Using Temporal Landmarks for Effective OKRs Adoption

Anyone familiar with Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) knows that the heartbeat of this framework is its cadence—how it creates a rhythm that maps our aspirations to our real-world clock and calendar. It’s a bit like jazz; there’s a structure, but the real magic happens with how you play within that structure. I want to dive into a concept that’s critical yet often overlooked: the role of temporal landmarks in structuring OKR cadences.

What Are Temporal Landmarks?

The term “temporal landmarks” was popularized by researchers Hengchen Dai, Katherine Milkman, and Jason Riis in their paper The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior. In it they explore the ways people mentally separate events and time periods in their lives. Their work explains how individuals use significant dates— whether they are personally meaningful or socially recognized— to organize their future plans. These temporal landmarks serve as psychological markers that can motivate goal-setting, inspire new beginnings, and encourage the tracking of personal progress over time.

Why Do Temporal Landmarks Matter in OKRs?

In Radical Focus, I wrote that the cadence is even more important than having perfectly crafted OKRs. I’ve seen companies make a great deal of progress just from adopting the cadence without excellent (or any) OKRs. If you adopt the habit of making then measuring for everything you do, you build organizational learning.

The Radical Focus cadence is built on preexisting landmarks, from Scrum’s sprint rituals to business’s fiscal rhythm.  These time chunks are what they are for a reason.  A quarter is a particular good length of time to work toward a goal. It’s not so long we can’t learn and not so short we can’t make real progress. Annual OKRs give vision to what you’re currently doing and weekly alignment meetings make sure everyone holds the most critical strategic goal front-of-mind.

OKRs thrive on clarity and momentum, and temporal landmarks provide natural moments to pause, reflect, reset, and refresh objectives. Let’s explore why these time markers are essential to maximizing the effectiveness of OKRs.

1. They Encourage a Fresh Start

Temporal landmarks act as psychological reset buttons. They signal a new beginning, making it easier for teams to leave past failures or complacency behind and move forward with renewed energy. This is crucial because OKRs are not just about continuing business as usual; they are about striving for strategic breakthroughs. When you align the start of an OKR cycle with a temporal landmark, you tap into a natural human inclination to start afresh with more vigor and determination.

2. They Enhance Focus

By segmenting time into distinct periods, temporal landmarks help individuals and teams focus on what’s immediately ahead. This segmentation can reduce the overwhelm that comes from looking at a massive, year-long goal by breaking it down into more manageable chunks. For example, setting quarterly OKRs that start on the first day of a new fiscal quarter harnesses the psychological power of the “new quarter, new goals” mentality, concentrating effort and attention right where it’s needed.

3. They Improve Tracking and Measurement

Temporal landmarks provide clear intervals for measuring progress toward OKRs. This regular cadence of evaluation helps keep everyone on track and allows for timely adjustments. Regular check-ins, anchored around the natural weekly cadence of Monday-Friday, ensure that teams can celebrate wins, learn from losses, and pivot as necessary.

4. They Build Rhythms

Humans are creatures of habit and we thrive on rhythms. By aligning OKR cycles with temporal landmarks, you establish a predictable, stable rhythm that can guide your team through the year. This rhythm helps in planning and allows individuals to mentally prepare for each phase of effort and evaluation.

Implementing Temporal Landmarks in OKR Cadences

So, how can you effectively implement temporal landmarks into your OKR strategy? Here are some practical tips:

  • Start with Your Calendar: Identify the major temporal landmarks that resonate with your organization. These could be industry-specific peak times, fiscal quarters, or any other significant dates that make sense for your team.
  • Align OKR Planning Around These Dates: Structure your OKR cycles to start and end around these landmarks. This might mean having quarterly OKRs that reset at the beginning of each fiscal quarter or aligning other OKRs with the rhythm of development. Annually-quarterly-weekly is a best practice for OKRs but it doesn’t mean it’s right for your company if you work in six-month development cycles or two week sprints.
  • Communicate the Importance: Make sure your team understands why these dates are chosen and the benefits of this alignment. Communication helps everyone see the value in this structure and encourages them to mentally and strategically prepare for each cycle.
  • Use Landmarks as Natural Review Points: Leverage these landmarks as opportunities for big-picture reviews and strategic adjustments. This ensures that your OKRs remain relevant and aligned with broader business goals.


Temporal landmarks are more than just dates on a calendar—they’re powerful psychological tools that can help structure and optimize the OKR process. By wisely aligning OKR cycles with these significant points in time, organizations can enhance focus, drive engagement, and maintain a steady rhythm of progress and evaluation. So next time you’re setting OKRs, remember to consider not just what your goals are, but when the best time to pursue them might be. Harnessing the power of temporal landmarks could be the secret ingredient that takes your OKR strategy from good to great.

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