Reflection: Don’t Get Stuck in End-Goal Obsession

computer-767776_1920We are all too often focused (fixated) on the end goal and forget about the necessary individual steps that lead us there. Since we don’t know exactly how to reach our goals, we don’t make progress and get increasingly frustrated.

The problem is that most individuals, leaders and businesses focus on output metrics and try to improve them. At Amazon I’ve learned to focus on improving input metrics instead. It’s a powerful shift in mindset if you want to have true impact.

Focus on the things you can manage. Measure inputs and real-time metrics rather than outputs. Design your metrics to support your long-term plan, not short-term gains.

The problem with output metrics

Output metrics (e.g. profit, user base, user retention, downloads) are the outcomes that a business wants to achieve and the ultimate goal is to improve them as much as possible.

The only issue with that is, that output metrics or business outcomes are the result of many right or wrong actions that have already been taken and many right or wrong decisions that have already been made in the past. It’s very hard to look at a lagging profit or user metric and figure out what to do specifically. And by the time the output metric is lagging, it’s in most cases also too late to course correct anyway.

Input metrics help shape outcomes

The better metrics to look at are input metrics. Input metrics are measurements of the things that need to go right in order to generate great outcomes. At Amazon we focus on input metrics first and foremost.

For example, if you build a new app and want to grow your user base quickly and sustainably, you should not spend all your energy looking at the number of users. Probably you shouldn’t look at that at all for the first few months. Instead you need to get your inputs in shape. For instance, is your product what users want (what’s your app’s rating in the store, what are the negative feedbacks from users)? Are your marketing campaigns effective (what are click-through rates, how is your conversion rate for downloads and sign-ups)?

Focus on inputs more than on the outputs when you look at the funnel. Input metrics are early warnings. They are also much more actionable than output metrics. It’s much easier to react on leading click-through rates or customer feedback about insufficient UX, than to look at low usage numbers and guess what might be wrong.

Focusing on inputs sets you up for the long run

Too much focus on output metrics can also incentivize you to make bad long-term decisions in order to gain short-term benefits (just look at Wall Street to get an abundance of examples). Focusing on input metrics will guide you to build the right systems and set the right priorities for long-term growth.

I saw an example for that conflict just recently during MBA interviews. I asked candidates how they would decide which of two prices (same product, different suppliers, different pricing) they would offer to a customer. Most candidates will provide the standard answer: “the price that offers the best margin and thus the best profit for the company as long as it’s within the constraints (buying power) of the customer”. That answer maximizes the output metric (profit).

If you focus on input metrics, the above is the wrong answer (and btw, don’t give that answer in an Amazon interview). Your input metric is to have lots of happy returning customers who trust you. If customers are happy, return often and trust you, they will make great business with you over time. The right answer is to “always offer the best price to the customer”. It’s the better long-term strategy and it will drive the right outcomes. That’s why at Amazon customer obsession always comes first.

Closing with a non-business example

To drive home the point, I want to close with a non-business example.

As you know by now, I care a lot about living a healthy life. And I believe in measuring progress.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” – Peter Drucker

In the past I did track my progress on outcomes like my weight, my overall fitness (how do you even define that?) my energy levels and so on. You get the idea. The problem is that those ‘metrics’ change slowly and are pretty hard to influence directly since they are the result of many things playing together.

In recent years I changed my focus to a small set of input metrics: (1) exercise every single day, (2) sleep 8 hours a day and (3) drink 2 liters of water every day. Those metrics are simple, they are accurate on a daily basis and I know exactly what to do if I miss any of them. They are also very easy to track on my Fitbit or Apple watch.

You might guess it already, but since having that focus I saw great improvements on my fitness, weight, energy and general feeling of wellbeing without actually focusing on any of those outcome metrics specifically.

Be More Effective – Week 18: Declare War on Procrastination and Wasted Time

Did you check Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn updates today? Did you play a game on your phone? For how long? Did you wonder where the time went? Did you feel better and more satisfied afterwards or did it leave a little sour taste in your mouth?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s ok to use social media and play games. As long as you do it deliberately. In martial arts we learn that the key to everything is to make conscious decisions, take deliberate action and be aware of what’s going on.

Make conscious decisions, take deliberate action and be aware of the time you spend.

If you feel like playing a game, do so for all means. But decide before, how long you want to play and be deliberate as to what else you will not do in order to play that game. Make a conscious decision to not go in the yard to smell flowers because you want to play that game for 30 mins.

Do not just do those things so that you don’t have to tackle a chore you didn’t want to do.

