Why I’m Focusing on Outputs Instead of Outcomes
My biggest successes last year came from making focusing on outputs - making a little bit of progress day after day over many months. Success was showing up. It didn’t matter if I did a task well or, got a lot of views from IG’s algorithm. Things just needed to get done.
I (in no particular order) ~
- Established a daily exercise habit (and I’m building muscle for the first time in my life)
- Leveled up my Mandarin reading skills - I honestly thought I’d never be able to read Mandarin 6 years ago when I first came to taiwan
- Made my bed, kept the house in order and cooked
- Built a bunch of apps (I later stopped working on those apps when my focus shifted to research instead)
- Had a period of time where I regularly posted to Instagram which taught me about branding and marketing
While I made a lot of progress in my personal life, In business I got stuck. I spent a lot of time thinking, learning and taking classes. I wanted to do things ‘right’ and tried to study other peoples’ successes. It felt productive and maybe it was (I learned a lot and my current plans and approach are very different than before) but I’m not sure.
With my personal life each day’s tiny successes led to refinements in my technique and more self confidence. With business I didn’t get a lot of stuff done and I felt pretty directionless and unmotivated.
I think my business focus needs some adjustment.
It’s about having a system that puts focus in the right place
With my personal life I had a system. 30 Day Challenges (I made an app you can check out) ~ show up and complete a task.
It worked well in my personal life but not so well in the business.
With 30 day challenges you keep doing the same task over and over. The destination doesn’t need to be super specific. After you set up the challenge you don’t need to change the tasks. Just keep showing up.
With business work you’re working towards some far-away future goal that’s very specific. You need to keep adjusting course as you try and learn new things. Your tasks change from day to day and week to week.
I think I might need something else for business work.
Focusing on outputs in business
I’d like to experiment with focusing on outputs for my business work. I need a system that helps me get a little bit of stuff done on each of my projects every day.
So here are some things I need to change about my process.
I need to name my projects ~ even the ones that are super nebulous
I’ve noticed that when I name my projects it’s easier to keep track of what I need to focus on. When I’m just ’learning customer development’ I lose focus. “Ok, I just talked to some people… does that count as learning? What was I trying to learn again? Was it useful?” - without the project as the context the practice is un-anchored and may just be a waste of time.
I need goals
I was able to make progress on all those things last year because I used 30 day challenges. I had a simple do-able task that I’d do again and again ~
- Did I show up to the gym? Yep. Check!
- Did I make my bed? Yep. Check!
- Did I post to IG? Yep. Check!
30 day challenges are nice because they make the goal work so simple – do this simple task for 30 days. They do however have a drawback; they have you doing the same task over and over again + there’s no point where you evaluate your progress and shift the goal.
I’d like to experiment with setting short-term goals for projects at the start of the week. They should be very small and doable and easily break down into tasks.
I need feedback loops
30 day challenges worked for me because I built an app to track them and built a ritual around checking off tasks.
I need something similar for goal and task-based work… with goals and tasks the goals and tasks change over time. The work needs to be managed in a more granular way than just “I showed up / I didn’t show up”.
I’m thinking weekly and monthly intervals would be good check-in points.
Every week I could set some do-able goals for the week and as I did stuff I could record it somewhere as a little personal reward.
Every month I could look back on my work and grade my overall progress and effort to decided if the big picture strategy needs to change.
I could do this in public for accountability.
What I think it looks like when it’s all put together
I like what Michael Lynch has done.
He writes a monthly retrospective on his blog where he lists each of his projects and grades himself on how he did against the previous months’ goals.
He also has a tool he’s built called What Got Done where he keeps a log of the things he’s accomplished. It’s a bit like my 30 Day Challenge tracking app but more focused towards accomplishing a variety of tasks in service of a larger goal. It’s also social!
I like the idea of a ‘what got done’ task tracker because I think it emphasizes shipping ~ building a shipping habit.
So going forward I intend to try doing the following:
- Naming my projects
- Having some weekly goals for each active project
- Tracking what got done
- Writing a retrospective and grading my strategic progress
To move this work forward I need to -
- Create a retrospectives section for this blog
- Create a template that provides a format for my retrospectives
- Include a list of my active projects in the template
- Linking to my What Got Done account from my blog
Look for changes on this blog in the near future.