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Personal Development Success: Input Goals vs Output Goals

personal development
Personal Development Success: Input Goals vs Output Goals

Johnny Marr was just twenty three when The Smiths split in 1987. Thirty five plus years later my much more aged fingers struggle to play the songs he effortlessly churned out in his teens and early twenties. And that’s with the help of a multitude of dedicated YouTube guitar tutorials guiding me note by note.

Stuff that I strive to learn and consistently fail to master over months he would nonchalantly generate over a weekend, before quickly moving onto the next tune.

Having been bought a new guitar by The Smiths’ American record label he tested it out by writing Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now in an hour. To top that off, the same evening he dashed off Girl Afraid, possibly the most difficult Smiths tune that exists. That is a serious amount of input for one single writing session.


Focus On Inputs

Marr had a relentless focus and clear strategy for getting things done. He would strum away, record a newly minted tune onto cassette and pop it in an envelope addressed to Morrissey. And then he'd move on.

Meanwhile, once the postman had delivered the cassette to Morrissey, the singer would listen carefully, craft words for the tune or graft on some lyrics he’d already written. Quite the work-flow.

This songwriting process often meant that the very first time the whole band heard the complete song was when Morrissey was actually recording his vocals in the studio.

As a songwriting pair Morrissey and Marr really did work well together and were hugely prolific. The Smiths recorded seventy original songs in just five short years and there’s barely a duff track in the whole catalogue. 

I'd like to increase the number of tunes I can play along to, so I’m going through them all and slowly building a playlist of songs that I can play. Not nearly play, or know most of the chords, but actually play from the very start right to the very finish. 

I’m not sure there’s any real point to this project, other than the enjoyment I get from those breakthrough moments where my fingers actually do what’s required. And now and again when I eventually feel that I’ve mastered a song well enough to add it to the list. That thrill is reason enough.

It’s sort of an ongoing side project that allows me to continually have a demanding goal but one that I’ll always enjoy. It’s a challenge that I can work on whenever I like, with no deadlines and no consequences if I don’t quite get there. And I don’t think I’ll ever quite get there with Girl Afraid but the desire to play along means I keep trying.

But who gets to decide when the objective has been achieved? 

Well, I do. If I can play the song, then . . . I can play the song. That’s it - I've got my desired outcome. 


Objective and Key Result

These are what are known as Outcome Goals. I’ll know if I’ve achieved the goal if I can play along to the song on Spotify and not fluff the notes. That’s a clear enough and pretty well defined outcome.

I like Outcome Goals. They’re easy to understand. You can work towards them, learning, practising and improving until the goal has been reached. 

People refer to these in terms of OKRs - 'objective' and 'key result'. My objective is to learn how to play the song, and the key result is if I can play it with full retention and without messing up.

But there are other elements of goals that are hugely useful to consider as well namely, input goals and output goals.

I referred to one in an earlier top tip when I wrote about having an ‘average day’ when I would write just 500 words. Even though I didn’t label it as such in that post, the idea of writing 500 words a day is an Output Goal.

To achieve the desired goal I just had to sit down and write. (I mean, I didn't even have to sit to be fair to achieve that okr - I could write standing up after all - but you get my drift.) 

That output goal didn’t stipulate the quality of the writing, it just set out the idea that 500 words a day (or x times a week) must be completed.  It's easy to see if that’s the Output Goal I was aiming to achieve.

You can think of the actual sitting down to write part as an Input Goal. Input Goals are where you turn up and do the stuff. 


Input Goals

Let me go through these three types of goals I’ve introduced a bit more carefully.

With Input Goals you’ll usually be spending time and effort. It could be:

- Work out at the gym for an hour every day

- Write for an hour every day

- Work on sales for an hour every day

You might not actually have anything to show for doing these activities but if you did them then the Input Goals have been achieved.

That’s often enough, just to show up again and again. 


Output Goals

To see whether your dedication actually achieved anything, however, you will need to think about Output Goals. They overlap but they get a bit more specific.

Keeping aligned with those three topic areas above your Output Goals could be:

- Do three sets of five different abdominal muscle exercises

- Write 500 words

- Make ten sales calls

These are all measurable goals. You can assess how well your dedication to the Input Goals paid off by how close you are to the Output Goals. These results will give you an idea about if you are making progress towards your long term aims.


Outcome Goals

Then we have the Outcome Goals which are easier to understand because they are usually the thing you want to achieve in the first place. Here you can consider if you've achieved your goals and objectives.

This is an important distinction because no one really wants the Input and Output Goals as they stand; people they want what they lead to. They're very useful because they force you to focus on the core actions required to reach your objective. You need to consider actionable input or output goals in order to achieve the desired outcome. 