Years ago, Uli and I would watch TV in the evenings. We would sit down, hop across channels, watch shows that we only halfway liked and endured commercials. Since we rarely found something that was truly satisfying we kept looking for much of the evening and went to bed way to late, only to be groggy and cranky the next morning. We don’t have cable anymore. On weekends we often watch one movie with our kids (one for the weekend) and have a lot of fun doing so. Otherwise the screen stays off.

Same for social media. A few years ago, I used to spend a lot of time on Facebook feeds or news outlets (the real ones, not all the made-up fake news). I hardly ever got satisfied and I almost never felt better. Now I get up in the morning, take a shower and go to work right away. As a result, I come home to my kids a little earlier in the evening. I don’t miss anything, but gain a lot. I do check Facebook on Saturday mornings, but I do it deliberately (I might even stop that, since the news feed gets worse every time).

Decide how you want to spend your time. Set a limit. Track the limit. Don’t just do it to have an excuse to be lazy. If you want to be lazy, make it deliberately and proudly.

In the beginning it can help to set yourself screen time limits. Monitor how you do spend time and decide what it should be. Write it down. Then start controlling your time. Turn of the screen. Cancel your cable subscription.

Only do what gives you real longterm pleasure – it’s likely not your screen.

However, please do get me right. If you love Facebook, a game, a TV show and get pleasure and satisfaction from it every time you watch it, please do so. Likewise procrastination doesn’t only come in the form of digital media. You might as well procrastinate fiddling around in the house because you don’t want to get yourself to the office work. Doing dishes has so much more appeal during tax season than in the months after you turned in your taxes.

Control your procrastinations. Do them deliberately (or not at all).

Reflection: Build and Establish Good Habits

joy-2483926_1920Heads-up – this is going to be a long post, but it is crucial for making our changes stick. Bear with me and take your time to read it.

We are now 14 weeks into building healthier habits for a more productive and balanced life. That means somewhere between 5 to 10 new habit changes already, depending on which ones and how many you decided to pick up.

Before we move on to a whole new area (being more efficient at your work), let’s talk a little bit about how we make all those habits stick.

How do we make them stick?

How can we avoid to flip-flop from new habit to new habit every week and bouncing back to bad behaviours as soon as we take our eyes off a recent habit change?

In the past I’ve tried to follow the rule that you have to keep a habit for 30 days to make it stick, but to be honest more often than not this didn’t work for me. More recently I came across two books that provide good frameworks that do actually work (at least for me).

  • “Mini Habits”, Stephen Guise – Simple to read book that focuses on making habits so small that you cannot possibly fail to just do them.
  • “Atomic Habits”, James Clear – A more scientific exploration of the topic with many suggestions on how to make habits stick.

The following is a summary of the rules I found most effective from those books. Read the books for more suggestions as well as the science behind them.

 1 – One small change at a time

Don’t boil the ocean! You will get frustrated and will give up.

Don’t try to change more than one behavior or add more than one habit at a time. Don’t pick habits that reflect your end goal, but rather focus on the next immediate step that will get you there.

Don’t boil the ocean. Pick one habit at a time. Make your habit changes too small to fail.

Instead pick one habit per week and focus on it. Focus on only that habit until you reliably repeat it. Then you can add a new habit to your list. If you notice that you stopped doing the previous change, go back and add that habit back again.

Make your habit change small. Instead of trying to turn end goals into a habit, focus on the immediate next step. For example, instead of saying “I will lose 10 pounds”, make it a habit to drink a refreshing glass of water every time you want to grab your habitual can of soda.

Make your habit changes small, make them easy. Make them too small to fail.

Small changes add up. Rather than making a heroic effort and keeping it for two weeks, make incremental 1% changes and keep going at them for the rest of your life. Nothing beats the impact of consistency (the “Compounding effect of 1% changes.”, James Clear).

2 – Don’t break your streak

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” – Peter Drucker

Once a new habit is truly a habit you will do it naturally. Until then you need to ‘manage’ yourself to stick to it. Usually the best way to do that is to track and keep a log that holds you accountable.

Track of your progress to keep you going. Don’t break your streak. Never fail twice.

Tracking your progress helps to keep you motivated as you see the rewarding days, when you kept to your habit, adding up. It also serves to hold you accountable because once you have a chain of successful days, you don’t want to break the streak.

How you track your habit doesn’t matter as long as you do it. Find the way that works best for you: a wall calendar that you tick off, your personal journal, a jar of marbles that you fill up every time you did a specific habit, an app on your phone that you always have with you. Personally I like to use both a wall calendar for a big longterm habit that I’m chasing, as well as an iPhone app (Streaks) to keep track of my progress on the small changes throughout the day.

