This week, after months at home, I was fortunate enough to go swimming in the sea. I was delighting in the sense of infinity that comes from an unbroken horizon, the chaotic force of the waves and the sparkle of the sun upon them.

Then, over the sound of the breakers, I faintly heard Lara trying to get my attention. Whilst I had been gazing out to sea, the current had quickly carried me a good 50 m down the coast and I was now very close to some partially submerged wooden posts! Without regular visual check-ins to the shore, I had drifted far from where I had intended to be.

With goals, it is also easy to drift off course as the daily demands buffet us like waves. But if these goals are important, (and goals should be) we need to regularly check in on where we are, and block off time to ensure that we do actually achieve them.

In my last blog post I suggested that to make this second half of 2020 a success, we must determine to do fewer things, but do those few things much better.  I proposed a focussed 4×3 framework in which we:

1) set no more than 3 important goals for each quarter

2) set no more than 3 important milestones for each month

3) set no more than 3 important objectives for each week

4) set no more than 3 important tasks for each day

Last week, we discussed an approach to setting Quarterly Goals. Today I want to describe how our Monthly Milestones and Weekly Objectives flow from these, and how we can use them to ensure that progress is actually being made.

Covey, McChesney and Huling in their book The Four Disciplines of Execution (4DX) describe the flurry of daily, “business as usual” tasks as “the whirlwind”. These activities are a mixture of essential tasks (that keep the money coming in), as well as less important things that crop up in life and business. The whirlwind is an important reality, but if we don’t specifically protect time for goal achievement, no significant progress will be made.

My rationale behind Monthly Milestones and Weekly Objectives is that we can use them to regularly assess if we are indeed making the progress we desire. They are like a regular check in, reminding us to look at the shore, to check we’re not drifting off course.

Monthly Milestones

I suggest that our Monthly Milestones should correlate pretty closely to our Quarterly Goals. So, if your Quarterly Goal is to “Read 6 books by September 30th, 2020”, then it is pretty clear that you need to have read 2 books by the end of the first month of the quarter. So, for the first month, your milestone may well be “Read 2 books by July 30th”.

Now, some goals will require a bit more thought, particularly when the final outcome is outside your immediate control. For example, if your Quarterly Goal is to “Secure funding for 3 PhD students by September 30th, 2020” then your Monthly Milestone might be to “Write 6 project proposals and send them to potential funders by July 30th.”

Writing the proposals is in your immediate control – funding the students is not.

There is also a time-lag between submitting the proposals and the chance of winning the funding – so we nee to bear this in mind when setting our milestones. In 4DX terminology these are the lead measures (writing proposals) which influence the lag measures (funding 3 students).

Weekly Objectives

When we get to our Weekly Objectives, we are dealing with very short term deadlines. These are a useful device to ensure that we make progress each week.

Now, it may well be that the whirlwind throws additional projects, events or tasks at you which are not related to your quarterly goals. Indeed, this is to be expected. I would just make sure that on your list of 3 important Weekly Objectives, at least 1 (hopefully 2) are related to your Quarterly Goals.

Another idea for a good Weekly Objective is to identify just one thing, which, if you did it, would make everything else either easier or unnecessary. Gary Keller and Jay Papasan wrote about this principle in thier book The One Thing, suggesting that by using this approach, as the months go by you will end up with more time to focus on things that really matter.

When setting Weekly Objectives, you may well find they fall into these three categories:

  1. Objectives to assist goal achievement  (e.g. Read 200 pages of Book X, by Friday)
  2. Objectives to progress other important projects (e.g. Complete ground movement analysis, by 4 pm Thursday)
  3. Objectives to make structural changes to work or life in order to make other things easier. (e.g. Write out workflow for processing bursts data so that I can delegate the task).

Challenge: Test it out!

I challenge you to try this approach out for the next month, and see how it helps you. To get started, sit down and ask yourself 2 questions:

  1. Where do I need to be on my goals at the end of this month to have made the progress required to ensure their success?
  2. What specific objectives do I need to accomplish this week in order to progress my goals or important projects, or to make things easier?

With Monthly Milestones and Weekly Objectives, you will have a better sense if you are where you need to be each week and month, to achieve what you want in the longer term.

Just remember, as has often been said: “You can do anything you want, just not everything you want”.  

So let’s focus on fewer, important things, and get them done.


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