OKR Method for Personal Goals

The OKR method is perfect for setting goals outside the work environment. The method has been useful for people in building stronger relationships with family and friends, achieving personal goals like running a marathon, and more.

OKR method for personal goals

Investor and venture capitalist John Doerr spoke about his personal OKR in an interview with Recode Decode:

“You know, my daughters have both left home, but I had read and I believe that having family dinners together was a good thing. So, I set an OKR, shared it with my team to be home for dinner by 6:00 p.m. 20 nights a month and be present, turning off the phone. I put a switch on the router. We shut down the internet to the whole house.

It’s not only the quantity but the quality.”

John was transparent from the beginning with both his team and family that he created this objective, which was crucial to his success. Doerr’s personal OKR would then have looked like this:

Objective: Have more quality time with the family by being truly present at dinnertime.
Key Result 1: Be home in time for dinner at 6:00 pm, 20 nights a month.
Key Result 2: Shut down the internet during dinnertime to eliminate distractions.

A similar setup can be used if you set personal fitness goals for yourself. Imagine it has been a long period of inactivity during the winter months, and you set an objective for yourself to run 10k in under 50 minutes by summertime. A personal OKR for this could look like this:

Objective: Run a 10k in under 50 minutes by June 1.
Key Result 1: Run 5k in under 30 minutes.
Key Result 2: Run 5k in under 25 minutes.
Key Result 3: Run 10k in under 60 minutes.
Key Result 4: Run 10k in under 50 minutes.

Or you can choose a more “free flowing” setup as following:

Objective: Run a 10k in under 50 minutes by June 1.
Key Result 1: Sign up for an organized 10k run in June.
Key Result 2: Go for a run 3 times a week for at least 30 minutes.
Key Result 3: Increase distance of run by half a kilometer per week.
Key Result 4: Increase running speed by 5 seconds per kilometer per week.

Both options work toward completing the same Objective. The difference is that with the first option, you focus on Key Result 1 first, and after completion you move on to Key Result 2, and so on. You focus on one Key Result at a time.

With option 2, you can make progress on all Key Results simultaneously. While the result is the same, the focus on Key Results differs. There is no right or wrong here — it all comes down to personal preferences. Go with the one that feels best to you.

You don’t have to be a major company to benefit from the power of OKRs. This simple method is just as powerful for personal goals. It gives you control to make progress on what you want to happen. The OKR method is a perfect fit if you:

  • Feel like your personal growth has stagnated and you want to challenge yourself.
  • Feel like you’re not progressing with the right things.
  • Are looking for a better way to manage and track goals.
  • Need help prioritizing and planning your goals.
  • Have a hard time sticking to your intentions.

Three important notes with the OKR method

Working with “data” is not as complex as you might think.

Writing down Key Results can seem like a scary exercise. Especially if you don’t see yourself as an analytical “data person.” Though it’s true that Key Results need to be measurable, that doesn’t mean there are complex data systems involved.

Say you set a personal goal to write a novel. One of your Key Results might be to write 1,000 words per day. In a business setting, your objective might be to hire a Head of Finance. One of your Key Results could be to interview a minimum of 20 candidates. These are simple, measurable Key Results — that don’t require complex data systems for to track progress.

Some Key Results might even be measured by a simple yes or no. Did you complete the task you set as a key result? It’s a yes or no question.

These Key Results don’t need continuous updating, and are easy to report. Looking at Key Results in this way makes them much more flexible — a useful tool for planning a project and checking progress.

Key Results should not include every daily task

Don’t write down a laundry list of all the tasks you need to do every day. Key Results should only include tasks or habits that we do not already include in our typical day. For example, setting a Key Result to “go through my email inbox” is unnecessary. This will probably already by part of your daily routine.

Key Results should only include the work that needs to be done as part of the work toward your objective.

Focus on quality — not on quantity

Don’t focus only on numerical goals when setting objectives and choosing Key Results. Doerr cites the example of the Ford Pinto, where safety was sacrificed for the sake of weight and price. These decisions led to a wave of exploding gas tanks, hundreds of deaths, and the recall of 1.5 million vehicles.

In a more recent example, both YouTube and Facebook set objectives to maximize time spent on their apps. A Key Result was to create algorithms for content recommendations to keep visitors engaged longer. But these algorithms also boosted the amount of factually incorrect content on their platforms.

When creating an OKR, it’s important to think about any unintended consequences that might be triggered by your objectives and Key Results .

Doerr recommends pairing a quantity result with a quality result. For example, if your objective is to start a blog, a Key Result might be to build a newsletter subscriber list with 100,000 email addresses. This quantity-oriented Key Result could lead you to give away free incentives to attract new subscribers who are only interested in the free giveaway. You could balance this with a quality Key Result like maintaining a minimum open rate and click-through rate. This way, you ensure that your subscriber list is the engaging audience you want.

Five key principles for making personal OKRs work

The OKR method itself is relatively simple. But implementing it correctly takes some practice. John Doerr has multiple decades of experience working with OKRs and helping companies do the same. He’s formulated five key principles for making the OKR method work on a personal level:

  1. Use as few Key Results as possible. Doerr recommends two to five Key Results per objective. Any more than that will reduce focus.
  2. Set objectives only for yourself. Management expert Peter Drucker said that, “When people choose a course of action, they’re more likely to see it through.” Doerr recommends that you don’t let external influences determine your objectives.
  3. Stay flexible. The power of OKRs is their flexibility in changing circumstances. Key results can be modified mid-stream — or even discarded if they become irrelevant.
  4. Set “stretched” objectives. You should not achieve 100% of your OKRs — Google aims to achieve 70% of the Objectives they set in OKRs. A success rate of 100% means that you have played it too safe. OKRs should stretch you beyond your assumed capabilities.
  5. Be patient. What worked at Spotify or Amazon will most likely not work in your organization or for you personally. The flexible mentality behind setting OKRs also applies to the process of applying the method. You’re not likely to get it right on your first try. By constantly evaluating and adjusting your approach, you will get closer to what’s most useful for you.

This article is an excerpt from my book. Interested in reading more?

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