Try your best to not break a streak. It is motivational to see how you add day after day to your list of little wins. Try to not drop the ball, work hard to not break the streak.

Having that said, life will happen. Every now and then something will come in the way of your habit. That is a crucial point in your habit-forming. One of two things will happen: 1) you broke your streak and will now have a much lower bar to dropping the habit again the next day or 2) you get right back to your habit the next day. To be honest, the first response is much more likely and it dooms you for failure on your desired longterm changes. The biggest risk to a habit is not the start but keeping to go.

To prevent you from dropping your habit once you face the first obstacle, make it a point to never fail twice in a row. It’s ok to fail every now and again. But NEVER fail twice in a row to do your habit.

As a side note for habit tracking apps: I like the iOS Streak app which lets me track six habits at a time. If I successfully did a habit for six weeks, it most likely sticks and I can replace it with a new one. If it doesn’t stick yet, I will wait a little longer before I take on the next habit. Tracking six habits at a time is a reasonable balance between ambition and feasibility.

3 – Make it automatic

Your will power drains through the day. Have a plan. Make your habits a reflex.

We all start our days with the best intentions. We stick to our priorities through the morning and then the curve balls start hitting us. We get tired, we get worn out. We come home exhausted, drop in front of the TV, have a couple of drinks. Then we go to bed, slightly frustrated about ourselves and have the best intentions to be more disciplined the next day. The next day won’t be any different though.

Have a plan. Make good habits easy and bad habits difficult. Make your habit a reflex. Identify trigger points.

The problem is that we cannot trust ourselves as we get more and more tired throughout the day and our willpower gets depleted by the obstacles, challenges and decisions we are facing.

We need our fresh mind to make the right decisions for us. We need your well rested brain, with its full reservoir of will power and sight of the right priorities to make the decisions for us, before the tired brain can kick in and take over.

Make a proactive plan of ‘if, then’ decisions. You will be tired in the evening when you come home. Make a plan what you will do when you want to drop in front of the TV (“when I want to grab the TV remote, I will rather pick up a cup of tea and the book I started reading”). Make the plan while you still have your priorities straight, not when you’re tired. That way you will not need to decide when you’re tired, you will only need to execute.

Identifying and setting triggers for your habits is an additional technique that you can use. Put your gym bag in front of your door so that you have to pick it up on your way to work. Make fruit and veggies visibly available in your house and make candy hard to reach. Put away the remote and place a book in its place. Get the TV out of your bedroom, set nighttime timers that switch off your devices and lights.

You can also add a new habit to something that you already do habitually (“when I grab my morning coffee I will do 10 push-ups”). It’s an easy way to trigger a new good behavior through a behavior that is already ingrained in your daily life.

Make your habit a reflex, so you no longer need to make a conscious decision. Make good habits easy and bad habits difficult to start.

4 – Work backwards from who you want to be

“Identity is stronger than goals. Your believes of yourself drive your behavior.” – James Clear

So far we talked about how you can make very specific behaviors stick. It’s a very narrow approach and requires will power. After all, you want to change something AGAINST what you perceive as your natural preferences.

To take this to the next level, you need to change your natural preferences. You need to change who you think you are and what preferences that person has. You need to change your image of yourself.

Decide what type of person you are and then make the decisions such a person would make.

However, don’t get stuck at dreaming about what type of person you would wish to be. Decide what type of person you are.

Are you a healthy person? Are you a person who doesn’t drink alcohol? Are you a person that exercises every day? Are you a person that spends quality time with his kids and family every day? Are you a person that creates a piece of art every day? Are you a person who helps someone every day?

Decide who you ARE. Then make the decisions such a person will make.

Are you a person who doesn’t drink alcohol? Well, then it’s easy, you don’t need to buy beer anymore and you don’t need to mull over whether you should have a drink at the work party or not. You’re a person that doesn’t drink alcohol. Period.

Many years ago I decided that I never ever want to drive after having had a drink anymore (I neverhad an accident or issue up to then, but I also didn’t want to take the risk anymore). I didn’t know back then, but I decided to not be a person who drives after they had a drink. And I never once did since then, nor did I miss it.

For in the moment decisions, it doesn’t matter as much what longterm goals you have or what person you would wish to become when you grow up. What matters is what person you decided that you are already and what decisions such a person makes.

Decide what person you are TODAY and make the decisions such a person would make.

Healthy Habits – Week 13: End Your Day With a Mindfulness Exercise

These days, almost every day is stressful. We are stressed at work, with our kids, our bills, you name it. And worst, it doesn’t stop anymore. We’re always connected, we take work home and feel guilty if we’re not available 24/7.

