Life Tool: Applying Objectives and Key Results to Your Personal Life

Charles Moore
Jan 6, 2018 · 3 min read

This post is part of a series. You can start at the beginning or see All of the Tools.

Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

“…having the objective is the baseline for being able to focus on what’s important.”

If you are not familiar with OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results, it’s worth a Google search. Better yet, I highly recommend Measure What Matters by John Doerr. It tells the story about how OKRs were implemented at Intel and later at Google, with a bunch of practical examples of how they are used in many different organizations.

The short of it:

  • Objectives = goals;
  • Key results = things that need to happen to achieve the objectives.

My annual strategy retreat is the time that I set Objectives for the year. The objectives may change during the year as circumstances change, but having them is a great baseline for being able to focus on what’s important.

I’ve long created objectives or annual goals at work, but over time, I found two missing pieces:

  1. Setting personal objectives in the same way and managing them as a unified whole; and,
  2. Creating short-term goals that ladder up to the annual ones.

The first point is covered in a later post. On the second point, these short-term goals are the Key Results in the OKR framework. That is: “what do I need to accomplish this month to put me on the path to achieving the objectives?”

Setting the Key Results is critical because it’s really hard to think about and plan a year’s worth of activity. But what you need to do over the next few weeks is far easier to put your arms around.

Finally, the Key Results are the basis for answering, “what do I want to get done this week?” (“to-dos”).

For example, my OKRs for the January starting a few weeks after my first kid was born included:

Annual Objective: Keep kid alive.

  • January Key Result: Set timeline to start interviewing nanny candidates

Annual Objective: Maintain weight of 180 lbs. or less.

  • January Key Result: at least 10 workouts during the month

Annual Objective: Develop onboarding curriculum for product managers

  • January Key Result: Date set for next training. Two volunteers to create case studies on board.

While the Objectives entail many steps and won’t be accomplished within a month, the Key Results are actionable. When written well, they enable one to show up on the first Monday of the year with a clear sense of what you need to do.

Getting Started

“In X months, what state of the world, if true, would mean that I’m successful?”

The answers to that question will likely be a good starting list of objectives. To make them most effective, each objective should be phrased as an outcome that is clearly observable or measurable—e.g., “weigh 175 lbs.”, “own a home.”

Among that list, pick the most important 3–5 objectives. It will be hard to execute on more than that at one time.

Finally, for each objective, ask: “what steps would need to occur to achieve this?” The answers to that question are likely good key results.

Some additional tips:

  • Go back to your Framework for Personal Success and Fulfillment for ideas about good objectives. Your benchmarks on each dimension should help with developing shorter-term goals.
  • Start with a defined time period (e.g., 1 month, 1 quarter) that is not too long. A shorter time will help focus your effort. A colleague of mine once said that it took his team 9 months—or three quarter-long OKR periods—to get good at the practice. So a shorter cycle time as you get started might help you iterate to better and better objectives and key results.

I want to hear your thoughts!

This is a “living post,” in that I’d like your help to add to make it more valuable. What have you tried that is similar? Have any stories about the impact of using a tool like this? Please share!

See All of the Tools for other posts like this.

Charles Moore

Written by

Product and analytics guy. Here, sharing a bunch of random insights from a bunch of random experiences.

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