Setting and Achieving Goals the Google Way

here's how you can actually get those new year's resolutions going!

written by
Imane
last updated
January 9, 2023
·
3
mins read

Setting and actually sticking to your goals can be quite the struggle, one that I and many other people have expressed difficulty doing. A lot of factors such as mental health, external interferences, neurodivergence, and just like in general can come between visualising a goal or objective and actually getting down to business and setting up how to achieve it.

It's good to believe that writing down your objective, and materializing it into reality, is the first step on the path to achieving it. It takes it out from the chaos of your thoughts and easy forgetfulness into something that exists outside of your imagination.

Setting up how you'll go about achieving it and checking up on your progress are the additional steps that set you up for success on that path and that help you go beyond concepts and dreams into tangible and doable actions. Well, let me introduce you to a revolutionary goal-setting methodology that offers you instructions on how to do every one of those steps.

For those of you in the corporate world, you might already be familiar with the OKRs methodology of goal setting as a way to drive positive change and growth within the workplace–and you might even be using it in your professional life. It’s a well-known management system that’s used (and praised!) by many corporations around the world, big and small, to promote transparency and accountability when it comes to setting and measuring team goals. A lesser known use for it, however, is the personal one.

Unfortunately, not a lot of people are aware that the OKRs system can also be used to achieve personal goals and that its many benefits and unique approach make it the perfect system for many who are continuously struggling to find motivation and aren’t quite sure how to go about setting and materializing their goals.

So, allow me to introduce OKRs to you in hopes that it can help you be more organized and focused the next time you set out to achieve something.

What exactly are OKRs?

Conceptualized by Andrew Grove, co-founder of Intel, but named and popularized by John Doerr, an investor and venture capitalist at Kleiner Perkins, “OKRs” stands for “objectives and key results” and is a popular goal-setting and management framework to set and track ambitious goals while allowing for a collaborative approach between the team members. The OKRs methodology is used by many big and small corporations who are hoping to approach their goal management differently by allowing the flexibility of ambition with the objectivity of measurable results.

As mentioned above, while originally meant for the workplace, the use of OKRs is not foreign in the personal setting as well. We wanted to recommend them as they can positively impact how individuals approach their goals and objectives by taking away a lot of the toxic behaviours that can set them up for a quick burnout and lead them to eventually give up–many times before even trying!

In general, OKRs provide both a detailed methodology for setting goals and a way to objectively measure your progress in a positive and guilt-free way. It can also be used in collaboration with lovers and friends to reach a collective goal (ex: spending more time together, planning a vacation, etc.) or to promote accountability for personal goals by sharing your respective OKRs with them.

What is the OKR formula?

The biggest selling point of OKRs is the straightforward and simple formula they follow. Every OKR is set up of two components: the objective and the key results. You’re only limited to 3-5 key results per objective at most and recommended to follow a less is more approach to setting and wording them.

The objective is basically something you’d like to achieve sometime in the future, either in the short term (within the year) or the long term. Your objective is your end-game, where you see yourself in x amount of time, or something you want; that could be living alone, running a marathon, having better mental health, etc. It doesn’t have to be too specific or within your immediate control but it needs to be concise, aspirational, and action-oriented.

Key results are how you will go about achieving that goal. They’re the measures you will use to keep track of your progress and to keep yourself accountable. They provide an actionable list that takes the objective away from a mere concept or idea out there to tangible and measurable actions that can serve as stepping stones toward reaching that objective–while also allowing for you to go beyond. Therefore, key results are specific, time-bound, measurable, but ambitious.

When setting your key results, if your results are easily achievable, then you weren’t ambitious enough. For example, let’s take the above example of winning a marathon. If you know that you can easily run 6 miles/hour then a good key result you could set would be to run 12 miles/hour. Seems unattainable? It’s because, under the scope of OKRs, it should be!

There are two main ways of writing down your OKR and that’s either in a first-person statement form that follows this format: I will (objective) by (key result 1) and (key result 2). For example, I will win the marathon by doubling my speed to 12 miles/hour and training 4 times a week for the next 3 months.

The second way, which we use in our own team's OKRs, is by having the objective as a first line and the OKRs in the following lines.

O: Spend more quality time with my partner
KR1: try one new thing together every week
KR2: avoid all distractions and not check phone during our time together

Finally, why OKRs?

A little TMI moment; my life mission for the last couple of years has always been to get my shit (excuse my french!) together. I’ve been writing it on every single new year’s aspiration list for the last god-knows how many years but it has always been far too vague, grand, and intangible that I always gave up before even trying.

