How to Use Google's Famous OKRs to Set Personal Goals
Achieve your personal goals with Objectives and Key Results
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I keep myself very busy. I've been called a robot many times. It's the Achiever strength in me:
No matter how much you may feel you deserve a day of rest, if the day passes without some form of achievement, no matter how small, you will feel dissatisfied. You have an internal fire burning inside you. It pushes you to do more, to achieve more. After each accomplishment is reached, the fire dwindles for a moment, but very soon it rekindles itself, forcing you toward the next accomplishment.
Your relentless need for achievement might not be logical. It might not even be focused. But it will always be with you. As an Achiever you must learn to live with this whisper of discontent.
So it's not that I can't say no to new commitments or goals; it's that I don't want to say no. I have all these things that are important to me and only so many hours in the day. Wrangling some semblance of control around this feeling is tricky.
I'd heard about OKRs before. Google uses them to drive their company forward, so lots of other companies have adopted them, too. But my grasp of their potential was limited until recently, when I read Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs by John Doerr (read my review here). Doerr—in addition to having a highly ironic name—introduced Google to OKRs and is a recognized expert and champion of the tool.
As I read the book, I couldn't help but notice how helpful OKRs would be in controlling my own goals and focusing my energy on the ones that are most important at any given time. But maybe you have the opposite problem; maybe you want to achieve something, but you have trouble getting started or staying motivated along the way. I think OKRs could help you, too.
What are OKRs?
OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results. Your objective is the big thing you want to do, and the Key Results are the smaller ways you're going to do it. Key Results should also be specific, time-bound, and measurable.
For a company, that might look like this:
Objective: Grow profits in Q3
Key Result: Increase sales by 10%
Key Result: Trim expenses by 5%
Key Result: Get 1,000 new customers
Often, you can then turn each Key Result into an Objective of its own. The first KR above becomes the sales team's Objective, the second one becomes the finance team's Objective, and the third one becomes the marketing team's objective. Then each department can set their own KRs in order to get there.
The idea behind OKRs is that they give you a more focused and actionable map to help you get where you're trying to go. If you need to decide whether a specific project is worth your time, you can compare it to your OKRs. Does that project help you hit a KR? No? Then it's a distraction, and you can more confidently turn it down.
This sort of "true north" is obviously helpful in a business setting, where requests from various stakeholders and departments can make it hard to prioritize limited resources. But I think it's just as applicable to personal goals in deciding which productive task you want to tackle next.
Give me some examples
Okay, so here are a few OKRs I set for myself recently. These relate to three goals of mine. First, I have until the end of August to complete an in-progress digital marketing certification, and it's going to take up a lot of my free time. Next, I really want to develop my fiction writing skills as a passion hobby, but it will have to wait until after I finish my certification. Finally, my annual reading goal this year is 50 books. I'm currently a tad bit behind because of the certification (at 21 today).
So here are the OKRs:
Objective: Finish digital marketing certification
Key Result: Finish SEO module in June
Key Result: Finish Web Analytics module in July
Key Result: Finish PPC module in July
Key Result: Finish Content module in August
Objective: Begin my writing practice
Key Result: Starting in September, follow at least two writing prompts per month
Key Result: Post all writing exercises to my book blog for accountability
Objective: Go into Q4 with my reading goal in good shape
Key Result: Finish June at 22 books
Key Result: Finish July at 27 books
Key Result: Finish August at 33 books
Key Result: Finish September at 39 books
So what do you think? If you set some OKRs for yourself, let me know in the comments! I'd love to hear about them. Maybe they'll inspire me, too!