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How to Use Objectives and Key Results to Plan Your Days

objectives and key results
Photographer: Startaê Team | Source: Unsplash

When it comes to accomplishing your personal and professional goals, New Year's resolutions are ineffective. How are you doing with the ones you set so far? Are you still going to the gym, eating salads, etc, etc? 96 percent of personal development efforts fail because of good intentions and bad strategy. Fortunately, you can overcome this with the use of objectives and key results.

All of us hope the upcoming year will be better than the one before. Then we get to the end of the year, scratch our heads and wonder how we got so off track.

The Power of Objectives and Key Results

To get ready for 2020, I conducted an annual review and reread John Doerr's book Measure what Matters. I started using OKRs again in early November and the results have been astounding. We recently started moving our community off mainstream social media and into our Mighty Network. One of our objectives at Unmistakable Creative was to transform our mighty network into an indispensable resource for our listeners. Our key results were:

  • 500 Members by the December 31st
  • 10 paying members for our subscription offer by December 31st
  • 20 Ambassadors in our referral program

Other than 20 ambassadors we blew our results out of the water.

  • We reached 900 members by the end of December
  • 14 members joined our paid program

Now, my OKR's determine what I do every day. The first website I visit every morning is Range.co

Setting Your Objectives and Key Results

When you initially start working with them, OKR's will feel a bit uncomfortable. Before long, they'll seem like "magic." But first, you have to understand the difference between an objective and a key result.

My roommate Matt showed me his plan for the year in a notebook. I said "you have results, but most of this is an itinerary for your life over the next few months. It's not a clear set of objectives and key results."

John Doerr makes the following distinction between objectives and key results.

Objectives and key results are the yin and yang of goal setting-principle and practice, vision and execution. Objectives are the stuff of inspiration and far horizons. Key results are more earthbound and metrics driven. They typically include hard number for one more gauges: revenue growth, active users, quality, safety, market share, customer engagement.

Even though you can't control your key result, you increase the likelihood of reaching it by focusing on what you can control:

  • Actions
  • Habits
  • Routines

The authors of The Four Disciplines of Execution refer to what we can't control as lagging indicators. What we can control are our lead measures.

If your key result is 20,000 visitors a month to your website, your lead measure could be writing for an hour a day. Even if you fall short of a key result, you've made visible progress which has a powerful impact on motivation.

Reaching your OKRs

Looking back over November and December, I recognized a few patterns that helped us reach our first OKR long before our deadline.

1. Limit the Number

One of the surprising secrets to accomplishing your goals is to have fewer of them. When you have fewer goals, you give more time, attention, and energy to a handful. Because of this you make visible progress and gain momentum.

Our friend Charlie Gilkey, author of Start Finishing abides by what he calls The 5 Project rule. At any given time, the most you can effectively focus on are 5 projects.

At the start of December, we had sold roughly 50 tickets to a conference in April. But we needed 100 more to break even and sales were sluggish. It might have made sense to wait until January to see if more people would buy tickets to our conference. But, my focus would be scattered at the beginning of the year. By canceling in December, I could begin 2020 with a laser-like focus on my other OKR's.

2. Align Key Activities with Your Key Results

When your daily activities are aligned with your key results, you become more intentional and discerning about how you spend your time. Before you make a to-do list ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Is what I'm about to do aligned with one of my key results?
  2. Is this going to move the needle on a metric that matters
  3. If not, why am I doing this?

Objectives and Key Results in Practice

One of our objectives is to help more people live lives of meaning, intention, and purpose. The key result tied to that is 20,000 email subscribers by the end of Q1. Anyone of the following could be a key activity tied to the key result:

  • A/B Test the welcome mat on our website to see if it increases conversion
  • Write a guest post for a product I love so more people know about us.
  • Ask our readers to share a post

Both of these increase the likelihood we'll reach 20,00 subscribers. A friend of mine doesn't post anything on social media unless it moves the needle on an important metric in his business. He's making close to 50,000 dollars a month. Another example of a key result is $1200 a month in online course sales. Over the last month, I spent my time on the following key activities to support this goal:

Notice how Each activity is aligned with my key result of $1200 in course sales.

Your objectives determine your key results. Your key results determine your key activities. And your key activities determine how you spend your time each day.

3. Relentless Prioritization

When my roommate Matt mentioned collaborating on something, I told him I wouldn't do a thing that wasn't aligned with OKRS. And that could mean saying no to opportunities to make money.

Mark Cuban famously said, "I don't attend meetings unless someone is writing a check." I didn't go that far, but I did create a separate email address for people who can, have or will give me money. My other email address is for everyone else.

My friend Victor asked if I could set up a meeting to share what we've learned about building our Mighty Network. I told him I wasn't attending meetings that don't generate revenue this year. And I answered his questions with a Loom video. I thought he might be offended, but he was impressed.

Run every opportunity, item on your to-do list or request from someone through the lens of your OKR's. If it doesn't align, decline.

Using OKR's for meetings

Most meetings are long, inefficient, and unproductive. They don't have a clear agenda or purpose. At my first job out of business school, we had a meeting like this every Monday. When I dialed in from Costa Rica, the CEO and marketing team spent 45 minutes talking about the broken air conditioner in the office.

The easiest way to make meetings more effective is to make key results the topics on your meeting agenda.

One of the most powerful functions of Range is its meeting feature. You're able to create a list of discussion topics and for each topic assign action items to team members.

I meet with my community manager every Monday to discuss the key results for our listener tribe. As we go through each topic, we divide and conquer with action items. As you'll see in the screenshots below, I've set up our key results as meeting topics. Because each topic is a key result, our action items align accordingly.

How to Use Objectives and Key Results to Plan Your Days 1
How to Use Objectives and Key Results to Plan Your Days 2
How to Use Objectives and Key Results to Plan Your Days 3

Leverage The Power of Behavioral Architecture

You can't set it and forget it with OKR's. And you want to a way to ensure that you follow through on tracking and measuring your progress. It's tempting to make this an item on your to-do list or calendar. But, we all forget to do things on our lists, and miss appointments with ourselves.

You want to remove any friction. The easiest way to do that is to make your OKr's the first page you see when you open a browser.

Mine is my OKR page in Range.co. You not only remember to fill in your OKR's. But you have an ongoing reminder to measure what matters.

I write self-help books and have interviewed everyone from behavioral scientists to productivity experts. As a result, I've been exposed to dozens of mental models for goal setting. While I've incorporated bits and pieces from everyone, objectives and key results have been the most effective.

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