I am crazy about OKRS (Objectives and Key Results). I have been evangelizing this system of staying on track toward your company goals to every start-up I work with, and the results are always impressive. Even when incompletely implemented, they still create the kind of conversations and thinking a company needs. So it’s shocking to me that when I found myself stuck, unable to make progress in my personal life, I didn’t think of turning to them immediately. Luckily I work with a great coach who reminded me to dig into my own toolkit to solve my problems.
So first I set an objective for Q1. Objects always work best when time constrained. I like three months as a time frame a lot. It’s long enough to accomplish significant things, and short enough to have a sense of urgency. Companies, of course, like them because they map to quarters.
Objectives should be qualitative, specific and bold.
My objective was to model a sustainable happy life. Oops, too big, too vague! That’s more of a life mission. So what looks more like a three-month objective?
Objective: Be financially stable while preserving health and doing work I like to do.
Financially stable: make as much as I spend, when I am at my lowest level of spending.
Preserving health: I have had horrible stomach and back issues. Back from too much desk time, stomach from stress.
Work I like to do: This historically as gotten me in trouble. I think so many things are cool and nifty, I have done things that have hurt my health in order to not be bored.
So now I needed KR’s. I knew I’ve had reached my objective if these three things were present
KR: earn X over three months doing work I’d do even if I wasn’t paid
KR: have a manageable budget to predict expanses
KR: zero acid reflux, zero back pain
X was the back of the envelope number I’d put together when I was forced to asses my life by my kindly financial advisor. However, I hoped to get to a more accurate one, both to better gauge financial health and to know when I can spurge at Anthropologie. And I’ve never run off a budget ever, but I figured that was the only way to really know if my life was sustainable.
Next I needed a plan. I had spent the previous quarter prototyping a life. I tried out consulting and teaching, and both were fun. However, the consulting had produced more stress than I could handle, but the teaching had gone well. I also had discovered two other things that were important to my well being: running and writing. Each had terrific impact on health, Writing for mental and running for physical. I now had some good hypothesizes about what happiness night look like.
So: I needed to teach, write and run.
From that starting point, I came up with a bunch of ideas that would move me toward my goal: looking at the Dschool, exploring more work with General Assembly, getting a book proposal together. Finding ways to do talks that would at least not cost money to do. I’ve become a fan of avoiding monolithic product plan (which tend to be lies anyway), and instead creating a collection of projects that you can frequently evaluate. So I came up with a collection of activities I can try, and worked to sequence them.
And then I set into the part most people don’t talk about (or value): the weekly report.
I have had to write a lot of weekly reports in my career, and they are usually annoying and boring laundry lists I didn’t want to write and my boss didn’t want to read. But at Zynga, we learned how to make them awesome. It had everything to do with only tracking and reporting things that made a significant difference. Since them, I’ve used them in consulting as well, adjusting over time.
The format for the emails is similar to stand ups. Last week, Next week, Blockers. I’ve added in “notes” which are things the person getting the email should know. As well, each item has a priority: P1 (do this week), P2 (do this week if possible) or P3 (consider).
In each section you can only have three P1’s. You can have a couple P2’s as well. Maybe a P3. I quite enjoyed sending them to a boss; it made sure our priorities were tightly aligned. If I had a P1 s/he thought was a P2, we could have a conversation about why each of us thought differently about the urgency of the work.
P1s are the things that matter. I am huge stack rank fan. I stack rank everything. It give you clarity. It keep you from indulgence. It makes you examine your values.
The report section on last week lists the priorities you agreed on, and if they got done. If they didn’t, why they didn’t. You can start to see pattern in what messes you up that way.
Blockers are things you need help with, things that slow you down you can’t remove yourself.
If you can remove a blocker yourself, just f*cking remove it. This report isn’t for excuses, it’s for executing.
My coach agreed to receive the emails, in lieu of a boss. It’ s good to send the emails to someone, to stay honest.
I’m already learning from this practice. I had to admit I’d underestimated how much work the book proposal was, and change my goals from writing it to outlining it. I realized weather would affect my exercise schedule, and I needed to be flexible. I had to admit sometimes I punk out more than I wish I did And find a way to beat that.
So as we try to find a way to keep our resolutions, consider the OKR. rather than a big wish at the end of the year, how about a plan you can live with?
Read what worked and what didn’t in Personal OKRs Three Years Later