Getting (the right) sh*t done
I started off the new year reflecting, like many of us do, on what I accomplished (and didn’t) last year, and thinking about what I wanted moving forward. I brought in a few friends to help me, and during this time, I found myself writing this piece. The new year — our society’s favorite chance to wipe the slate clean and start anew. Instead of another year of the same old, stale new year’s resolutions that fall by the wayside by March (if you make it that far), let me help you actually accomplish your goals and make real progress this year.
I like using the cycle of a year, with its beginning, middle, and end, as a natural support to get things done. A year is enough time to achieve something meaningful without being too far off to be intangible. In order to make sure that I (and you) actually achieve the things we tell ourselves we want, I have honed in on this process I call “getting (the right) sh*t done.” It is rooted in operating the natural ebbs and flow of a year (beginning, midpoints, end).
Part 1. Beginnings: Setting the Right Goals
The new year marks a chance of a new beginning for us. We can leave behind what didn’t work for us in the previous year and be even more intentional about what we want for ourselves in the upcoming 12 months. Key to beginnings is getting really clear on what we want to do or accomplish for the upcoming year. An oft cited Harvard University study found that people who committed their goals to writing were more likely to achieve them than those who merely held them as aspirations.
ACTIVITY: SMART GOALS
Setting the right goals is monumentally important. It reminds me of the phrase, “What good is it if you solve the wrong problem?” Good goal setting takes practice. It requires us do some deep thinking about what is most important to us, what is aspirational and also realistic. Many of us have heard of SMART goals as a good set of guidelines for goal setting. The SMART goal system was first developed by GE in the 1940s. It held that goals must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound. And in fact, studies show that setting goals in this way leads to a higher performance than abstract goals. (Read more about how to set good smart goals here.)
ACTIVITY: WHEEL OF LIFE
I spend January making sure that I and my clients are confident that we’ll be spending the next eleven months working to impact the three to five things that will matter most. An activity I do that helps with this is called the Wheel of Life. On a scale of 1-10 you rate your satisfaction with the following areas of your life: Health, Career, Money, Friends and Family, Significant Other, Physical Environment, Personal Growth, Fun and Recreation. Your lowest scores are a good place to set goals for the year. (For me personally, I tend to prioritize and focus on goals aligned with my natural values in Health, Career, and Friends and Family.)
If you haven’t yet, it’s not too late to make sure you have clear and compelling goals for yourself for the year. And if you missed January (or even February), use other “firsts” to jumpstart your motivation: the first day of a new month, Mondays, the first day of a new season, your or a loved one’s birthday, etc.
Part 2. Midpoints: Assess and Recalibrate
Mid-points are a time to assess how things are going and recalibrate. While most of us are pretty good at keeping our goals going for a while (e.g. gym memberships spike in the first few months of the year and then decline precipitously), all too often we trail off, getting busy with other stuff, abandoning things when they start getting challenging or just kind of forgetting about them. Without the burst of energy we get from beginnings, our motivation can dip in the middle. So we need to make sure we have structures that help us continue to give our goals attention. As the saying goes, “What gets attention gets energy.” Author Dan Pink suggests imagining you’re a little behind at a mid-point. He cites a study which found that NBA teams who are behind by just one point going into halftime are more likely to win. Being behind (a little) sparks focus on motivation.
At the end of this piece I’ll share the system I use to make sure my goals stay front and center for me throughout the year.
June is the mid-point of the year, but it’s also the beginning of summer, and using the new season with more sunlight and longer days is a great opportunity to re-energize the goals we set for the year.
Part 3: Endings
With the end in sight, we are able to give everything we have in a final sprint to the finish line. A competitive swimmer friend shared his team’s maxim which exemplifies this: “Start strong, end stronger.” We don’t have to – and can’t afford to – save anything for later when time is almost up. As a case-in-point, I set a deadline to get a draft of the piece you’re reading done by the end of January. With two days to go, I hauled ass to finish it on time. Creating deadlines, even if they are artificial, can help us get to the finish line, or at least make real progress even if we don’t get to the end. An analysis of NFL scoring showed that teams score twice as many points the minute before halftime than any other minute of the game.
Endings are a time to reflect on and learn from how we did on our goals. At the end of each year, I invite clients to answer questions about how the year was in retrospect as well as how they can hit the ground running for the upcoming year. Through this learning comes a significant amount of growth and self-awareness which is meaningful in and of itself, but it also helps fine tune and do even better next year.
ACTIVITY: A process to get (the right) sh*t done
The process I have found most useful for goal setting, implementing and monitoring progress is adapted from Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). OKRs were developed at Intel and Google and are used by many organizations. I like OKRs for their simplicity and cohesion. Here’s how my process works:
1. Set your annual goals.
This begins by asking yourself “at the end of this year what do I want to have accomplished?” Three goals is probably enough and five should be the upper limit. These should be aspirational but attainable and reflect the most important areas of your life for the upcoming year.
2. Set your Objectives and Key Results monthly.
From your annual goals create three to five monthly Objectives. These are basically goals for the month that will move you toward attainment of your annual goals. For each objective select three to five Key Results that if achieved that month will add up to the achievement of that Objective. Key Results should be quantifiable so you can assess to what extent you did them.
3. Monitor and score your OKRs weekly.
Each week review your OKRs. Put “Review OKRs” in your calendar on weekly repeat so you remember to do it. GIve yourself a score for each Key Result on a scale of zero to 1 (zero means you didn’t do it all all and 1 means you totally achieved it.) This gives you a sense of where you need to focus more attention next week.
4. Final score and reflect on your OKRs at the end of each month.
At the end of the month average the Key Results and that is your Objective Score. Reflect on where you were successful and where you weren’t and determine if you need to continue with an Objective for the next month or if it’s time to set a new one.
So I encourage you to use the natural rhythm of the year, spend time setting goals, and put in place a process that will help you stay focused on what matters most. Do this and you will no doubt get (the right) sh*t done this year and beyond.