OKRs. Objectives and Key Results. It’s become the Silicon Valley Secret Sauce that companies swear by for consistently hitting goals and executing on strategy.
But how did it start?
We can trace the ancestry of OKRs back to the emergence of management theory in Silicon Valley's boomer tech companies in the 1980s.
Andrew Grove first popularized the concept of OKRs during his time at Intel and documenting it all in his 1983 book High Output Management. John Doerr (the more well-known OKR man), who worked in sales at Intel, brought this idea to Google during his time at Kleiner Perkins.
From there, the OKR-craze has been picked up by companies including Amazon, Microsoft and Spotify and the train has not stopped.
But there's a fundamental part of life where OKRs have only scratched the surface...
Not the way we set company and team goals, but the way we set our personalgoals.
2021 was my year of experimenting with personal OKRs. This is how things went down. 👇
Why I chose OKRs
I’ll be honest, the main reason why I decided to try OKRs is that all of my new year’s resolution attempts all sucked. The first week of January would be great, I’d use Chinese New Year as an excuse to “start again” and then get complacent shortly after that.
Thinking a bit deeper, OKRs are a pretty solid way to help accomplish the fuzzier goals in life:
It helps articulate goals. It’s super easy to say things like “I want to be the best at x” - which can be a great objective. However, the Key Results (KRs) will help break things down into tangible steps.
It will keep the goal top-of-mind - it’s easy for the “big picture” to get lost along the journey.
It’s easy to track the progress of goals and therefore, will help with accountability.
How I set & track personal OKRs
This is how I got started with my personal OKRs - take it as a guide or suggestion, not a prescription:
Choose your focus areas or pillars for your OKRs. Personally, I like to look at all the things in my life holistically so my focus areas are: career, finances, health & fitness, learning & personal growth, family & friends, self-care. This will work just as well if you just want to work on a couple of focus areas.
Choose a high level for each focus area - this is the O in your OKR, the objective. Your objective is supposed to be fuzzy and not well defined.
List out the actionable steps that you’ll need to do to reach your objective - these are the key results (KRs). These should act as “goalposts” for your objective and be easily measurable. Usually, each objective will have 3-5 key results.
As an optional step, you can include some stretch goals. These are second priority to your KRs but a good addition if you think you might have the capacity to do a bit more.
Here’s one of my personal OKRs for this year 👇
Focus Area: Learning & Personal Growth
Objective 1: Learn by working on personal projects and share them with the world.
Key Result 1: Release 1 article for my personal blog every month
Stretch Goal 1: Develop a backlog of content
Key Result 2: Learn 1 new piano piece every month (or revive one that I previously learned)
Stretch Goal: post a video on Instagram
Key Result 3: Build a personal website.
Key Result 4: Develop a personalised productivity system that works for me and helps me manage my projects, goals, documents and tasks.
To track these OKRs, I use Notion to set up a simple database to keep track of all of these. Google Sheets or Excel will easily do the same thing. At the end of every month, I’ll do a review of these things and change the status or give it a score where relevant (within each Notion page).
Making it Stick
Like most goal-setting frameworks, sticking with the system is a huge part of making it successful. Some things I do to make my OKRs stick include:
Sharing it with people who will care. My sister and I have shared our OKRs with each other and we call every month to spend some time talking about them - the highs, lows and everything in between
Having it front and centre on my Notion “Mission Control”. It’s literally impossible for me to miss my OKRs
Note: I’ve adapted Thomas Frank’s Notion Dashboard template for my “Mission Control”. Check it out here.
Setting the right goals in the first place is also key. The sweet spot is finding goals that will keep you focused and require a bit of effort and challenge in order to hit them. Some things I keep in mind:
OKRs are not for BAU. Even though it’s nice to “guarantee” an OKR, it’s not what’s going to push you to hit those audacious goals. If you’ve already developed strong habits in a focus area, there’s no need to include them in your OKRs.
State what is explicitly out of scope. This way I know I won’t get distracted by “adjacent goals” when I’ve already made the decision to not do them.
My OKR Mistakes
I set my OKRs at the start of 2021 and I (naively) thought that it would last the entire year. However, as COVID-times has taught us, things can change quickly.
For example, in March this year, I joined the Earlywork team - nothing in my OKRs at the time reflected the time & effort I would spend building Earlywork. My OKRs also didn’t change even though a new commitment came into my life - as such, some KRs started to suffer.
Lockdowns & injuries also meant that some of my fitness KRs would not be possible by the end of the year. Instead of keeping them there, knowing I would not hit them, I should have the KRs to something else that I could work towards.
The important thing here though is that the overall Objective didn’t need to change, usually, they don’t. However, it’s the KRs that might need adjusting over time.
My (controversial) take; it’s ok to break the OKR rules
OKRs (in the workplace) generally work best if everyone approaches them with discipline and rigour for things like setting OKRs, tracking them and then measuring them.
However, it’s important to remember that this is meant to be your goal-setting framework. If something about the traditional framework doesn’t work...change it.
Some of my KRs aren’t properly “scored” using the 0-1 scale. Instead, I found it more useful to use a more generic scale - “Not Started”, “On Track”, “Done”, “At Risk”. My sleep KR is a good example:
O: Maintain a healthy lifestyle that will me happy and energised
KR: Sleep for 7-7.5 hours every day and be in bed by 11 pm - 11:30 pm every day
Instead of wasting time counting the number of days I slept well every month, I just do a really honest self-assessment. Trust me, it’s pretty obvious when I’m sleep deprived! 😴
At the end of the day, you want to be spending more time achieving your goals, not fluffing around your OKRs.
And, that’s a wrap on my personal OKR framework. Let us know how you’re setting your goals right now, and what you think of the OKR approach!
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