I recently completed a program called 75 hard. In this program, every day for 75 days you:

  • Do two 45 minute workouts, spaced at least 3 hours apart, and one has to be outdoors
  • Drink a gallon of water
  • Read 10 pages of a business book
  • Take a progress photo
  • Follow a diet, no cheat meals
  • No alcohol

When I heard it was 75 days, I thought to myself “oh that’s not bad.” Then I looked at each of the things that had to be done each day, and realized that it was actually quite a bit while also running a couple businesses, managing a team, and being a dad and husband who also has hobbies.

I pretty quickly realized that it was a mental toughness and consistency challenge, not a physical challenge. While it is undoubtedly physically challenging to work out twice a day for 90 minutes total and to drink a gallon of water, that’s not the hardest part. I even lost an extra 12 pounds I was carrying around.

In fact, the thing that people most often mess up on isn’t either of these. 

It’s the progress photo.

Too many people think that they can keep all of the things in their head that they need to do to hit their goal of completing 75 Hard. That’s a recipe for failure.

Instead, the way people complete the challenge is not by focusing on the end state of “finished 75 Hard”. They may visualize how good it will feel to have finished in order to stay motivated, but that won’t help them stay on track.

Those who complete it focus on doing each of the required things each day, and marking them off as they go.

There’s an app for the challenge, which I didn’t use, but rather I created a spreadsheet where I marked off things as I did them each day. Throughout the day I looked at it and when I saw something that needed to be done that I was more likely to forget (like a progress photo) and I had a couple minutes, I’d go do it right then so I got it out of the way.

Here’s what my spreadsheet looks like:

Why outcome goals are not enough

I believe that most of us are taught the wrong way to set goals. We’re told to set lofty goals for ourselves or our team (usually called a BHAG, or Big Hairy Audacious Goal), but then we fall short time and time again.

This is problematic because it is demotivating to everyone.

I remember working in-house at Zillow and we were set a lofty goal by our executive team for unique users to our site (about 10x more than we were getting at the time). 

There wasn’t a deadline put on it, and I think it was meant to motivate us to think bigger and not get stuck in minutiae (which was helpful). Ultimately my team and I found it demotivating because it seemed we were making too slow of progress towards the goal.

That’s because there was no roadmap or immediacy to it. We didn’t plan out ahead of time how we’d hit the goal, and thus we worked on the easy “low hanging fruit” instead of doing the hard work needed to hit the goal.

The same thing is extremely easy to do whether you’re a founder, an executive, or a leader in any department in a business. It’s natural to do the easy things we know how to do (write code, run yet another SEO audit). It’s human nature. But it’s ultimately not helpful. 

I like working with spreadsheets as much as the next data driven founder, and I love playing around with scenarios about how we reach a specific goal. To me, this is easy work. Fun work, even.

But it’s not real work. 

It’s simply playing out scenarios that could happen without knowing if any of them are actually achievable!

It feels productive, as does “grabbing low hanging fruit”, but doesn’t actually accomplish anything. It’s necessary, but woefully incomplete because it lacks action.

Here’s how it looks in practice.

If you set a goal of $1,000,000 in annual revenue and have multiple offerings, there are a seemingly infinite number of ways you can reach that goal. 

Pull this lever and that scenario appears, pull another and a different scenario appears.

So the question now becomes, “How do I know the right one to commit to?”

It’s simple – you don’t. They’re theories that need to be tested.

Setting an outcome goal like “$1,000,000 in annual revenue by end of 2022” feels like it should be motivating especially when it feels achievable. If you have $1,000 in annual revenue and you set a goal of $1,000,000 in annual revenue, it’s likely overwhelming instead of helpful.

Regardless of how big you choose to dream, and how big your goals are, without a clear path to achieving them you will always fall short.

This is why output goals are necessary.

Output goals are necessary to achieving outcome goals

Continuing on with the 75 Hard example, the outcome goal was “finish the program.”

To get to that ultimate goal though, I had to break it down into specific actions that needed to be done every single day.

I had to create outputs that I knew would get me to that outcome

For example, I’m of the opinion that to really build a company/audience, you need to have a consistent quantity of high quality work over a long enough time horizon.

To really build a company/audience, you need to have a consistent quantity of high quality work over a long enough time horizon.

To do that, it all starts with consistency. You have to have a practice of creating work consistently. Quality comes as you do it again and again and learn what works from your audience and from studying others. After this, you have to keep doing it.

Dan Martell, one of my mentors, has a YouTube channel with over 75k followers and some of his videos have 200,000+ views! To do that though, he has published a new video each Monday for the last five years. He has not missed a single one. 

