Productivity Professional Development

Happy “Ditch your new year’s resolutions” day.

or: Why you don’t need new year’s resolutions, but you DO need objectives.

According to the fun holiday calendar, today is international “Ditch New Year’s Resolutions” day. And why not? New Years’ resolutions are a bit of a waste of time, aren’t they? Raise more for your charity, find new donors, drink less, lose weight, stop smoking. They’re all things we really need to do, but a year-long resolution means there’s no urgency, so there’s no follow through. As a result, by today, half of New Year’s resolutions are already out of the window, and most of the other half are headed in the same direction.

But hang on, we do need to raise more income, find new donors, drink less and a whole bunch of other things, so how can we set objectives which actually work? Well if a one-year resolution doesn’t work, how about a three-month objective? This is the kind of tool that I’ve used for quite a few years and really works. You see, a three month period is long enough to get something meaningful done but short enough that the urgency is there right from the start.

I use a system called OKRs or “Objectives and Key Results” that work across both professional and personal goals. With OKRs, your “O”, your objective, is about what you’re trying to achieve, and your KRs, your key results, are about how much progress you’ve made towards getting there. Here’s how it works.

1: Objectives and leading indicators

First, you pick an objective that you want to reach. Make it a SMART objective. The best ones go in the form “I want to get this measurement from X to Y”. It doesn’t much matter what the measurement is, income, the number of new donors per quarter, blood pressure, weight, whatever your objective needs, but you have to be able to measure it from today.

Now you need to pick your key results, and these are important. One of them would be the measure that you’ve already picked to define your objectives, the one that will tell you whether you’re done at the end of the quarter, but pick another one or at most two which are “leading indicators”.

Leading indicators are going to be different from the measure that you’ve already got – which is likely a lagging indicator – because where a lagging indicator like income, donor numbers, blood pressure, weight will ultimately tell you whether you’ve been successful, they look BACK, so by the time you get the measurement, you can’t take any action that’s going to get you to your objective.

Leading indicators, on the other hand, are when you measure the things which you know are necessary steps towards reaching your goal – and they’re often things which you can directly influence because they are in your control. So the number of calls you make to major donors will have a direct impact on your income at the end of the quarter, and you can control it by simply picking up the phone. Other leading indicators you might use professionally would be: what’s the status of the new fundraising programme you want to launch, how many social media ambassador emails have you sent this week, and for health-related goals, things like “how many times this week did you exercise, how many days did you stick to a diet, how many days did you stay off the booze”

2: Daily Checkin

Now that you’ve set up your OKRs, there’s one more thing that you need to do. Every morning take a look at those OKRs again. Maybe set them as a backdrop on your computer, maybe stick them into the front of your diary or daily planner. It doesn’t matter how, it just matters that you take a look at that OKR for thirty seconds at the start of your day and simply decide how you’re going to move forward on your key results today.

If you’re about major donors, when are you going to make your calls today? If you’re looking at digital fundraising, how can you move your new programme forward, if you’re looking at social, when are you going to prepare those tweets and emails?

You might even have chosen some key results that you can book into your diary in advance, going to the gym Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays before work. But it’s still worth checking in on those objectives every morning, this is your most important priority for the quarter, right? Looking at them every morning is a great step towards reminding yourself to get the important stuff done and not let it get pushed aside by the noise and busyness of everyday life.

3: Weekly Review

When you do that daily check-in on your OKRs, when you get to the end of the week, this is your chance to look at how you’re doing. If you’ve made ten calls a day for five days, there’s likely been something that’s come out of that and which is building towards your meaningful objective. Have you reached a project landmark, achieved a measurable step forward in your lag measure, lost some weight or improved that blood pressure? Now’s the time to take a moment to give yourself a pat on the back and redouble your enthusiasm to get even more progress next week.


That’s it.  It’s simple, which is, I think, a big reason why it works so well for many.  I hope that it will for you as well.  If you want to find out more about OKRs, google is your friend, not just because there is lots written about them, but because OKRs are used within Google itself to keep their own teams on track in a very fast growing internet business, so there’s a lot we can learn from that experience.

If you prefer something a bit less digital, and don’t mind a bit of shameless self-promotion, I can point you towards my book: Practical Time-Travel for Fun and Profit which looks into all this in a bit more detail and gives you lots of other practical tools to use to make your 2019 even more successful.