Tag Archives: organization

Step 7: Choosing Metrics

This step is new to the annual planning process: we added it in this year when we realized that “number of objectives achieved” was a crude and inaccurate measure of our accomplishments: some projects weren’t expected to be completed (they were clearly multi-year projects from the start); some objectives were started in February and could be expected to be completed; some were such micro-projects that completing them was no big achievement. We wanted to be able to more accurately measure what we had done.

Enter Metrics

I wrote earlier about the benefits of metrics in your business (just not competitive metrics!), why not use metrics for the rest of your life as well? Especially since our goals this year were process oriented, providing direction but not distance, we needed a way to measure how far we’d come, so we could compare our accomplishments year to year.

I wasn’t really paying attention to the process while we did this; I was focusing on making metrics. So I’m kind of reconstructing it; please bear with me.

Decide what’s important to you

Look down your list of goals, and decide which of them want metrics. (For some goals, the best measure of success might be “Did I achieve it?” In those cases, you don’t need separate metrics — you’ll already be able to measure accomplishment next year.) For others, where achieving it is unlikely to happen within a year, or where “did I achieve it” is a question without a clear answer, you’ll want to make metrics.

Decide how to measure them

Some examples:

As I mentioned previously, my partner and I decided that maintaining and improving our relationship was our #1 priority. This isn’t really a project… we’re not making to-do lists and checking off tasks to accomplish it… but we do want to have some way to measure what we’re doing.

One such measure is simply subjective assessment: do we think we’re doing better or worse. We’ll grade ourselves each day, and try to keep our “better” days as high a percentage as possible.

Another way to measure it is average duration of a fight: the time elapsed from when the fight begins, to when it’s resolved (both of us understand and accept the other’s position, and we have arrived at a decision that neither resents, and made up). We want to “fight” productively, respecting each other’s opinions, communicating effectively, and making decisions that work for both partners and for the relationship. So keeping that as low as possible will help us measure our success there.

Another objective is to be healthy… but what does that mean?

To me it means eating right, so I’m going to rate my diet each day on a scale of 1 – 10, and try for as high a score as possible by the end of the year.

It also means being able to do things without wearing down so fast or running out of breath, so I Googled a test for aerobic capacity, that measures how quickly I can cover a mile and how much it raises my pulse to do so. I will measure this monthly, and want to maintain or improve my score on this test over the year.

And finally, I want to be able to lift more, and to not injure myself doing everyday chores like gardening. So I want to measure how strong I am, and aim to maintain or improve my lifting capacity over the year.

Decide what the best way is to measure the things that matter to you.

Decide when to measure them

Different metrics make sense at different intervals: I need to eat healthy almost every day, but measuring my aerobic capacity on a daily basis would be a waste of time and drive me crazy. So decide how to measure your progress, and how often you want to do so.

Set up a system to remind you to measure your metrics on the appropriate schedule; use mine if you’d like — it has a tab for daily goals and a tab for monthly measurements, and they’re both printable.

And… you’re ready!

That was quite a process. You analyzed where you’re at and what’s going on, put together long-term goals and short-term goals, and assembled projects and metrics to help you get there. You deserve a reward. My partner and I usually go out to dinner and see a play at the local theatre, but pick something that works for you (guys). And enjoy the year!

Resources for Further Reading
Annual Planning
Using Metrics

Step 5: Goal Setting

Goal setting is step 4 of the Annual Planning process if you’re doing it for the first time, but in subsequent years you need to add in a step (review last year) that bumps it back to step 5. As we discovered at our second annual retreat, you also need to modify this step some.

We weren’t sure what to do about this step. I was thinking to just re-do the whole goal-setting process, because I was afraid that re-using the same goals year after year would lead, eventually, to growing disconnected from our own goals. I wanted to be sure that our objectives grew and changed as we did. But my partner felt (quite accurately), that it would be silly and wasteful to just duplicate all the effort we went to last year, and that we’d be so busy trying to remember what we said last year that we wouldn’t think about new stuff. What we came up with, to answer both of our concerns, was this:

Write down last year’s goals

Just like last year, write down each goal on a separate piece of paper or an index card (or if you happened to keep last year’s cards, you can just pull them out again.)

Write down any new goals

A friend of mine is opening a business this year, and I’m helping him out – that obviously wasn’t on our list last year. You might have discovered something new you want to try doing, or a new event to which you’d like to travel. Or you might have thought of something you forgot last year. Whatever the reason, write down any new goals you may have, each on a separate piece of paper.

