to create misleading and fabricated content.

So which policy is the right one for a social media company to enforce: to ban or allow all political advertisements? Is there a way to find a compromise in the middle? For the moment, Facebook seems to be allowing all ads to be run, even ones that candidates requested to be removed because they contained inaccurate information or had been manipulated. With the US primaries approaching, it will be interesting to observe the impact of social media on the elections.

Disabling Google Map Review Requests

Every once in a while, Google will repeatedly send me a prompt to rate or answer a question about a place I’ve visited, or looked up on Google maps. The weird thing about this, is it only happens once in a while. The last time it happened, it was for a business I never even visited, or contacted. And Google maps kept sending me reminders to answer questions about this particular place.

My radar went up because as a general rule, I keep my location and web activity disabled (read more about that here and here). I felt curious to know more about how Google was tracking this particular detail and why I kept receiving reminders to rate this place.

I did a few quick internet searches, but couldn’t discover much about why Google was only asking about this one particular place. What I did learn was how to disable yet another hidden setting in Google maps, the one that controls when I was receiving a prompt to rate a place or answer a question about it.

Turns out the settings in Google maps are full of options and features, most of which are turned on by default. This is definitely a good thing to investigate to learn more about what you may be unknowingly sharing with Google.

What really bugs me about this stuff is that so much of it happens without me knowing. I might be okay with these kinds of things if more was disclosed in a way that was easy to understand rather than reading a 50-page End User License Agreement.

Too often we blindly sacrifice our privacy and rights for convenience. The real problem is that I never know what else is going to be done with my information. Filling out a rating or answering a question about a place you’ve visited may seem harmless, but one never knows what else is going to be done with that data.

To disable the rating/question prompt, open up Google maps. Go to the hamburger menu and select settings.

Then go to Notifications.

Once in Notifications, I selected two different areas to disable the reminders and tracking. The first place was “Your reviews.” Observe how everything was turned on by default when I first visited this area in settings.

Then I went into “Q&A and Messages” to disable all the prompts.

Filling Out Forms

It always amazes me how antiquated the process of filling out forms remains, even with so much technology available to make this task easier and more accurate. I still receive paper forms to fill out in the mail! Or even worse, I receive forms as email attachments that I have to print out to fill in, scan, and then email back as another attachment. Or sometimes I’m able to fill out forms electronically, but the formatting is weird and the information won’t line up or fit properly.

Here’s why this is problematic from a time, resource, and data management perspective. Forms filled out by hand require the applicant to spend time entering all the information. Then the recipient has to spend time deciphering the handwriting to re-enter the information into some kind of electronic system. This requires effort from at least two people.

One of the biggest problems with this type of system is the high potential for data entry errors. An “I” can turn into a “1”, last names can be misspelled, numbers transposed, decimal points missed, etc. These may seem like small typographical mistakes, but they can have a big impact sometimes. Imagine somebody getting a dose of medication where the decimal point is off by one place. Or important communications not reaching somebody because an email address is misspelled, or an address entered incorrectly.

Alternatively, some forms can be filled out online, or electronically. Although these can be easier to fill out if they’ve been formatted properly, they are often not integrated with a system on the backend to manage all the information. Essentially, the data remains static on the form where it has to be attached to the applicant’s file. The information on them can be difficult to update or search, meaning they are not always reliable.

So what’s ideal? The best system is to have the form linked directly to the data management system managing the information on the backend. This way the information gets entered one time, directly into the system. It saves time because only one entry is required and more importantly, it reduces silly errors that can cause a lot of problems later.

Formatting: Hidden Time Saver

Some years ago while working on a contract, I was given a 60-page template to write the final report for the client. The problem with the template was that the formatting in it was not done properly. Consequently, every time I updated a section and the page numbers changed, I had to spend time fixing everything manually.

Some of the things that required manual manipulations were heading/sub-heading fonts and numbering styles, page numbers that wouldn’t update, and the table of contents. By the end of the project, I had gone over my allotted time by 20 hours (approximately 3 days of work) because of how many times I had to manually fix these things in the report, which incidentally was over 100 pages by the time I finished writing it. I tracked my hours and tasks carefully during the project, so I know the extra time was spent unnecessarily fixing the report formatting.

After that experience, I decided that becoming expert with formatting documents would be a good use of my time. Everybody has competing priorities so it pays to be strategic when making a time investment to learn something new. However, I felt confident that time spent to master formatting was a solid investment. Sometimes computers do things better than humans and formatting is one of those things.

Here are some basics to get started.

Use the defined Header/sub-header styles. Defined styles make it easier to create/update a table of contents. It’s also easier to make global changes (i.e., modify the font, color, size, etc. of a header style in a document) by adjusting the style in one centralized place. When applied, it will automatically update everything with that style in the document.

Master the difference between page breaks and section breaks. A page break will push content to a new page. No need to hit the Enter button repeatedly to move text manually. Insert a page break and the text will stay firmly on a new page, even if you add, or delete something later.

A section break is for changing the formatting. For example, having text appear as columns instead of paragraphs. Or using different page numbering styles for different sections of the document.

Lastly, I made friends with the “reveal formatting” option. I used to be scared of it, but now I find it quite valuable for understanding and fixing poorly done formatting.