Save time & hassles – Pause before you assume!

Date: Monday, 08 August 2016
Posted by: Marie Posa

We are all aware that the constant busyness of our lives puts significant pressure on us both at home and at work. In a lot of my conversations lately the issue of people making assumptions, regarding expectations has come up repeatedly. This has got me thinking: In this time-poor world we function in, is ‘assuming’ a default setting we use to manage our life?

A manager who attended one of our courses recently spoke about how tight his schedule was and how often he is ‘flying by the seat of his pants’ to meet deadlines. He finds a reoccurring pattern in his working style where he dives into a project, assuming he is on the right track. The outcome is that he puts in hours of work which he later finds have little relevancy and value to what is actually required.  He then has to spend hours redoing work, which then adds to his pressure. The bigger the project, the more hours wasted, the greater the frustration.

Here’s another example: An administrator decided that he would take on the organising of an award event for their department. He spent weeks working on this project, gathering and collating information.  However, not once did he check if he was on the right track with the EAs who have done this work in previous years.  If he had, he would have found out that the senior manager who signs off on the project, is a “just give me the headlines” person who only wants the key points not pages and pages of information. Result - a lot of time wasted….

On further examination, it’s clear that assumptions and assuming what is required played a significant part in both cases. Quite often we think that we know what is needed only to find that we have either under or over delivered. Sometimes expectations have been set, but in hindsight the requirements are ambiguous or we have misread them. 

An obvious solution would be to ask a few relevant questions at the outset. Depending on the task/project/situation, you could ask:

  • “How do you want this information presented?”
  • “How much information do you need for this?”
  • “What are your expectations?
  • ”Let me check that I’ve got this right. You would like this……………..?”

In our rush to meet deadlines, assumptions may feel necessary. We may even resist seeking clarification regarding expectations for fear of looking like we don't know what we are doing (or haven't been paying attention). However, you can save yourself a lot of time and hassles if you pause before you assume. Taking a few minutes to clarify “what is actually needed” can save you doing hours of unnecessary work.