Setting personal OKRs: the art of just do it

I’ve been enviously thinking about Christina Wodtke and how she’s been able to use personal OKRs in her favour. I first read her post on personal OKRs about two years ago, and ever since I’ve been dreaming to use them for my personal life (if you don’t know her, I recommend reading all her posts on OKRs. She has some great reads on Medium and her personal site)..

In my professional life I’ve encountered strategy setting with OKRs at different companies. At Springest, I’ve been using OKRs in different teams since 2014. They were a great help in aligning and helping us prioritise and to ‘say no’. More than that: they integrated well with GTD and Holacracy, and seemed to be something of a missing link between those two, or between the operational space and the ‘how’. Our founder Ruben has written a great post about how OKRs and Holacracy match and complement each other. At Snappcar, where I have worked in 2018 and 2019, OKRs were used as a tool to align the massive international expansion they were in at that moment and difficulties that come with that. Next to that, they were used to guide the operational space strongly by being closely connected to projects and performance.

Even though I had experience setting and working with OKRs professionally, I was lacking the discipline to use them for my private life. I’ve tried to set personal OKRs twice, which I eventually did, but I lacked the discipline to follow through and grade them. Very soon they just became a thing that I’d look away from as much as possible. Maybe because I was used to seeing OKRs as a group thing, the loneliness of the personal OKR scared me.

Maybe at that moment in my life I didn’t need them. Hint: I did much less things next to my 40 hour workweek back then and thus had the luxury of not needing more focus as a necessity. I do need more focus and structure now though, trying to combine working at an international scale up, freelancing as a self organisation coach, blogging about Holacracy and trying to finally write my first book. Next to that I’m dreaming about how to be location independent, so I can work from any place and am not bound to one location anymore. It sounds harder than it is, I believe, since I’ve internalised all those elements slowly for years. But it’s true that it’s hard to stay focussed and prioritise, when there are that many moving parts.

I’m hoping, guessing and knowing that OKRs will help me as they’ve helped individuals, teams and companies I’ve seen using them. I’m curious and excited to see how much closer to my objectives I’ll get, using more structure.

Setting my OKRs: from zero to hero

I’m using Asana to organise my professional and personal work in. Here again: at Springest we’ve been using Asana for a long time and it integrates well with Holacracy and GTD. For my personal life, integration with GTD is important. Plus I want to use a tool that is free and provides me with an easy-to-use experience. Asana ticks all those boxes.

Let’s take a look at my OKR overview.

OKRs Matt

As you can see I’ve created a project in Asana. I’m using that as an overview for the current and future personal OKRs I’ve been setting. I’d advise you on picking a trusted space to write down your OKRs. That can be anything: a notebook that you’re using, Google Sheets, post-its on your wall. Just choose something that works best for you. For me that is an Asana project that I’m using as an overview page.

Vision/mission/purpose

I’ve started with something I called ‘vision’, although I named it ‘mission’ and ‘purpose’ or ‘goal’ before. The idea is that a company will have a purpose, that OKRs will mostly align to. Thinking about your personal purpose is not easy and I decided that I will make it smaller and be able to adapt it at any time. For me at the moment it focuses on two aspects: what I do and my place in the world. As you can see I wrote down a few sentences to guide me and give some context when looking back at this.

OKRs Matt

The first part of the sentence is about what I call work, and means anything opposed to leisure time. Over time I found out that I want to work on to me ‘meaningful things’. That sounds very broad, but I clearly know when I am or am not doing this. Headhunters asking me to work for a bank: not meaningful. Improving a CTA or getting more SEO traffic to get people buy a sugary drink: not meaningful. Helping others, improving the lives of others, making education more widely available, supporting others in their personal development? Yes, meaningful.

The second part of the sentence is a deep wish I have had for a longer time. After having moved from Amsterdam to Berlin and back, I do feel that I want to be able to work from other places too. That can be a month, a year or a decade. I love experiencing other cultures. Being in different places makes me happy and exactly that happiness fuels me.

Objectives and Key Results: 3 is a crowd

I’ve decided on 3 Objectives, with 3 or 2 Key Results. I started with more, but as always we desire more than we can handle.

🎯Objective: Model life as an expert on the topics of self organisation/startups/international growth

🎯Objective: Model life as a professional author

🎯Objective: Set up a revenue stream from coaching/training internationally

For those that have read the article from Christina Wodtke, you can clearly see I was inspired by her. And as she is someone I admire, it is not that strange that some of her and my Objectives (and possibly Key Results) align.

Each of the three Objectives connects to the mission/purpose/vision. I do believe that those Objectives lead to me achieving and fulfilling that mission. The mission might need more OKRs, but these will help me proceed for now. And that’s what counts: the now.

OKRs Matt
OKRs Matt
OKRs Matt

For the first Objective you can see I’ve added a little rationale that would help me set the Key Results. For the second and third Objective, I’ve omitted the rationale, since I’ve internalised the thinking and quickly knew what direction I should follow.

For all OKRs I was afraid that my KRs might be too close to being projects. Is ‘Creating a backlog of 20 blogs’ not a project? In my opinion it’s not, since every blog is a project in itself that has several tasks that need to be finished, to close the project. For a blog that means: reading, thinking, writing, getting feedback, editing, etc. I’ve tried to apply that logic to all Key Results.

Working on and grading OKRs

The above doesn’t say anything about the how and OKRs are not meant to help you with that. So you will need to find your own way to achieve what you’re planning. I’ve tried to do this in the following manner.

Calendar Matt GTD

Writing needs time and discipline, so to start I’ve blocked all mornings in my calendar. 6 AM to 7 AM is writing time (during the weekends I allow myself an hour of grace, so I write from 7 AM to 8 AM). I’ve also set a biweekly review with my partner. Every second Sunday, 11.30 AM to 12.30 PM we’re gonna grade my OKRs together. I invited a second person on purpose, to not get out of this too easily. 

Last but not least: I’m writing this blog, to share my ambition publicly. Yes, others can learn from this, but I’m also pushing myself to just do it and I have a planned post on the grading in 3 months. So, wish me luck and see you in 3 months for the public grading.

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