Outcomes and goals are key to everything that we do, but few people set them properly. This article is about setting better outcomes in the context of daily outcomes within Agile Results, but the principles can be applied to any productivity system or goal setting methodology.
Most people fail to set outcomes correctly, simply because they have never been shown how. That’s about to change.
- Structure your outcomes with a name, a why, a how and a set of defined results.
- Set 2 – maybe 3 – outcomes at a time.
- Make your outcomes focussed on one thing, not many things.
- Add more outcomes as you complete outcomes.
- Record your outcomes and how they went, regardless of if you completed them or not.
We’ve covered the proper structuring of outcomes a number of times here at Asian Efficiency, but because it’s important, I’ll reiterate.
All your outcomes need:
- A name.
- A why.
- A how, or process.
- A set of defined results, or a benchmark to meet.
All outcomes need a proper name. Usually, this should be an action-oriented description for the outcome. It should involve you doing something.
A good outcome name would be “Summarize Copywriting book”. A bad outcome name would be “Copywriting book”.
All outcomes must have a reason why. Ideally, your whys will link back to larger outcomes (at a weekly, monthly or annual level), but reasons why can also cover other things.
Some examples include:
- It’s 1 of 4 books I’m reading this week.
- My boss wants it tomorrow!
- It’s Friday.
- It’s step 52(c) in project 2783 plan 1(a) subsection 4.
How and Process
Every outcome should have a mini-plan for how it will be completed. This is absolutely crucial, and it will help you when you’re actioning the outcome. You may have to sit and think about this for a few seconds, but it’s well worth writing down.
Here’s an example for the outcome “Summarize Copywriting book”:
- Photoread book.
- Read through book and create mindmap as I go.
- Reorganize mindmap to make sense.
- Create implementation notes to circulate to team.
Results and Benchmark
This part of our outcome structure describes what the outcome looks like when it’s done. Note that there will be some overlap between the how/process, and the results/benchmark.
Using the same example above, the results would be: “Notes circulated to team members.”
You’ll notice that the results have a built-in presupposition of everything in the plan being completed first. You’ll also notice that in writing a defined result, you can often cut unnecessary stages out of your how/process/plan.
Limiting the Number of Outcomes
This is probably the most common mistake people make when setting outcomes over a defined timeframe. As human beings, we tend to overestimate what we’re able to achieve in a timespan, and lean on the side of more rather than less.
Through our consulting work and teaching at Asian Efficiency, we’ve learned that less is more when it comes to outcomes.
We highly recommend starting with setting 2 outcomes per day, and adding more as you complete them.
What you want to do is set outcomes that are easily achievable, then go about achieving them, collecting a nice dopamine reward, then stacking forward into more outcomes (also known as momentum). We’ve also found that setting 2-3 outcomes for the day tells you when you need to take a break during the day.
If you combine this idea of starting with 2 outcomes and the next suggestion (singular focus), you’ll get nuclear-powered productivity. Using these ideas together, most people will be able to clear 5-6 solid outcomes each day – but only if they start with 2-3 in the morning.
All your outcomes should have one focus and one focus only.
This actually goes hand-in-hand with naming your outcomes properly – if you define the names of your outcomes well, it’s impossible to have an outcome with more than one focus.
The reason we want to have a singular focus per outcome, is to prevent the creation of all-encompassing outcomes that are unsuitable for a given timeframe.
Here are some examples of multi-focus outcomes (bad):
- Write content x, y and z. This should really be 3 separate outcomes.
- Work on “X” project. With no defined boundaries, this outcome gets you nowhere and can drag on indefinitely.
Here are some examples of single focus outcomes (good):
- Clear Inbox. This is a good outcome as the focus is on clearing your inbox – and your inbox only.
- Read and mindmap Copywriting book. This is a good outcome because you know where the start and end of the outcome is, and the focus is solely on reading and mind mapping the information within the book.
Here are the guidelines we use for creating outcomes with a singular focus:
- Don’t stack multiple tasks within each outcome. Each of these tasks should be its own outcome.
- I personally like outcomes that can be completed in multiples of 30 minutes (pomodoro segments). I’ll split up larger outcomes if necessary. For example, “Clear Inbox” = 30 minutes. “Create ideation workflow” = 60 minutes.
- Double check that there really is only 1 focus per outcome.
- The easier an outcome seems at the outset, the better. Why make things hard for yourself?
Adding More Outcomes
When you’re done with the 2-3 outcomes you set in the morning, be sure to set more. Take a break if you like (it’ll be around lunchtime anyway), but don’t just cruise the rest of the day because you cleared 2 outcomes.
Go back to your journal/outcome log and write more.
This is how you get more than 3 outcomes done per day, while most people struggle to complete one.
When you’re done with an outcome, be sure to record its status and to comment on why/how/what was done.
Here is the format that I use for my own outcomes:
- Color Code. I tag outcomes as green, red or pink. Green means done, red means not done. Pink means I tried to complete it but could not for external reasons (e.g., waiting on something from someone).
- Mindset. This is the mindset that helped me get it done/not. It can be an external technique such as pomodoros, or it can be something internal like “Sat down, plugged earphones in, loaded up Social Network soundtrack and started typing”.
- Notes. These are any other details I may want to record for future outcomes. For example, if I just completed “Write AE article on better outcomes”, I may write down “Should write a future AE article on journal software”.
You want to make a record of your outcomes as you finish each outcome – it gives you a sense of accomplishment. You’ll also want to record outcomes at the end of the day, to tie up any incomplete outcomes. Regardless of when, the key is to remember to do it.
Quite a few people tell me that they don’t like setting daily outcomes (or outcomes at all) because “it takes too much time”. Realistically, it takes about 10 minutes maximum to set outcomes properly. The way I see it, it’s a nice transition from what you were doing before into getting going for the day.
- Commute 1 hour to get to work –> set outcomes –> work.
- Eat breakfast –> set outcomes –> work.
Having a record of properly set outcomes will change your life – if you keep up the habit.
Simple, and immediately actionable. I’m off to record this one as done!
Photo by: ElPablo!