How I Set Personal Goals That Work

When I was a kid, one of my Dad’s big pieces of ‘advice’ was to set goals. Zig Zigler this, Jim Rohn that, I wasn’t having any of it. Maybe all of you listen to your dads, but I was not one of those children!

But I think I must have taken some of it in. When I was about 20, I remember sitting goals and working with Jim Rohn’s program, plotting 1–10 year goals in a long word document, full of objectives and reasons. The problem was, what on earth did I want when I was 30? Even 21 was too far away. So I stuck down ‘Buy a house’. ‘Two kids, and a dog’. Great job, me.

At 28, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. So I needed something else.

Objectives & Key Results are Awesome

Recently, I stumbled across a great article by Brad Hargreaves after looking for advice on something called Objectives & Key Results (OKRs) for the company I work at. He applied them to his personal life, and found it really helpful. Essentially, you have an inspirational, stretchy objective alongside granular, measurable measures of success.

Importantly for me, they also work on much shorter timescales. You can make them as long as you like, but typically people use a quarterly system. It keeps things relevant, and demands action.

Here are my plans for the rest of the year:

It’s important to make sure that objectives inspire you. For me, ‘Build your first business and sell to someone’ was really exciting. Objectives don’t have to be measurable. Leave that to the Key Results.

There are some other things that could be useful, if you want to have a go:

Don’t Set Too Many

You should a max of 4 Objectives, and between 2–4 key results per objective. The whole point of this is that it keeps you focussed. I couldn’t bear to have less than 4, but the less you have, the more single-minded you can be.

Be Ambitious

Now, makes me a bit nervous, but the general rule is that if you complete 60–70% of your key results, you’ve done well. Under 50%? Have a think about changing something up. Done 100%? Your objectives aren’t uncomfortable enough, so think bigger!

Make Sure It’s Measurable

Key Results shouldn’t be your jobs for the week, but they should be something you can look at, and say ‘I’ve done 70% of that’. If you can’t, it’s not a key result. Sorry!

Keep Purpose in Mind

If Jim Rohn got something right, it’s that purpose is so important. Even if it’s ‘because I want to try it’, hardwire that why into your objective. You’ll know your purpose is strong enough when you can look at your objective on a really crappy day and find the discipline or resolve to do something.

We’ll see how it goes over the next few months, but I’m really enjoying it so far. I’d always recommend goal-setting anyway — it helps me find my way up the mountain — but if you’re finding yours a little vague, give this a try. If you’ve never set goals, it’s not a bad time to start!

Originally posted on Play, my blog about how I try to get the most out of my life, without taking it too seriously.