However, and this is at the expense of sounding like a PR person for OKRs, since applying the OKR way of thinking, I was able to finally devise an action plan that has been getting me closer to that ultimate goal. So, like many, I strongly believe that the OKR system’s five main benefits called F.A.C.T.S do really bring about a positive change to the quite toxic ways that I, and I’m sure a lot of other people too, had been approaching goal setting.

Focus

Something you’ll find a lot in guides to applying OKRs is the heavy emphasis on more is less–I even mentioned it once prior to this. When you set your objectives and key results, you’re encouraged to keep them below 5 to allow you to be laser-focused on specific actions and outcomes that are not too many that they become hard to keep up with. Some go as far as saying that all your OKRs should be able to fit into 1 single page.

Interestingly, in this limiting aspect, I found freedom; freedom from being overwhelmed with what to do. If given the opportunity, most of us will often try to do many things at once (or even as many things as possible at once) which can become overwhelming very quickly and lead to burn-outs. So, if you’re anything like me, this approach will allow you to limit your attention and efforts without the burden or guilt of underachieving–as that’s also included in the key results (see stretching below!).

Alignment

In a company setting, once the priority OKRs are put in place, all the different levels of management and employees will work towards aligning their day-to-day activities with the key results and objectives. Similarly, once you set your vision and your key results and start to change what you do to align with them. Your objective becomes the north star and every action you take leads you towards it.

Personally, I tend to be highly motivated about a newly set goal but it usually quickly fizzles out because other than putting those grand statements on a piece of paper, I rarely change much about my daily life. However, within this system, your day-to-day needs to reflect your key results; this sense of direction and immediate change can kickstart your initial wave of motivation that always accompanies setting goals while also providing you with recreatable actions you take that can easily be turned into habits to set you up for success. It helps keep you stay consistent over purely relying on your internal motivation alone.

Commitment

Transparency is key to accountability and the OKRs methodology supports this by requiring that the objectives and progress are shared company-wide through common channels once the OKRs are set. It’s important to show others what you’re working towards and what your progress towards it is.

This might seem harder to achieve at a solo level so you might want to share your OKRs with a close one to add to the accountability if you do find it hard to practice self-discipline without external support. If it’s not possible, you can keep them somewhere that’s easily accessible or visible at all times (on your wall or as your computer or phone background) to keep you aligned and in tune with them. What is important when going at it solo is to accurately track your measures and be radically honest to yourself about your progress.  

Tracking

Regular check-ins and grading to OKRs are necessary to avoid misalignments or forgetfulness. It’s important to schedule a check-in every week or so to review the OKRs and evaluate their value, progress, and attainability.

If you tend to exhibit less self-discipline, then a daily check-in and reminder might be necessary to keep you on track until you’re able to stretch that to one week between check-ins. It’s important to not only check on your progress but to also be critical about it by grading your key results. Many workplaces, like campfire, use the red-green-orange index to mark progress. In our case, we used the following key:

🔴Red: smells bad.🟠Orange: needs more work.🟢Green: looking good!

If you feel like one of the key results is not attainable or non-relevant anymore, then you can drop it and work on the others. It’s important to not waste your energy and focus on what it’s not working, especially at the expense of what is. The same can apply to bigger objectives as well. If you tried and it keeps being in the red, then it might be time to either re-evaluate your alignment to the goals or to forgo them altogether and focus on something else. The important thing here is that you tried not that you achieved.  

Stretching

Stretching is often what gives the OKRs system its core value and it is best explained by Larry Page, as quoted by John Doerr, who said that he'd “rather have the objective be to go to Mars, and if we fall short, we’ll get to the moon.”

OKRs are always set with a more ambitious goal than usual/possible to help give you the motivation to overachieve without the guilt of underachieving. This is primarily a way to avoid under-promising and over-achieving while not really leaving your comfort zone, which we often tend to do as a way to preserve our sense of success. However, OKRs approach this differently in that not every OKR set has to be achieved, they are set to be unattainable in a way but inspire a “stretch” in abilities.

Underpromising and over-achieving is often called sandbagging in business and OKRs have been its creators’ and adopters’ way of combatting it.

our take.

Did you know that Sandbagging is also used in the relationship realm? yep, it's used to denote a common manipulative method where one person dupes another person into lowering resistance or expectations, thereby creating an opportunity that the manipulator can exploit. To put it more simply, it’s when someone makes you believe they’re not capable of doing something as a way to lower your expectations of their abilities when it’s not true. Let's not settle for sandbagging of any kind in 2023!