As a result, we cannot turn off our minds and worries at night. We subsequently don’t sleep well, don’t get enough rest and are starting the next day on the wrong foot and even more tired. And the spiral goes further down.

Wind down at night. Do a mindfulness exercise. Meditate, do Yoga or Tai Chi. Have nice dinner conversations with loved ones. Leave it there.

Break that spiral by consciously winding down at night. Specifically, try to do a mindfulness exercise at night before going to bed.

Do some meditation before you go to sleep. There are plenty of phone and Alexa apps that will guide you, if you don’t have experience meditating. Pick you favorite.

If meditation is not your cup of tea, do some Yoga, practice Tai Chi, stretch gently, take a bath with some candles, snuggle with your dog (or cat) or just have a relaxed dinner table conversation with loved ones.

Be grateful for the day. Be grateful for friends and families. Be grateful for the experiences of the day and the ones that still lay ahead for the days coming. Great ones, and challenging ones, experiences are what makes our lives interesting and worthwhile.

Pick whatever works for you and do it. When you’re home, be home. Wind down, be mindful.

And most important: don’t go back to your work after a mindful break and before you sleep. Close your day and keep it closed. You don’t want to stay awake all night and think about the things that ‘keep you awake’, you want to be relaxed and marvel about the connections and experiences you had.

Healthy Habits – Week 12: Go to the Gym

dumbbells-2465478_1920We started with daily push-ups in week 2 and freed some extra time in the morning by skipping procrastinations in week 3.

How about we put that time to use by going to the gym in the morning at least a couple of times a week. Don’t decide in the moment though, plan ahead of time what those days will be and block the time in your calendar. Get you gym bag ready to grab the evening before.

Make an appointment for your health. Go to the gym in the morning.

It doesn’t matter whether you go for strength, cardio or flexibility. Weights, running or Yoga are all good. Of course it’s best if you cycle through all of them and create a balanced portfolio of workouts. You can get to that over time though, starting with one type of exercise and then adding more variety as you advance.

However the most important thing is that you block some real time for yourself and your health. Make an appointment with yourself to go to the gym, individually or by joining a class. See what works best for you but make your health a priority.

Healthy Habits – Week 11: Walk at Work, Take the Long Way

We talked about standing last week and how important it is to switch between sitting and standing work. Standing is a great improvement over sitting, but we can do better. Easily.

Get in some walking time. Take the longer route.

Our modern lives are structured around convenience, or might I say laziness. We don’t need to take the stairs but can just hop into the elevator to get to the next floor. We don’t need to walk to our coworker around the corner but can just message them. We don’t even have to walk to meetings in the same building anymore since we can just join virtually from our desks.

Break that laziness and get in some activity for your body throughout the day. Instead of messaging, walk. Instead of dialing in to the meeting, just go there. The meeting is in a different building, even better, you get more walking time. Instead of taking the elevator, walk a couple of flights of stairs. If you walk to a meeting, take the longer route, not the short cut.

Maybe every now and then you can even convince your coworker to go on a walking meeting with you. Unless you need to review material in your meeting those are magic. Try it for your next 1:1.

Small changes add up, compound over time and matter a LOT in the long run. Find the ways in your daily routine in which you can squeeze in some extra movement!

Healthy Habits – Week 10: Stand More at Work

office-820390_1920Sitting all day is a main health issue these days. Our bodies were not built for sitting in the same place 10 hours per day, yet that’s what most of us do. Every day. There are countless studies that call out the various health risks resulting from such sedentary life.

Break those sitting streaks!

Get a standing desk. Stand up for meetings. Drink your water, coffee or tea standing in the kitchen, chatting with a co-worker or just looking out the window and having a moment for yourself.

To get more standing hours into your day, its most effective to get a standing desk. If you cannot do that, take your laptop and find a place where you can stand and work for repeated times throughout your day.

However standing all day is not great for your health either as recent studies have shown (every medicine becomes a poison if overdosed). So mix up your days with standing activities and sitting activities. Stand while working for a while, then go back to sitting and switch it back again after an hour. A mix of desk work and meetings throughout the day lends itself to that pattern.

Switch between standing work and sitting work throughout the day. Make your default setting a standing setup to keep up with the habit.

My last tip: if you have one of those fancy standing desks that you can roll up and down it’s easy to fall back into sitting after a short honeymoon period. It’s just so comfy and easy. Remind yourself to get back into standing by rolling up your table to the standing position every time you leave it. That way your default when you come back will be to stand.