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Bullet-proof productivity with OKRs

Back in late 1970s Andy Grove, in Intel, introduced the OKR (Objectives & Key Results), inspired by Peter Drucker’s MBO (Management by Objective) method. OKR is a goal-setting method used to define strategic goals and measurable results used by organizations. OKRs help to build a direction and prioritized focus.

As of today there are many companies who have adopted OKRs as their growth compass. The organisation I am currently working at has been also using OKRs since couple of years. When I heard about the concept, it caught my attention right away. It was both simple and easy, two things you can hardly see together. After doing some research and reading the book “Measure What Matters” by John Doerr, I decided to experiment it for my personal development and the result is just incredible.

Steering the life wisely

We all want to live a good life, however we do not define what a good life is. We have too many things to do and there is a great amount of emotions, thoughts and events we have to process to define what our next steps should be. Due to the confusion born out of this chaos-like environment, we try to always choose the easiest way, which usually does not lead to a better future. Given the dynamics and complexity of our environment, OKRs help to steer our lives wisely by creating a focused development rather than keeping busy with no value-added outcomes. Let’s go through some benefits of OKRs for personal development.

Enunciate Your Goals

We all usually do the famous New Years Resolution (NYR) to motivate ourselves to become better, or at least to somehow try to cover the last year’s disasters by making promises. In OKRs, we do a similar approach. We put ourselves goals for the given period. The only difference is that these goals should not be unattainable ones, therefore SMART framework is our friend. Defining goals help us bring down the scope of what we should achieve during the period down to a specific focus.

Track and measure progress

Main reason why most of NYRs fail is because we do it either while celebrating or with the morning-hangover state, and then forget about it for the whole year. There is no discipline of quantifying and measuring our progress for the objectives we put. In OKR framework we are regularly check our development pace. Progress checks motivate us, helps to see when we need to push the limits a bit more, and tell us when to change the direction.

Reassess & Stretch

One of the main issues we have with pursuing a goal is that we close our vision down to only to that route. However, usually the goals are not written in stone. One of the main benefits of OKR framework is that it lets us revise, modify, delete or add goals during the development period. Thus, if we see an objective that is obsolete or is not relevant for the current period, then we can change it. The only condition requested is that we do these evaluations only at the end of cycles, not while working on them (we will see the cycles below).

Aim High & Fail Well

“Most people fail in life not because they aim too high and miss, but because they aim too low and hit.” says Les Brown. The only way we can progress is if we put a little bit more stress on our bodies/minds. Similar to vaccines’ working principle, putting a little bit more than we are capable of doing can help us improve our stamina. Moreover, if we go beyond our usual difficulty level to an upper one few times, the perception of the usual one goes down, it becomes easier to do it.

OKRs in action

The issue I see with different productivity techniques is that they only cover a specific need. Therefore, when we choose a framework and follow it, we usually fail in a long term. Obviously, frameworks cannot take every factor into consideration and only cover the major characteristics of productivity. OKRs may also have the gaps, but I believe that it is one of the most comprehensive techniques out there. So, let’s see how we can build our growth engine with the help of OKRs.

Find your North Star

Everyone has a guiding light, direction compass, “North Star”. This is our vision, where or what we want to be, mostly after 3-5 years period. North Star is where we are encouraged to think big, to have the ambition and passion that we should attain. Before we go on to the next steps, let’s make sure we do have a vision written down. My vision for the next 5 years would be as following:

“I am an explorer who discovers the wonders of human brain.”

Annual & Quarterly Objectives & Key Results

Now that we know where we want to be, let’s divide that elephant into slices, which we can fit into our mouth. Looking at our north start, we do know what do we need to achieve in a small scale to get to there, thereby we define annual and quarterly objectives and key results. As mentioned before, objectives are the qualitative descriptions of the outcome we want to achieve, whereas key results are a set of metrics that quantify the progress on the objective we set. For one objective, reasonable amount of key results is around 3-5. I usually put 3, since I like to be consistent. At the end of every quarter, we go back to evaluate our development and reassess and refine our OKRs.

I will (Objective) as measured by (this set of Key Results).

Weekly Goals on Monday

What I love about Monday mornings is building weekly goals. The weekly goals help us to create compelling vision for what we want to have achieved on Friday evening. We identify the focus areas that bring us 1% closer to reaching our quarterly objectives and make them our top priority. Therefore, the weekly goals should be always built upon our quarterly OKRs. The goals should be ideally just a one line story.

Daily Outcomes

Similar to the weekly goals, the first thing in the morning we should identify our 3 outcomes for the day. These 3 stories drive our day and make it productive instead of just a busy one. Ideally the 3 outcomes we define can be divided into further smaller tasks to ensure that we are clear on what needs to be done to achieve those outcomes. At the end of the day, we should come back and check if we finished all the tasks and achieved the outcomes. I should say that it gives an enormous satisfaction and motivation to see “DONE” on all the items at the end of the day.

Friday Reflection

We need small wins to be motivated to endure the pain of development. Friday reflection is a very simple but such an amazing practice. By reflecting on the week, we could improve our focus and invest our time and energy more effectively. On Friday we look at the 3 goals we defined on Monday and the progress we did to achieve those goals. We ideally should check 3 things that went well, as well as 3 things that can be improved in the next iteration. Another perk of Friday reflection is that it gives you a perfect reason to celebrate over the weekend (obviously responsibly).

Habit maketh the man

To become productive, to develop and to reach our goals we need to have a perseverance. Yes, OKRs and other techniques can help us to build a structure upon the path to success. However if we do not persistently practice and work towards that north star direction, we are doomed to fail eventually. If we have decided that we’d do anything to get to our goals, then OKR is a technique that we should adopt for our productivity and growth.

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