His first videos weren’t even that great! He simply started and improved over time. He took consistent action that has led to his YouTube channel being a major driver of business for him and ultimately his legacy helping companies grow.

Setting the right output goals

So how do you know the right output goals to set?

This is where the leader doing a good job of casting vision comes into play.

Instead of just saying “Our goal is $1M in annual revenue next year”, the leader should say “Our goal is to increase revenue in the next year to $1,000,000 in revenue at 20% net income (after everything else profits) because this will let us do (company vision), and we are going to do it through (undertakings).”

You can’t set output goals with an outcome goal, or at minimum a direction that is set by the company’s vision. 

Cast vision, audit past performance, establish tracking, then set actions

Let’s use a tech company as an example because it’s the space I know best. If you’re not at a tech company, you can apply this logic to your own situation.

To set the right output goals you need four things:

  1. The vision for where the company is going
  2. Knowledge of what has worked before and hypotheses around why it’s not working or getting done anymore
  3. Established tracking so you know if the outputs are happening and the results they are getting, so you know if you’re doing the outputs and on pace to hit the outcome
  4. The specific actions to be done

First, leadership needs to cast the vision of where the company is going (direction) and why that is the direction. What is the impact the company will have? What will the company look like? How will you show up in the world and for your prospects and community?

Second, the company must do an audit of what has worked in the past and is currently working. Look carefully at the things that have worked before that you may not be doing well anymore, or the things your competitors seem to be doing that are working well for them. 

Third, take stock of your existing skill sets and determine if you’re going to be able to execute against the specific actions with the team you already have in place. For many companies hopefully the answer is yes, but there will inevitably be some where you don’t have the right person on the team. If this is the case, then you need to find that person. This most commonly happens when a key team member left the company and wasn’t replaced. Oftentimes the effects aren’t felt for months, but then they’re felt all at once.

Fourth and finally, now you must set the cadence to make the things happen that you know need to happen in order to grow.

Actions: How I’m applying this in my own business

I know that SEO and content marketing have been our primary drivers of growth over the years at Credo. As business has gotten busier, I’ve had less and less time to write even though I know it’s the highest leverage thing I can be working on. And, marketing is owned by me. I can hire people to write for us (and do), but I also know that my writing has always been our highest return marketing activity over the last 6+ years.

All this said, I know that:

  1. If we’re going to hit our goals for 2022, content and SEO are going to play a big role
  2. I own those channels and they are my primary skillset
  3. When things get busy in other parts of the business, this is the first thing to go out the window (because it’s incredibly time consuming)
  4. And yet, it’s the highest leverage thing I can be working on because without it the rest of the business doesn’t work nearly as well.

Taking my lesson from 75 Hard about planning things out and doing them every day, I committed to writing at least 500 words every day from now through December 31st. That’s 45 days of writing at least 500 words a day, which means that by the end of December I will have written at least 22,500 words. Based off my average post length, that means I’ll write at least 10 high quality blog posts from now through the end of the year.

That will be great for my business over the medium term, but the bigger impact is that I am reestablishing the writing habit that served me so well from 2010-2013. I stopped writing as much when I went in-house and got married and moved and got a dog and picked up a lot of hobbies, and while my career didn’t stagnate it also didn’t move forward like it did before.

At this point, I don’t really care about “my career” or building my name in the industry. I honestly really couldn’t care less. What I do care about is my company succeeding by making our customers successful.

I also know that SEO and content have historically been big drivers of business for us. But when things get busy and we’re hiring or needing to do a lot of sales or working hard on new product initiatives, I know I deprioritize these things.

Because of this, there are two things that are true:

  1. I need to set aside time every single day to create, to write, because I know that if I do that I will then get out a higher volume of quality content over time. This will lead to more backlinks, more content targeting keywords relevant to our audience, and ultimately leads will grow.
  2. Business is only going to get busy if I do the above, and so I need to also recruit a set of writers who can also consistently create quality content that will attract links and shares, rank for important keyword terms, and ultimately drive traffic that turns into qualified leads.

To do this I am actively recruiting writers, but I have also committed to writing 500 words per day. I have a spreadsheet where I track it daily and mark it off as I go, and we track our website’s traffic metrics and metrics from each marketing channel weekly. Over time, this number should trend up.

To recap: reaching outcome goals requires setting output goals

If you want to hit your outcome goals, you need to set output goals.

Commit to setting the vision (or asking company leadership to do so), audit past performance and your existing team, then set specific output goals that you and/or your team can execute upon daily so that you reach the outcome goals that have been set. As you go, track your progress via metrics that matter so that you know if you need to adjust strategy (likely the thing that will need adjusting is quantity of quality work) in order to achieve the set ultimate outcomes.

Good luck!