What gets measured gets done a.k.a. how to achieve your goals

As they say colloquially, what gets measured gets done. As a former corporate project manager and agile coach, responsible for performance metrics and data visualizations, I just love this saying. Mainly because I saw it play out time and time again on various initiatives.
 
In fact, New Years Resolutions are a perfect place to see this phenomenon in action, because they are not much different conceptually from the goals and plans you have for your business. A resolution is simply a goal you set, about a change you want to make, to get to a different desired outcome from your current state or way of doing things.  Wanting to better understanding this. the University of Scranton did a series of studies over a two year period following 200 people who had made New Years Resolutions to see how they were doing over time.
  
Here are the numbers:
  • After 1 month – 60%  (120 of the original 200) were still on track
  • After 3 months – success fell to 50% (100 of the original 200)
  • After 6 months – success was down to 46% (92 of the original 200)
  • After 2 years – only 19% (38 of the original 200) were able to say they had accomplished their goals 

As I was reading this article, it made me think back to similar statistics I had read about corporate project management success. The numbers seem consistent across the studies done by the big consulting houses like KPMG, PWC, as well as the Standish Group CHAOS report and the studies done by PMI (Project Management Institute) – all respected, industry leading organizations.

The failure rate of corporate projects is 70%.  

What can we take away from these statistics? Without an intervention or a plan for achieving our goals, within 2 years time, roughly 70-80% of us will not end up where we want to be. Scary.

So what can we do about it? First and foremost, we need a plan we can get behind. According to the study on resolutions, “The most important factor in predicting success was self-efficacy – the belief in one’s ability to get the job done.”  In other words, believing in yourself and setting “realistic” goals you believe you can achieve. We will talk about SMART goals later in this article.

The second thing is to get back on the horse. 71% of the most successful participants had slipped up in January, but discovered the slip and took corrective action to get back on track. In other words, they had set criteria for their original goal and were tracking and measuring their progress against those criteria and correcting when they got off track. The most interesting piece of the data was that those who were successful at the end of the study, slipped up at the same rate as those who were not successful! The difference came down to persistence or simply not giving up.

So we now know how likely it is we will achieve our goals without taking any other action apart from setting them (i.e. not very likely). We also know success starts with mindset and self-efficacy – do we believe we can achieve the goals we set? And lastly, we must ask ourselves, do we have persistence – the ability and willingness to get back up when we fall?

 
Provided all those factors are true, what else can we do to ensure success?
 

Here are my 3 simple steps for ensuring you end the year on track to achieve your goals: first define, then prioritize, and lastly measure. Let’s first look at what we mean by each of these steps and discuss the different sorts of activities we would find under these three steps.

 
STEP 1 :  Define
In the first step, you will set your goals and objectives with the ending in mind. In other words, if you could look into the future and see yourself at the finish line – what does it look like and what did you achieve? You should be able to close your eyes and see that vision in your mind (you 30 pounds lighter, you as trillionaire, or you sipping margaritas on the beach, working anywhere in the world as a digital nomad). It doesn’t really matter what the dream is, as long as you can see it crystal clearly and you know why you want it.
 
Then once you have a solid, clear vision of your desired future, you work backwards and ask yourself what you need to do to get there. That is where SMART goals come in. SMART is a mnemonic acronym that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.
 

So, for the sake of example, let’s take a goal we may often use as a resolution – I want to be healthier. The challenge here is that there are many things we could do to become “healthier” and healthier as a goal is pretty “fluffy”. It is so non-descript that we don’t know what we need to do and we have A LOT of wiggle room to get out of doing it. It’s just too big conceptually and we can’t wrap our head around it in a way that turns healthier into concrete actions. So let’s turn our “fluffy” goal into a SMART one and focus on something that is very visible and easy to measure.

 
S = SPECIFIC – I want to lose 30 pounds (and 3-4 inches)
M = MEASURABLE – I will measure it by checking my weight every week on the same day (and measure my body to see my total inches lost)
A = ACHIEVABLE – I can definitely achieve this if I change my habits and take consistent action
R = RELEVANT – It is relevant because excess weight can put strains on the body and inner organs that reduce overall health
T = TIME-BOUND – I plan to lose 30 pounds (and 3-4 inches) by the 31st of December 2022
  

This certainly won’t be my only goal for 2022, so it is not enough to just set SMART goals. This goal of losing 30 pounds will be competing for my time and resources with other personal and professional ones, which brings me to my next step.

 
STEP 2: Prioritize

We all know what it means to prioritize. It means to select the most important thing(s). But did you know: the word priority came into the English language in the 14oo’s where it was used exclusively in the singular form. It only began being used in the plural, going from priority to priorities in the 1900s. This is really such a pity because it use to mean the one thing above all others, the thing that came prior or first. I think we have truly lost something in this etymological evolutation of the word.

 

But back to priorities: in this second step we have two different places we need to prioritize: 1) all the competing goals from the define step 2) the various actions we could take to achieve any one of the goals we selected in the define step. So you have to prioritize both the what and the how. This means getting good at learning to say NO. There are only so many hours in each day and so much you to go around – for every goal you select to focus on there is an opportunity cost (something else that you have to say NO to due to your own limited resources). Part of achieving what we set out to is managing our time well and the other part (which is often more critical) is learning to either delegrate or to say NO. It is hard to do, but sometimes we even have to say no to great opportunities because as amazing as they may be, they distract us from our priorities.