- No one wants to do abdominal exercises, what they really want is a six pack. The six pack is the Outcome Goal.

- No one wants to write 500 words, what they really want is enough words to fill a book. The book is the Outcome Goal. 

- No one wants wants to make ten sales calls, what they really want is to make a sale, and create revenue. The money is an Outcome Goal.


Goal Setting Strategy

Why not just go with the Outcome Goals in the first place? Well, sometimes the Outcome Goals can be a little daunting. 

Sometimes when I'm learning a Smiths song I just don’t know where to start so I’ll forget about the Outcome for a while and chunk the challenge down. In order to get the results you want to achieve it is often useful to break things down.

So I'll make section of the song into an Output Goal where I’ll focus on one single part that’s causing me trouble. I’ll slow the video lesson down and take it one note at a time. 

There’s one very tricky passage in The Headmaster Ritual that I’m struggling with at the moment. So I’ve forgotten about learning the song as a whole and am instead just focusing on learning one single part. 

It’s now an Output Goal where I’m concentrating on transitioning through the four main chord shapes of the chorus in a smooth movement. Good grief, it is so difficult, even when the man himself is showing you where to put your mitts!

But as a single Output Goal it will be easier to measure. It's a simple job of focusing on the core actions that matter. I can view my progress in this one small area of the song separately and by taking the time to accomplish that one small piece it will take me closer to the main milestone. 

I can also use it as a benchmark. It may help if I can see it as motivational marker that shows me I'm making tangible and sustainable progress towards my desired results. For any difficult goal visible signs of progress can be a great way of motivating you to continue to invest the time and effort required.

That Output Goal, once achieved, will of course be subsumed by the Outcome Goal, in my case being able to play the whole song.


Types Of Key Results

Today’s Top Tip is to really know the type of goal you have. It’s useful to consider what sort of goal you’re working on so that you’ve got a grip on what’s required and what your approach should be. Knowing the type allows you to focus more carefully on what’s needed and importantly, on what’s not needed. 

What’s very important to recognise is that although Outcome Goals are really the thing you want, out of the three they are the goals that you have the least amount of control over. There are different types of key results for each type of goal.

 You usually have total control over Input Goals. All you have to do is turn up - although that can often be the most difficult thing! Ostensibly though, that’s it, there are no external obstacles -you just need to show up, do the task and it’s achieved. 

Output Goals are a step further away from your control because they’re a bit more difficult to achieve. Still, compared to a final Outcome Goal it should be a lot more within your control.

Often the Outcome Goal is going to be further from your control. It might be out of your control completely. Sure, you showed up every day to write and sure you churned out 500 words every day for a year. Now you’ve got your airport blockbuster ready to send to prospective publishers. It’s just that your final Outcome Goal of becoming a published author is now in someone else’s hands.

It's sometimes demoralising to realise this but don't be disheartened. You'll see that by focusing on the controllable input and output goals the likelihood of the outcome going your way is much higher. Your efforts are much more likely to convert into success if your approach is deliberate, sustained and methodical.


Consider The Types Of Goals

This weekend, take a look at a goal that’s important to you. By doing this you should get a really good insight into how much direct control you have over each element of your end result, the outcome goal. 

Use it as an example to assess, and work out which type of goal category it fits in: Input, Output or Outcome.

Now, think about how it’s going. Are you making good progress? If so that’s great, keep going. 

But maybe you’re struggling. Perhaps you’ve plateaued, got bored or lost motivation. In that case you might need to shake things up by switching categories. 

What will make you regain your competitive edge? How will you recharge and take the necessary action? What will make you want to go again?

You could consider a slightly harder Output Goal where you have to challenge yourself to lift more reps at a higher weight or write more words than before.

Or maybe you could renew your enthusiasm by setting an Outcome Goal that’s a little more ambitious. Maybe it’s the Outcome Goal of running a five kilometre race in 25 minutes, increasing sales by 50% or self publishing an ebook by the end of the year.


Use These Insights To Set Goals

If you’re already feeling daunted and overwhelmed by a difficult Outcome Goal that’s already in place, maybe you would benefit from moving to a less demanding Input Goal.

Commit to doing something small. It can be as small as you like, just as long as it takes you in the right direction. Decide to do just some press ups or a few squats when you get out of bed. Schedule just a small block a day of writing a day. And then show up for that time. 

Those small but important activities might break the deadlock and help you to get re-started. From a gentle launch you can gradually build momentum. Baby steps and all that.

Whatever type of goal you decide on, enjoy the journey. Good luck!

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