Personal Growth: A Systems Approach

Sib J
Junoon.io
Published in
7 min readDec 10, 2019

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The proverbial mountain of self-improvement — credits: @leni_eleni

Many lessons can be taken from leading organizations when it comes to growth.

Top companies invest heavily in tracking metrics that expand the bottom line; most click and keyboard events are captured, everything is a/b tested.

The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads — Jeff Hammerbacher

They’ve reduced the problem of expansion to setting metrics that drive growth and then systematically moving those numbers.

Growth for individuals however has not become so sophisticated. Self-help books provide motivation, tools and techniques to improve in this regard, but lack the systematic rigor that organizations benefit from.

Let’s take a look at a couple of organizational strategies and see how we can incorporate them in our personal growth system.

We’re essentially tackling two different problems:

  1. Goal-setting: Deciding on the most optimal direction at this moment
  2. Execution: Moving towards the set direction in the most efficient way

We’ll explore two proven organizational strategies to address these problems:

  • OKR’s will provide us with a reliable goal-setting framework
  • 4DX will ensure progress towards the set goals

Creating a Personal Growth System

Objective Key Results

This is the goal-setting system used by Google, Intel and many more. It was developed by Andy Grove, a Silicon Valley giant responsible for Intel’s survival and success.

Our aim is to use this framework to achieve alignment between our core values and day to day actions.

Let’s get into it.

  1. Set your objectives

At a personal level, objectives are that which give (or will give) meaning to your life, translated into achievable action statements.

Typically, the timeline for objectives are quarterly (every 3 months) — but you can modify this timeline to suit your needs. For example, if you have urgent, short-term goals then you may want to consider a 1–2 month timeline.

I like to break objectives down by the most important aspects of my life

Personality: Build a lifelong habit of discipline and patience.

Career: Become a world-class engineer.

Finance: Get halfway towards non-reliance on salary-based income.

You shouldn’t have more than 5 objectives at a time, so you can focus on what matters.

2. Determine the key results

The point of key results are, if they’re all accomplished, then the objective will be achieved. The success of a KR should be measurable by some metric.

Objective 1: Build a lifelong habit of discipline and patience.

KR 1. Meditate for 20m every day (total of 120 sessions)

KR 2. Do 20 hours of deep work (no distractions whatsoever) per week (total of 240 hours)

KR 3. Take 10m every night to review your patience and discipline throughout the day. Give yourself a score of 1 (no discipline, impatient) — 5 (fully disciplined, very patient). Average score should be 4.

The success of each KR is evaluated based on completion of it’s metric. For example if I hit 90 meditation sessions in this quarter, then my completion was 75% (90/120). Typically +70% is considered successful, but this can depend on priorities.

You can add your metrics onto Junoon to make reviews a breeze.

3. Translate key results to day-to-day tasks

Now that we have our desired metrics, let’s create an action plan for hitting those numbers.

The translation can be implemented as follows:

  • If it’s a weekly / monthly metric (i.e. 20h / week): Schedule weeks ahead of time and allocate the resources necessary to hit each metric
  • If it’s a daily task: Find a consistent daily time (consistency helps with habit formation)

Cal Newport stresses the importance of weekly planning multiple times throughout his must-read, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. He also talks about it in this blog post,

The return on investment is phenomenal. To visualize your whole week at once allows you to spread out, batch, and prioritize work in a manner that significantly increases what you accomplish and goes a long way toward eliminating work pile-ups and late nights.

KR 1. Meditate for 20m every day (total of 120 sessions)

Translation: I’ll meditate for 20m every day after work and after breakfast on weekends

KR 2. Do 20 hours of deep work (no distractions whatsoever) per week

Translation: Pictured below on Junoon

Key results to daily tasks with Junoon

KR 2. Take 10m every night to review your patience and discipline throughout the day

Translation: Fill out the Daily Review form on Junoon prior to bed every night (pictured above).