Sort them

This process is the same as last year: take all your goals, draw them out one at a time, and put them in order of priority. (They’re on separate pieces of paper so you can easily rearrange them.) This is likely to be faster than last year, because you already have a feeling of how these goals compare to each other, but you should still discuss why the goals are important to you as you decide where to place them.

Ta-Da!

You now have a prioritized list of what’s most important to you, and if you did this with a partner, you guys are now on the same page about where you want to go. That’s pretty sweet!

The next step is to make it tangible and turn it into a plan for the year, so move on to Your Projects: Assembling the Plan

Step 1: Review Last Year

This post is an addendum to the Annual Planning series written earlier this year. That series was written after I’d done my first annual planning retreat, but before I’d done my second, and it was clear that someadditions to the process needed to be made. First off, you probably want to review how last year went before you charge headlong into planning next year the same way.

Step 1: How did it go?

Look over your planning notes from last year. What did you hope to accomplish? Write those down in the left column below. Did you accomplish them? If you only accomplished partway, put down a fraction: ½ accomplished, ¾ accomplished, or whatever. Also jot down whatever notes you think might be helpful – project changes and so on.

Objective Completeness Notes

Now with your partner (if you have a partner) or in a notebook (if you’re doing this alone), talk about the year overall, and your objectives in particular. Do any patterns emerge that you should take into account when planning this year? For example, the first time I did this, I determined that I tried to tackle WAY too many projects in my first year. For my second year, I decided to limit myself to five projects at a time.

Highlight, circle, or in some other way indicate which unfinished projects you would like to roll over into consideration for next year’s plan. Then you’re ready for step 2 (which used to be step 1): External Analysis

Annual Planning Addendum: Notes from year two

Last week I had my second annual planning retreat — it marked the first time I’d done my annual planning process when I’d already done it the year before. So I can now speak to the benefits of the process from actual experience, and I thought it would be worthwhile to do so.

Data

Last year I set 25 objectives. I intended to achieve them by working on 7 projects (things you can work on with a definite endpoint, like “Make a website”), and 9 policies (things you do all the time, like “Run 3 times/week”).

Of those, I achieved 9 objectives, or 36%; I completed 4.75 projects, or 67%, and I stuck to 4 policies, or 44%.

Interpretations and Inferences

The first thing we did after our review was to celebrate. Despite the low percentages – a clear failing grade in any educational institution, which is another way that life differs from middle school – we were both proud of what we had accomplished, and we both agreed that it had been one of our most productive years ever. Goal-setting is useful even when you don’t accomplish your goals, because it give you focus.

The low percentages indicate that we still need to “dial in” how much can be accomplished in a year. I actually suspect that my 2014 self would be able to accomplish everything I’d set out to do, but my 2009 self wasn’t that disciplined or organized yet. This caused something of a depression as we compared our “most productive year” to the things we’d hoped to do in a year, and how big that discrepancy was. And yet I don’t want to scale my goals down, because I think I can learn to do that much.

What we did instead was to set goals that are more process-oriented. My boyfriend proposed to me while we were up there – we both agreed that our top priority was to keep our relationship strong and to improve it further. We both want to have more peace in our lives and to become the best possible version of ourselves — that was the second priority. I want to help people learn how to monetize themselves; he has his own vocation. What all of these goals have in common is that they set a clear direction, without specifying how far in that direction we must travel. If I don’t make it as far as I thought I could, that’s OK. If I make it much farther than I thought I could, that’s OK, too. I don’t have to make arbitrary guesses about how far I can go

I could do that this year, because I’d had a year to shake out which goals were vocations, and which were just projects. Last year’s objective list was a jumble of

  • vague goals,
  • of projects that would be nice to complete someday,
  • of projects that would clearly take multiple years (maybe a lifetime),
  • and of projects that were vocation-worthy, but aren’t my vocation.

This year I have it pared down to several overarching lifetime-projects, and have selected less-than-one-year projects to support those objectives.

