blog overview
Goal Setting
Frans Riemersma, 30 Jun '16

Separate Goals From Tasks and Reduce Workload by 40%

Want to reduce workload 40% to eliminate stress? Learn how to distinguish goals from the overwhelming number of tasks. Focus on what matters. Drive value.

Now hiring: ‘Chinese juggler to perform many, many tasks’

Question. Does someone making a million work ten times as hard as someone making 100k?

Nope. So what is the secret? Working smarter, not harder.

Because you are performing so many tasks, you are bound to have driven some value somewhere, somehow. It’s a numbers game. But it is not how millionaires work.

‘Doing more things’ won’t improve things when the tasks you’re doing are not effective. Yes, you prove yourself to be more committed to winning the rat race than others. But that isn’t particularly useful.

Either way, it won’t bring you glory. Nor will it bring peace of mind.

So how can you repeat your success in a structured way?

Separate the many, many tasks from the goals

The secret is to become truly value driven. To do so, all you have to do is distinguish between goals and tasks. Focus on achieving goals instead of performing only tasks.

Did you know 20-40% of marketing tasks are not supporting the strategy?

If you learn to see quickly which tasks won’t help achieve any of your strategic goals, you can reduce workload by 40%. Easily.

Add the same value being way less busy, or keep the same workload and see productivity skyrocket. Your choice. Here’s how.

Calling a task ‘strategic’ won’t cut it

After a decade of studying dozens of strategic plans, we saw one misconception return over and over again. We learned oftentimes a task is mistaken for a goal.

It is tempting to call a task a strategic goal, just to feel like you’ve done important strategic stuff.

Completing a task means you have done something. But you haven’t necessarily changed anything for the better. A task is a means to and end. The end is achieving the goal.

Operation successful. Patient died. Oops.

Real-life examples

Take a look at a handful of examples from the hundreds of real-life examples at our disposal. Yes, all three goals come straight from strategy plans from real companies.

Tell me what do you see? Are these goals or tasks, or both?

  • “Successfully launch the Packaged Solution.”
  • “Ensure effective reputation monitoring and brand health.”
  • “Create 3 year communication and marketing plan to position the service standards top of mind with staff and customers, culminating in a culture change program.”

Why are these not real goals?

On closer inspection you will notice goals and tasks are all mixed up. It is difficult to manage this strategy and demonstrate success. Plus, the goals are incomplete.

The people sharing these goals with us were frustrated not being able to demonstrate crystal clear success to management.

So let’s separate goals from tasks for the three examples above. Here is a simple rule of thumb to separate goals from tasks.

  • A Task is ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It is Binary. It is a check in the box. Just like a Definition of Done - Did you produce an output: yes/no?
  • A Goal is quantifiable. It is usually a numeric, ratio value or scale. Like the Definition of Success - Did you achieve a (commercial) result by x%?

Alert! Two beginner mistakes in distinguishing goals and tasks.

  1. A task isn’t quantifiable by saying “I completed 80% of my tasks”. It still means tasks are binary. 8 you did, 2 you didn’t complete, making each task binary.
  2. A goal isn’t binary by saying “Did we achieve ‘Increase brand awareness 3%'? Yes we did!” It is still expressed in a percentage or scale.

How to rewrite our tasks into SMART goals?

To practice what we preach, we’ll do an extreme make-over of the three real-life “tasks & goals”. We’ll use the rule of thumb to separate goals from tasks, as well as the Definition of Success to formulate rock solid complete goals.

Notice that both tasks and goals are often hidden inside the description, like in the examples below. In our examples we highlighted the tasks and goals.

Example 1 – Packaged solution

  • Before: “Successfully launch the Packaged Solution.”
  • After:
    • Goal: Generate sales of the newly launched Packaged Solution of 5,000 pieces in the first Quarter.
    • Task: Create product launch campaign.

Goals vs tasks 1

Example 2 – Brand health

  • Before: “Ensure effective reputation monitoring & brand health.”
  • After:
    • Goal: Ensure brand health, manifesting in increasing reputation score from 4 to 10 points in the 6 next months.
    • Task: Monitor brand reputation. Do XYZ to effectuate increased reputation score.

Goals vs tasks 2

Example 3 – Top of mind

  • Before: “Create 3 year communication and marketing plan to position the service standards top of mind with staff and customers”
  • After:
    • Goal: Position the service standards top of mind with staff and customers. Reach 80% measured awareness in a certain target audience by end of the year 2016.
    • Task: Create 3 year communication and marketing plan.

Goals vs tasks 3

Too many tasks, too little success? No more!

Now go on and see if your goals contain tasks ‘in disguise’ or are incomplete, or both. Have a look at both your current strategy documents and your current to do list.

Do you see any difference? You may see clusters of tasks appear, and some may even overlap.

  • Take your to do list and dig up your strategic goals.
    • Make a ‘to-achieve list’
    • Make a ‘to-do list’.
  • Compare your ‘to-achieve list’ with your ‘to-do list’.
    • Do all tasks contribute to achieving a goal?
    • Can all strategic goals be achieved performing the scheduled activities?
  • Take stock.
    • Scratch tasks that don’t serve a goal. Celebrate the savings!

How did that go? Can you justify performing all of those tasks by connecting them to your strategy goals? Can you achieve all goals by performing the tasks you scheduled? Chances are you cannot. You have probably been doing too much and too little at the same time.

Do less to achieve more

Show your boss how focused you (and your team) are. Distinguish between goals and tasks: that’s your goal. Go and perform the tasks needed to achieve it. It’s the most valuable thing you’ll do in your career.