There’s nothing quite so bad as the feeling of letting people down, not getting back to someone, making a promise and not sticking to it, over promising and under delivering, we’ve all done it.

Trouble is there aren’t enough hours in the day. “Our brains are configured to make a certain number of decisions per day and once we reach that limit, we can’t make anymore, regardless of how important they are” – Daniel Levitin – The Organised Mind.

Your time is precious, if you don’t take time and plan how else will deliver on your word?

So, what can you do about it?

By saying “yes” to projects, a course of action, or whatever, you are implicitly saying “no” to something else. Each time you make a commitment, you forfeit your chance to commit to something else. This, of course, is an inevitable, inescapable consequence of allocating any finite resource. People who plan must have the guts, honesty and discipline to drop projects as well as to initiate them, to shake their heads “no” as well as to smile “yes.”

To help make your choices ask yourself two key questions:

  1. What do I want to achieve? (your objective)
  2. How will I get there and how will I measure my steps? (your key results)

To illustrate an objective and a key result (OKR), consider the following: I want to find a candidate for my client in 15 days. That is my objective. I know I must compete steps A, B, and C, in weeks 1, 2, and 3, respectively. If I’ve been working for 1 week and haven’t yet made step A, I know I’m off track. Unless I go back to my client and share my experience, I probably won’t make my hire.

Upon what time period should an OKR system operate? OKR’s are largely designed to provide feedback relevant to the specific task at hand; they should tell us how we are doing so we can make adjustments in whatever we are doing if need be, such as going back to your client and asking for direction. For the feedback to be effective, it must be received very soon after the activity it is measuring occurs, the rhythm of the feedback loops must be short and recurring.

OKR’s should provide an excellent focus, this can only happen if we keep the number of objectives small. In practice this is rare, and here, as elsewhere, we fall victim to our inability to say “no”, in this case too many objectives. To many objectives can be offering to hire for too many clients at the same time.

We must realize – and act on the realization – that if we try to focus on everything, we focus on nothing. A few extremely well-chosen objectives impart a clear message about what we say “yes” to and what we say “no” to – which is what we must have if an OKR system is to work.