How OKRs can help you do what matters

A piece of business jargon that can help you focus on achieving your creative goals

Spaces are filling up for my podcast mentorship open day on Saturday 6th March. Now’s your last chance to get a free spot.

So, I’ve been using Notion quite seriously for the last few weeks, and love it. It’s not a note-taking app as some might have it, but really a place to store knowledge, and manage process. It’s so close to being a brilliant project management tool that people in the forums get super-frustrated when a particular feature isn’t there, because adding it would just tip it over the edge… so much of the time when you see a missing feature within Notion, you think “man, you’re so close!”

Anyway, it has a huge learning curve because it’s so flexible, so to help with that, you can populate your Notion workspace with a bunch of templated content. You pick the kind of operation you’re running, and it’ll go off and find a bunch of relevant page templates (todo lists, content calendars, meeting notes, all sorts).

I started working with Notion when I thought of Podiant as a cloud software company, so one of the sample pages it gave me was something called “OKRs”. OKR stands for “objectives and key results”, and before today I knew nothing about them. Now I know maybe 5% about them, so I’mma share what I know.

I cribbed lots from the video above, and I might not have synthesised it all correctly yet, but my understanding is you have

  • objectives: immeasurable, ambitious goals for your business (I’ll talk in business terms for now but I think this can relate to any creative project),

  • then a set of key results for that objective (measurable, achievable things you want to have achieved),

  • and a list of initiatives (the things you’ll do that will achieve the results for your objective).

The sample OKR database in Notion is quite basic, and it doesn’t — as far as I recall — handle initiatives. But we’ll cover that later.

Let me break it down

One of my objectives is “make my hosting customers happier”. That involves first measuring their happiness, and then working to improve on the score I get. (I don’t think my customers are unhappy, but very few of our closed support tickets get ratings, so we can only assume and hope… which are bad things to do.)

So, my objective is vague and immeasurable, so we use key results to bridge the gap between the idea and the intended reality. My key results for this objective are

  1. Get 1-5-star ratings from 75% of user base

  2. Get actionable comments from 20% of user base

  3. Increase rating by 1

Here I’m saying I want to ask my customers to rate my service from 1-5, and tell me a bit more about why they picked their number and how we can improve it. Then I want to work towards increasing that number from, say a 4 to a 5. It’s ambitious, right? But, given the right timeframe, achievable. (They’re not meant to be chronological; it’s just in this case I can’t do 3 without doing 1 and 2.)

OKRs are usually set by quarter, but you can and should also have overarching OKRs for the year.

What OKRs mean for creatives

Many of us have goals we want to achieve with our work. For podcasters, that’s usually “monetisation” (although I think that’s received wisdom and not true north for most people). But let’s say a yearly objective is to “monetise your podcast”. That’s good, because it doesn’t have a number attached to it, but you can start to create key results that do have numbers attached. And because OKRs are quarterly, you get to pick when you want to achieve that goal.

So for a podcast, key results would be to “increase listeners by 20%” or “get to 30,000 downloads per episode” or “get an average 4.5 star rating in Apple Podcasts”.

What is not a good key result is “Get to #1 in the US Apple Podcasts Comedy chart”, because while it’s measurable, it’s not achievable. Sorry.

The final piece: Initiatives

So far we’ve been talking about strategy, or what to do. Now we need to drill down into tactics, or how we’re going to do it. That’s where initiatives come in. I think that term probably works better for large teams, so for me I’m really thinking tasks: things I need to do to achieve the key results so that I get the outcome I want.

I already have a Tasks database in Notion, which is where I store all the stuff I need to do so I don’t get in trouble. If you already have a list of tasks you want to achieve, figure out which OKRs they satisfy. If they don’t satisfy an OKR you already have, then you either need to create one so that you know what strategy this is serving, or you need to ask yourself whether it’s something you need to do.

Going forwards, before deciding whether or not something should live for a long time in your todo list, you should ask yourself what objective this satisfies. I can think of quite a few things I’d like to do with the Podiant CMS, but unless I can set it against an objective, it’s not worth my working time.

If this sounds too businessy for creative work, I get it. Jargon always does, and often by design. But really what we’re trying to do here is not figure out whether it makes a line in a graph go up or down – unless that’s your bag – but instead figure out the best ways to spend our creative time.

I’m lucky in that all of my working time is spent on creative and consulting projects that ultimately fulfil me… or will, with a bit of time and effort. That’s not the case for many of us, so if you’ve only got a couple of hours to spare in an evening after work, or a Sunday afternoon when you can finally get some peace, I think it’s useful to have an idea in mind of where you want to go, what you need to do to get there, and how life will look when you do get there.

Thanks for reading thus far, and I hope there’s something useful there. Here’s where you can find me this week: