Using OKR for personal growth

After having used OKR at work first at Textalk and now later at Auth0, and reading up more about their whats and whys, I decided to try it out as a personal "goal setting" technique in 2017-Q4.

What?

OKR stands for "Objectives & Key Results". You define an objective, preferably with a motivation, and key results that will measure your success in obtaining that objective.

I started with 6 weeks left of 2017, and set "real" quarterly OKRs for 2018-Q1. I defined four objectives, two purely personal and two involving my family; let's focus on the two purely mine.

O1: Increase my fitness, to make everyday tasks like carrying fire wood, moving furniture and dancing feel light and easy. (...trying to capture the nice feeling of being strong...)

O2: Be in good health.  

Those are clearly related (at least in my approach). My professional objectives, like becoming a better public speaker, I put in my individual OKRs at work (making the difference between personal and individual OKRs...).

Measurability

A good OKR has clearly measurable key results, and at best they are also quantifiable, i.e. you put a number of how well you've met them, not just a "yes" or "no".

In my fitness objective I was thinking about strength, stamina, flexibility, endurance... But when expressing the reason I wanted increased fitness, I chose to measure this in strenght training repetitions. I considered running goals, but think of running more as a method to feel good than a measure in itself, and having a speed or distance KR might defeat the relaxation I get from running.

Measuring health is a bit more tricky. Head aches is a problem I've had a long time, and logging when I take a pill is easy enough to keep doing on a day by day basis. In my experience, I also have less extraneous body fat when I'm in better health, and in order to not confuse muscle weight with fat, I chose to measure waist circumference.

O1 (fitness)  
KR1: Knuckle push-ups (reps in a set).  
KR2: Chin-ups (reps in a set).  
KR3: One-arm kettlebell 20kg clean & jerk (reps in a set).

O2 (health)  
KR1: Having less head ache, measured by head ache pills taken last 6 weeks.  
KR2: Reducing waist size.  
Aim for the stars

The goal values here are set as moon shots, something to strive for. Reaching 60-70% of the key result is considered a success. Consistently reaching 100% just means the goal is set too low.

I tried setting reasonable key results that would motivate me while not placing more stress than needed, knowing that I have a busy life with family and work.

O1 KR1 (push-ups): Start 9, goal 25.  
O1 KR2 (chin-ups): Start 0, goal 3.  
O1 KR3 (clean&jerk): Start 20, goal 35.

O2 KR1 (ache pills): Start 24, goal 0.  
O2 KR2 (waist cm): Start 101, goal 95.  
Tactic is secondary

In contrast to a new years resolution, the OKRs in themselves do not define anything you would actually do. They don't hint at any method to reach your goals, even if the push-up key result might indicate I should do push-ups. However, I am free to set up a plan for how to confront my objectives, and alter that at any time if I think there's a better way. The more elusive health objective is not as clear how to approach.

Head aches: I have been logging head ache in periods over many years, but consistenly logging number of head ache pills taken since May 2017. Looking back at that, I see correlations to stress (in e.g. wedding preparation) and alcohol, but also around movement. I still haven't charted this up properly, but I believe that in periods when I've taken more steps every day for the last X days, my head ache is significantly less. I.e. no immediate result and not when running a half marathon but being still the days around that. ...more on that in a later quantified self-post :-) And, I do believe it is also food related. This led me to do smaller changes in several areas:

  • Taking shorter walks during breaks in my work days.
  • Taking micro-pauses while working (using a 5 * 5 minute schedule in Workrave), every 5 minutes closing my eyes, streching or relaxing.
  • Getting Bertrand meal replacement both to lessen stress around cooking when I'm not inspired/don't have time, and getting better nutrition than taking yet another banana sandwich...
Weekly follow-up

I keep my OKR spredsheet open most of the time in a browser tab, but the important habit here is to revisit it once a week. The actual logging for measurements is done elsewhere, like Exercise.com for strength training (synked to Runkeeper), a separate health spreadsheet for head ache pills and waist size. (I've tried keeping such measurements in other systems like Myfitnesspal, TrackThisForMe or Fluxtream, but so far none has been better than spread sheet).

At end of week (or beginning of next week), the week value of best exercise set or last 6 weeks of head ache pill count is entered into the OKR sheet. This gives a good reminder of the objectives; in fact, if I were to find (or make) an automation of entering those numbers, I would require a dashboard with interaction to keep up the re-iteration into consciousness.

The spreadsheet gives me a percentage for each KR. For motivation, I let the spread sheet make an average percentage for every Objective, and an average of all those for every week, and chart it up like this:

(On posting, there's 2 days left of the last week, some things might change...)

So how did it go?

Here is a copy of my spread sheet translated to English and with only mentioned objectives.

I'd say it started out really poorly during my yule vacations with a cold, preventing me from doing any exercise and giving me a lot of head ache.

W7 was a school vacation for the kids. As you can see, I didn't even fill out the OKR sheet that week. Some weeks I didn't do any exercise, and the fitness numbers are from previous weeks.

All in all, ending up below 30% is a miss.

I think the influensa and cold interrupted my motivation and routines. Had it been method focused new years resolutions or other diciplinary tactics, it would have been broken by that time and lost all effect. Being OKRs though, I believe they did a better job of regaining some motivation, even if I didn't reach as high as I had hoped.

Oblective 1, fitness

I failed in keeping any regularity in exercising. I'm confident the goals were very reasonable had I worked out for just 20 minutes 2 times a week... But, I didn't. Perhaps I don't need to push that so hard, but I do think it would be good for my health as well to have a better regularity in my strength training. I will be happy when I have the strength (and less weight?) to do chin-ups properly; when training with negative chin-ups (chin downs?) I quickly get very sore in my muscles, but that should resolve itself after a few weeks of doing it! Toward the end of the quarter I changed my exercise approach a bit to NOT push for maximum repetitions on my clean & jerks every time, to instead both have less of the daunting feeling of how hard it will be, and easier get back to do it again a few days later.

I will keep the same key results for Q2 in this.

Objective 2, health

I'm happy with the 46% reduction of head ache pills, and measuring it over a 6 week period is long enough to see it as a trend and better habits, and still short enough that I could put the first weeks cold behind me.

I have been taking more walks, but not every day. It will be easier now with warmer weather coming. I think it would be most effective if I make sure to take walks every day, since I am working from home, I don't have any natural transport walking, to work I just need to move between the rooms of my house. So walking every day, and running twice a week would probably be both reasonable and have good effect on both head and excess fat.

To OKR or not to OKR

I will definitely continue with OKR another quarter. Maybe I will also have some methods I decide to use to reach my goals, but the objectives and their motives are going to keep coming first. Deciding to e.g. run 10 km each week could be an experiment or method for next quarter, for an objective to learn more about my health or how it affects me... Stay tuned for Q2 or 2018 wrapup later on =)

I believe using OKRs is more resilient than dicipline/method focus when something comes in the way of the method for a day or a week. Then it must of course be followed up with good methods to reach the goals.