How I tweaked my individual OKRs to be less like goals and more like a system


We use quarterly OKRs to set goals and measure progress. When we define them we remind ourselves to focus on outcomes rather than output. That means to describe a desired effect rather than the artefacts that get produced. Think 2k unique visitors instead of 3 blog posts.

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By doing so, we allow ourselves to experiment with different outputs to achieve the desired outcomes. This works well for OKRs on department level, which help us align our efforts towards a common goal. In terms of individual OKRs, though, I found it hard to plan 3 months ahead and very limiting when I did.

Also, it was always hard to cut out time for them. They seem to compete with my day-to-day tasks and they are the first thing that get postponed when time gets tight. This leads to OKR fulfillments of 10% at the end of the quarter, which is disappointing and frustrating.

Instead of using specific goals as key results I find it more helpful to define a system. This lets me keep the flexibility to choose what to do specifically at the time when I am doing it. While these “key results” are very unspecific they **increase the odds** that I will achieve my objectives.

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This paragraph from a blog post by Scott Adams sums it up nicely.

My problem with goals is that they are limiting. Granted, if you focus on one particular goal, your odds of achieving it are better than if you have no goal. But you also miss out on opportunities that might have been far better than your goal. Systems, however, simply move you from a game with low odds to a game with better odds. With a system you are less likely to miss one opportunity because you were too focused on another. With a system, you are always scanning for any opportunity.

You can’t really call this OKRs any more because there is no results. You may call it objectives and accompanying system.

I think, what makes systems so powerful is that they help form habits. Doing things once to reach a goal is useful, doing things habitually to continuously improve is more effective in the long run.

By making this change I won flexibility at the cost of focus and direction. For me personally that is worth it for tracking my personal development. YMMV.


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