This year, I reflected a lot on who I am and what I want to do with my life.

Even though I do not have it all figured out yet (who has?), I learned a few important lessons about goals along the way. That is about the different kind of goals there are, how to size them, when they are useful and when they are not, how to keep track of them and how I want to implement them into my life. In this article, I want to share some of my thoughts with you. And yes, there is even more to come. My next article will focus on OKRs.

Different levels of goals First of all, there are goals on different levels. Reaching from big visions to small items on your daily to-do list. In an ideal world, higher level goals should break down into lower level goals, so you work towards what you want to achieve in life. That also includes being careful that your private goals fit your professional goals. Don’t have too many goals at once. Dare to focus on what matters most. What we tend to do is act out of the situation, without asking if a certain to-do item is beneficial to one of our aspirations in life. Or even questioning doing it at all. Often times we do things, because we are asked to do them or feel obligated, rather than things leading us into a certain direction. But I will come back to that later. Before that, let’s talk about the different kinds of goals.

Different types of goals

From my understanding, there are basically four types of goals. Input goals, output goals, outcome goals and non goals.

Input goals are about the effort you put in. E.g. work on a blog post for X time, watering the plants ones a week, working on a project for X hours… They are perfect in situations where it is tough to motivate yourself, so the best thing you can do is put one foot in front of the other. Input goals are a 100% your responsibility, because you can control how much you put in. Usually, when we talk about habits, we talk about input goals.

Output Goals are about a certain number, or result, that you want to create as output. E.g. I have written 1000 words for my new book, I send out X Mails to new clients, I have designed one new flowchart for project X… These goals are perfect if you want to focus on the result of a specific task, because the result matters.

Input and output goals are sometimes tough to differentiate. It helps if you ask yourself: Why am I setting that goal in the first place? What do I want to achieve? This will make it easier for you to decide if an input or an output goal is a better fit. For some goals it makes more of a difference than in others.

For example running. It makes a difference if you say “I go running five days a week.” or “I run 20 km per week.” You can do 20 km in two sessions, but also in five. Five days a week can add up to 10 km or 50 km. So why are you running? To get a regular workout? To train for a marathon? To get better and better? The important thing is that your goal reflects what you want to achieve.

Outcome Goals are about the result you want to create. Not in terms of output, but on a higher level. E.g. increasing conversion of Lead to Sale Ratio by X, decreasing churn rate by X or improving physical wellbeing by reducing body fat percentage by X%. The essential thing here is that none of these goals imply how to achieve it, which is the whole magic about outcome goals.

You can reduce body fat percentage by eating less or exercising more or even both. Three totally different approaches and they all work. So outcome goals are amazing if you do not want to limit yourself on a single way of how to do something, but rather care about achieving it in the first place. There might be solutions to your problem that work even better than the one you first thought of, but you can only discover them if you are not fixed on a single solution already.

Non goals are the most underestimated goals of all. No one talks about them, but they can be crucially important. Especially in business contexts. Non goals are about writing down what it is that you do not want to achieve by a certain intervention. Let’s say there was an initiative at your company to increase the number of customers to gain more visibility in the market and prepare for a big launch the company has next year. If increasing the revenue is a non goal or a goal is critical for a lot of decisions along the way. If not clarified (if revenue is part of the goal or not), miscommunication between teams is very likely. Thus slowing down progress and probably creating the need to rework things, people already put a lot of time and effort into.

How I use Goals in my life

Thinking about goals in terms of different levels and different kind of goals helped me to dramatically improve my personal and professional life.

Personally, I implemented the goals into my personal life system. Professionally, it helped me with setting the right OKRs and building successful products. Since I will be focussing on the business side of things in my next post, let me tell you about my personal life system for now. There are goals which are quite short term and can be easily achieved. And then there are the more difficult goals, which are about what you care for deeply and what you want to achieve in your life. What is it that makes you happy? Since taking the Life Design course by August Bradley I went through an intense reflection process, in which you systemically break down your vision, until you get out specific action items. Here is how you do it.

First, you figure out your vision. What is it that you want to do with your life? Who do you want to be? What would a life look like, in which you are truly happy and fulfilled? What would need to be true for a life like this to be possible?

This vision is what you use to set your value goals. Value goals are not SMART. They reflect what you want to achieve in life. E.g. one value goal for me is to live in a fulfilling relationship, and another is to proceed in a career that contributes to a bigger purpose, adding value for the world. These goals you cannot really achieve. They are not there to be achieved, but to give you direction.

Ones you have your value goals, you break them down into Outcome Goals (for this year or even the next years).

  • Outcome goals are measurable and (in my case) long term. These can be reached in a quarter, a year or a couple of years. Outcome goals are then broken down into projects or habits.
  • Projects are perfect for the things that you like to learn / do / experience. For getting to a certain point.
  • Habits are great for holding or improving a certain state, that needs continuous care. Depending on the outcome goal you can also set X projects, combined with X habits to reach it.

I only started this project a couple of months ago, but I can already say that it fills my life with a lot more purpose. Because for most of the things I am doing now, I know why I do them.

Mindset: How do you stick to goals?

Another learning I want to share with you is how to stick to the goals you set for yourself.

The first trick I already mentioned above. Once you know why you are doing the things you do, they are way easier to follow through with.

The second mindset shift is to think differently about discipline. Usually discipline is about difficult tasks, that we do not particularly like, but still want to finish. Another way to think about discipline is that it is actually a form of showing yourself respect. Let me explain. If you promise a friend to meet him at the gym. Would you dare to cancel time and time again? Even if you would do it once, you would not do it again and again, since you want to be a good friend. We are the most important person in our life. And we cancel or go against our promises all the time. We treat ourselves way differently than we treat others. But it is just as significant to be reliable to ourselves, as it is to be reliable to our friends.

And having the discipline to follow through on our commitments to ourselves also shows us that we have respect for the goals that we have set. Which kind of person do you want to be? The one that shows up, even if they had a tough day? Or the one bailing once it gets hard?

And this brings me to the third mindset. Make the goals and habits you create about your identity. That way, it is way easier to follow through with certain goals. If one of your goals is to get fit – next time you have a craving for chocolate, ask yourself if you want to be the kind of person that skips the gym and eats chocolate instead. The same goes for business – the next time you do not like a certain decision or task, ask yourself if you want to be the person that complains about it and makes him/herself the victim of the situation. Or if you would not rather be someone who stands up for his/her opinion, gets out of the comfort zone and takes things into his/her own hands.

Do you always need a goal?

One last thing that I always have to keep in mind – and I know a lot of productive people face the same challenge – is that you do not always have to have a goal. Your life does not have to be a 100% effective / efficient / productive.

It shouldn’t be.

There should be room in your life to just be. To enjoy. There should be time to “waste” for something stupid, new or funny. Or anything else that is not there for X or to achieve X. If we have too many responsibilities, we lose our ease. There should be time to just relax, do nothing or do whatever you feel like doing. Be careful that your life does not become a checklist.

With that: I hope you have an amazing week and that there was some insight for you in this post too! If there is, I would be happy to read from you!

Talk to you soon,