Focus on the Outcome, Not the Measurement

Jon Wilkenfeld
January 3, 2024

I failed to achieve one of my “SMART” objectives for 2023. Yet, I still fulfilled my intended goals.
The difference lies in the meaning of “goals” and “objectives” and the importance of articulating what you want to happen, as opposed to getting caught up in the measurement.

Image credit: Jennifer Burk on Unsplash

As we reach the new year, many people and companies right now are thinking about New Year’s resolutions and their overall goals. Many experts will talk about how goals need to be SMART. This is based on a framework initially developed by George Doran in an article in Management Review in 1981:

I read the original Doran article for the first time this past week. While I’ve heard the term “SMART goals” for years, Doran used the term “SMART” to define corporate “objectives.” Without knowledge of the original Doran terminology, that is the term we’ve used at Potomac as well. We encourage Potomac employees to identify their goals and think about the best path forward to achieving them using a
framework that looks something like this:

My personal example:

Early last year, coming off shoulder surgery, I was concerned about its impact on my health. I knew many of my preferred exercise activities were now off-limits, including cancelling a planned ski trip with friends.
I wanted to ensure I stayed in shape, so I decided I wanted to walk more. I’d also been reading about the mental (and physical) health benefits of being outdoors for some portion of the day. I decided I wanted to spend more time outside. Lastly, since I often sit at a screen for much of the day, I thought that quiet time by myself would be beneficial for me and Potomac.


I started 2023 by walking my neighborhood before work. I didn’t do it every day, but most. I’d also try and go for a longer walk/run on weekends. After a couple of months, I looked at my iPhone’s Health app and saw I was averaging 3,000 more steps than 2022. Being a math geek, I realized that would be more than 1,000,000 steps over the course of the year. I thought that would be really cool! 1 million more of anything sounded like a huge accomplishment.

I did some more math and to get to 1,000,000 more steps, I needed to average 2,740 more steps per day.
I felt that was hard, but achievable and led to my SMART objective:

Objective SMART Objective
I am going to regularly walk my neighborhood on days with no commute I will walk 1,000,000 more steps in 2023 than 2022 (as measured by my phone).

The Result:

The 3,000+ pace was tough to maintain. During the summer, I found it harder to keep up my walking habit, especially on weekends. By autumn, the average was down to 2,500 steps so I figured out how much I’d need to increase my walking to get to the 2,740 per day pace. I tried – but had a hard time increasing activity to the needed pace and remained flat throughout the Fall. By the end of October, I knew I was going to fall short.

As the year approached the finish line, with my shoulder now fully healed, our family went on a ski trip. I managed to ski 6 days and got the most exercise of any week I had the whole year! And all of it was spent outdoors.

Yet, my phone (correctly) didn’t count any of my skiing as “steps.” By December 27, I was down to 2,445 more steps per day than 2022, the lowest it had been all year. Multiply that by 365 and you get 892,425 more steps. I had failed to hit the 1 million step objective by more than 10%.

The Result, Part 2:

I am “goal-oriented” and don’t like missing objectives. It would be easy for me to dwell on being 100,000 steps short of my objective. But I was able to flip my mindset and focus on the original goals: I had exercised more, spent a lot more time outside, and had time to quietly reflect.

Goals Achieved?
I want to exercise more.
I want to spend more time outside.
I want to spend time by myself (e.g., thinking, listening to music/podcasts).

It was during one of the walks that I came up with the idea to write this article. Keep your priority
focused on the outcome that you want to achieve, not the measurement.

Epilogue: 2024 Goals:

I am very much still working on how I want to implement these (more on that later), but I’ve come up
with a few goals so far for 2024.

I decided to start with this piece. I hope you’ll join me as I start my walk toward achieving my 2024
goals. Have a Happy New Year!

To receive email notifications when new Currents arrive, click here