 

Going back to our example of losing 30 pounds. Let’s imagine this is a priority focus for 2022. Now we need to think about how we do this before the end of the year or in basically 10 months. If we want to lose 30 pounds in 10 months, it simply means we need to lose 3 pounds per month.

 
How can we do this?
  • Change our diet or hire a nutritionist
  • Add more movement and exercise into our routine or hire a trainer
  • Get more and better sleep
  • Drink more water
  • Stop eating junk food
  • Quit hanging out with the people who are always tempting us to eat garbage
  • Many other possibilities, but you get the idea

We have to decide amongst these various methods, what we think is going to give us the greatest likelihood of losing 3 pounds per month or slightly less than a pound a week. Again, changing too many things at once means we will often find ourselves overwhelmed and giving up almost before we get started. We need to simplify and choose things we believe we can achieve.

One tool we can use to do this is called the MOSCOW method and it stands for must, should, could, won’t.  So for each of those points above decide if it is a must, a should, a could or a won’t. Let’s say for the sake of example, we feel like we will get the greatest outcomes by changing our diet and getting more movement, so we decide to do a detox and cook all our own meals and to go walking at lunch time every day. An example of a won’t might be the decision to quit hanging out with friends, who are complicit in our bad habits. Instead, we may decide to persuade them to join us in our quest or simply ask them to respect our choice and support us in our goals.

Once you have your goals and your actions lined up – you can move on to the last tool in our arsenal for the prioritization step: the Eisenhower Matrix. This was developed by US President Dwight D. Eisenhower to decide what things to focus on and what things to delay, delegate or say no to. The genius of this tool is it helps prioritizing all the things on our TO-DO list, not just the major goals we want to achieve. So you will definitely want to use this to make sure all your action items from your goals, get prioritized along with the burning-fires you have to put out and the interruptions and distractions you experience on the day-t0-day. 

The matrix is divided into four quadrants to the following purpose:

  1. Urgent and Important – These items are critical, they simply must be done and they have a deadline by when they must be completed. This would be things like paying taxes, invoicing your clients, meeting your child’s teacher for parent teach conferences, etc. They must be done right away.
  2. Important, but not Urgent – These items are most likely going to be the goals and resolutions your defined at the beginning of the year and all the sub-steps needed to realize them. They look like: standing up that landing page for your new offer, making sure you’re drinking 64 ounces / 1.8 litres of water per day, planning a date night with your significant other, etc. These need to be scheduled and planned for. These are the ones that are easily getting shoved back because of the Urgent and Important “fires” from above, so take care that these make it onto the calendar and are treated just like appointments with firm deadlines.
  3. Urgent, but not Important – Simply put these items are busy work. They are things that have deadlines, but will not take your further in achieving your most important goals. These look like laundry, ironing, cleaning the house, shredding old papers, doing the grocery shopping, organizing your files on your computer, etc. All these items HAVE to get done, just not by YOU. These are things you should be looking to delegate as soon as possible.
  4. Neither Urgent, nor Important – I like to call these items the “somedays”, as in “someday” I will learn to play the guitar, “someday” I would love to read that book, etc. They are going to look a lot like hobbies and free time activities. They are important and they have a place in your life, but they also need to be scheduled in and prioritized again the 1st and 2nd quadrant activities from this matrix.

Click here to get a free PDF copy of the Eisenhower Matrix template for prioritizing your tasks.

 
STEP 3: Measure

In the first two steps are about creating a vision of what we want, setting a strategy for how to get there, and maintaining our focus as we pursue achievement of these goals. This last step in the process is about the follow-up. In step 3, we define the success criteria for our goals (what good looks like in our imagined future) and what concrete measurements we will need to take in order to ensure we stay on track. The great thing about measurements is they can be applied to all areas of our lives, not just business…

 
Want to know if you’re getting healthier? Set a concrete, SMART goal for what healthier means to you and then measure it. 

And to measure it you can use various metrics: BMI, weight on the scale, inches lost, steps taken per day, liters of water consumed, flexibility week over week (e.g. can you touch your toes), etc. It really depends on how you define healthier and what you’re overall goal is, but you get the idea.

 

Want to have a great relationship with your kids or spouse? Set a concrete, SMART goal for what a great relationship means to you and then measure it. And yes, you can even measure something as fluffy as this. If you want to improve this area of your life, measure: number of hours spent with loved ones (that didn’t include an electronic device), number of times you validated / were validated by others each week, how many meaningful conversations did you have with your loved on this month, how much of your time was spent together in person vs. in front of a screen, how many times did you feel loved / grateful to have them in your life, etc.

 
Measurement can be tracked in a variety of tools such as Airtable, Excel, Notion, etc. The tool is not nearly as important as understanding what success looks like and what you need to be tracking in order to help you achieve your goals.
  
In summary, the best thing we can do to achieve our goals is to take the following steps:
  1. Define
    • Imagine them in our mind, make them enough of a stretch to inspire us and yet realistic enough that we believe we can achieve them.
    • Visualize (envision) your desired future and imagine what it feels like when this becomes a reality.
    • Set goals around all the dimensions of things that would need to change in order for us to make this vision a reality.
  2. Prioritize
    • Prioritize the goals, so we make sure we keep our focus on those items we have the resources to tackle.
    • Prioritize the actions we will take to achieve each one of these goals
  3. Measure
    • Define success criteria so we know if we are on track to achieve our goals
    • Measure consistently to make sure you are take the right actions at the right time until you goal is achieved

If you would like support with assessing your goals for this year, book a complementary Discovery Call with me and we will focus on your overall plan and your largest challenge.

big hugs,

Jamie

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