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Setting Better Outcomes

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Samurai Sword

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.

Quick Summary

  • 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.

Structuring Outcomes

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:

  1. A name.
  2. A why.
  3. A how, or process.
  4. A set of defined results, or a benchmark to meet.

Outcome Name

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”.

Why

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”:

  1. Photoread book.
  2. Read through book and create mindmap as I go.
  3. Reorganize mindmap to make sense.
  4. 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.

Single Focus

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.

Recording Outcomes

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.

In Closing

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.

For example:

  • 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!

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Marcos Wecker May 10, 2012 at 5:43AM

What tool do you use to record outcomes? It would be nice If there’s something ready where you can easily do that, if not I imagine you would have to create an Excel spreadsheet or some kind of template. If you have one you could be super nice and share it with the awesome AE readers :)

I already set the daily outcomes everytime before doing anything. Here’s some things that the article helped me see that I might be doing something wrong:

I often set too much outcomes for myself. I will try to limit to 1-2 and get momentum as I work on more.

The tip you gave about limiting your outcomes for 1 Pomodoro is nice too. I often list too many, or too big, outcomes for a day and then I end up working on them for two or three days. That when something more urgent does not get in front of them in-between days.

Reply

Aaron Lynn May 13, 2012 at 8:24PM

I use Evernote with a couple of different notebooks for different time frames.

e.g.,
Daily Journal
Monthly Journal
Weekly Journal
etc

I also keep a visual record in the form of mindmaps.

Reply

Wynxz March 23, 2013 at 9:03PM

I did this and add two more angles of my own preferences:

1. Consequences: What are the negative consequences if the goal is not finished. This may be too hard for some people but for me it works pretty well. Some example of consequences: projects delayed, more time to work on this tomorrow thus less time with loved ones.

2. Rewards: What are the rewards when the goal is finished? This can be anything from the by-product such as the feeling you feel for yourself (e.g. self-confidence, self-esteem) to the rewards you will give to yourself when the goal is finished.
Note: Don’t mix rewards up with the Why. The Why is the root cause of achieving the goal. Rewards are the end result or by-product when the goal is finished.

Combining the Why with Consequences and Rewards is my secret strategy of beating procrastination and goal getting.

Tips: Some people are driven by consequences, some by rewards and some by both (just like me). So test yourself which works for you.
Tips 2: The more compelling the Why, consequences and rewards you make, the more you will get your stuff done for the goals.

Cheers.

Reply

Aaron Lynn April 26, 2013 at 5:34AM

Awesome tip. I’ve been re-reading Tony Robbins lately and he talks a lot about Pain and Pleasure. Gonna give this a spin and see how it goes.

Reply

Swords November 13, 2013 at 5:35AM

Everyone have goals in their life. I think if there is someone who do not have any goal , he or she should aim a goal in his or her life so that they can achieve it and become successful. If someone do hard work and struggle to achieve his goal then the outcome will be very fruitful and he will achieve his goal in very short duration of time. So, Always plan outcomes and goals to target them in life.

Reply

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