Now that we’ve determined exactly what needs to be done, let’s dive into execution with 4DX.

The 4 Disciplines of Execution

The first 2 rules of 4DX are similar to the goal-setting process we described above, the last 2 are relevant to execution and useful to us (described below).

4. Keep a compelling scoreboard

“People play differently when they keep the score.”

A scoreboard visually indicates progress on goal-specific measures. You should have constant access to the scoreboard to build awareness of progress.

Once this connection of metrics with progress becomes clear, it adds an extra layer of motivation for hitting the key metric.

By adding your metrics into Junoon and filling out daily reviews, you can set a pretty compelling scoreboard.

4. Keep a compelling scoreboard

Otherwise, you can keep track of your metrics with:

  • Google sheets
  • Google forms
  • iOS notes

5. Create a cadence of accountability — MOST IMPORTANT

This binds the whole system together. You need a daily / weekly / monthly / quarterly review of progress. The 4DX authors argue that it’s this discipline where “execution really happens”.

Daily Reviews

This is the concept of having a shutdown ritual to signal the end of your work day. You review the day’s work, move unfinished tasks, and plan tomorrow.

Aside from the benefits of being accountable to yourself and staying on task, there’s compelling evidence that this benefits your attention and mental health.

Here’s Cal Newport talking about it in Deep Work.

The concept of a shutdown ritual might at first seem extreme, but there’s a good reason for it: the Zeigarnik effect. This effect, which is named for the experimental work of the early-twentieth-century psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, describes the ability of incomplete tasks to dominate our attention.

It tells us that if you simply stop whatever you are doing at five p.m and declare, “I’m done with work until tomorrow,” you’ll likely struggle to keep your mind clear of professional issues, as the many obligations left unresolved in your mind will, as in Bluma Zeigarnik’s experiments, keep battling for your attention throughout the evening...

This ritual ensures that no task will be forgotten: Each will be reviewed daily and tackled when the time is appropriate. Your mind, in other words, is released from its duty to keep track of these obligations at every moment—your shutdown ritual has taken over that responsibility.

Junoon — Daily Review

Although it took me about a week to fully routinize daily reviews, it’s now become an integral part of my evenings. The biggest benefit I’ve seen from this ritual has been its effect on my sleep: it takes me considerably less time to fall asleep than it did previously (about 20-30m, tracked by my sleeping app).

Junoon Daily Reviews prompt you about unfinished tasks and metrics for the day. These metrics are the data points collected for the aforementioned scoreboard.

Weekly Reviews

Review the previous weeks efforts and progress towards each KR, making adjustments to the following week’s schedule as necessary. I usually do this on Sunday nights.

The idea here is to pivot according to your scoreboard, priorities and deliverables. When you review the work done that week, you get an idea of what went well, what went wrong and how to fix it.

If you schedule the next week ahead of time, you can most optimally allocate available time / resources and you won’t have to worry about prioritizing during the week.

Monthly Reviews

Monthly reviews are a good time to see how far you’ve come in the quarter so far. It’ll help you figure out what’s remaining and determine priorities for the month ahead.

Creating monthly and weekly cadences of accountability sets an intention towards your predefined growth.

If it becomes obvious that a KR will be unachievable, it’s completely okay to modify objectives and key results. Your goals should be in a living, breathing document that you can constantly read and edit.

Quarterly Reviews

At this point you will:

  • Review the success of each KR with a completion %
  • Determine the success of the objectives based on KR’s
  • Add learnings based on success / failure of objectives
  • Evaluate priorities for the next quarter and restart the process

You now have a way to systematically achieve your goals.

Conclusion

Once you’ve done a few iterations of this, you’ll develop a visceral connection with metrics and growth. OKR’s provide the superpower of proper prioritization, leading to an intense focus on what matters.

As long as you’re moving the numbers in the right direction, the system will enable growth. All the complexity of “Am I doing the right thing at the right moment?” is boiled down to “Am I meeting my metrics?”.

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