But I don’t think I could have done that last year, because I didn’t have the data I needed. My first year of annual planning was kind of a data dump, that gave me a chance to list every daydream and career-like notion and impractical fancy that I’d ever had. I wrote it all down, and tried it all out. And over the course of the year, I was able to learn what really mattered to me. It was obvious in the list of projects that I’d worked on (because they’d excited me enough to receive sustained energy) and the ones that had died out from lack of interest. When compared to other, new items on the list this year, it became obvious that several of last year’s objectives were really sub-projects of another lifetime-project – a connection I couldn’t see until I’d spent a year experimenting. I think this kind of focused, pared-down planning can only be done in the second year of this process.

Recommendations for Future Work

The original Annual Planning post was written during my first year of planning, and was written for people who have never set out to do this kind of thing before. And I think that’s a fair assumption in most cases – I’d never done that kind of thing before, and people look at me funny when I explain it. But obviously some things need to change for the second time around: we added in a review of the previous year, and modified the goal-setting process to accommodate 2nd-year planners. I’ll discuss those changes in the next few posts.

Feeling Overwhelmed? 5 tips to help.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything you have to do. Most of us are playing at least two (and possibly many more) roles in our lives: student, employee, parent, business owner… of course it’s hard to keep track of everything.

The long-term fix is to set up a good time-management solution that will help keep you from being overwhelmed. But in the short-term, how do you keep from getting buried under the work load?

Write it all down

I know this sounds counter-intuitive. You’re already overwhelmed, right? Why would you want to come face-to-face with the entire list?

It’s a little like losing weight or cutting down your debt: the first step is to figure out how bad of shape you’re in. And the good news is that you’re probably not in as bad of shape as you think. Most people can only hold 7 things in their mind at once, so we can’t tell the difference between a to-do list with 8 items and one with 20 items. Writing it down is the only way to tell exactly how ovewhelmed you are, turning your nebulous “too much to do” into a definite task list.

Sort it into two lists

Assign each task to one of two lists:

  • This must be done ASAP
  • This should be done soon, but it would be OK to wait for a bit.

My cousin is moving across the country in three weeks, and she was only informed of this a few days ago, so she has prior commitments still on her plate. Things like packing up their stuff, arranging for a moving van, and finding a new apartment have to be done before they move, and some of her prior commitments also have to be fulfilled; those go on the do-right-now list. But some of her prior commitments are to friends and family, who are happy to wait while she gets through this crazy-moving-time and settled down again. Those items go on the can-do-later list.

Assign a time frame to everything

Go down your do-right-now list and write an estimate of how long you think each item will take you. This doesn’t have to be a precise, scientific number (although if you have data to use, you’re certainly welcome to), just a guess as to how much time you think you’ll need.

Once everything has a time estimate, add up the total. Is it possible to do everything before the deadline?

Every time I’ve done this, it’s turned out that there’s plenty of time; usually I have twice as much time as I think I’ll need. But if it turns out that you literally don’t have enough time to finish everything on your to-do list, at least you’ll know. Forewarned and forearmed, you can go to your boss or your clients ahead of time and be honest with them:
“I’m very sorry, but something unexpected has come up, and I won’t be able to do such-and-such. What arrangements would you like to make?”
It’s a very scary conversation, and they might be angry with you. But… they’ll be much less angry than they would be in the conversation that starts off “I know I said I’d do that yesterday, but I didn’t.”

Prioritize

Even if you have plenty of time to finish your list, go through and put all your tasks in order of priority:

  1. If you could only get 1 thing done on this list, which should it be?
  2. If you could only get 2 things done on this list, which should they be?
  3. If you could only get 3 things done on this list….

This method makes use of your time estimates, but acknowledges the reality that things never go according to plan. If it turns out that your time estimates are off, at least you got the most important things done.

Prioritization can also be a great tool when you don’t have enough time to do everything on the list. Instead of going to your boss or client and saying, “I can’t do it”, you can go to them and say, “I can’t do everything, but I can do 20 hours’ worth. What would you like me to focus on?”

Work on it

Many people (I among them) respond to overwhelming task lists by freezing. The freeze-in-the-face-of-stress reaction makes sense if your stress is caused by a lion that hasn’t seen you yet, but it doesn’t help at all if you’re facing a huge to-do list. But still… you end up reading your favorite book for the 5th time, or watching Firefly for the 200th time, or playing on the computer, or chatting with a friend on the phone.

You have a trimmed-down, prioritized to-do list, and you’ve either notified people that you won’t be able to do everything or you’ve asked for help. Now pull out that list, look at the top item, and work on that thing.

Resources for Further Reading
(10+2)x5: a technique for doing things you hate
Combat Feeling Overwhelmed