Number 3

So, what does Jerry Seinfeld and a typical sales person have in common? A focus on a key number. Seinfeld always needed new jokes so early in his career he used a calendar and a big red marker to cross out each day he sat down for a session to write new material. He needed one session per day and made sure every day on his calendar was marked. His number “1” helped him to become number 1 in his area. Anyone working in sales is quite familiar with “meeting the number”, whatever that number is for his or her manager or company.

We often over-think and over-complicate the methods we use for achieving our goals. A great way to achieve our goals is to define a key number and use that as our motivator, measuring stick or target. Here are some examples of how a simple number can positively impact goals and likelihood of achieving them. Use whatever number you want to relate to whatever is important to you. The examples relate to simple numbers (1-10) and are in a range of areas.

  • Number 1: the special thing you do every day to become number one.
  • Number 2: education – read two books per month.
  • Number 3: dieting – the maximum number big meals taken at a restaurant per week.
  • Number 4: fitness – the number of exercise days per week.
  • Number 5: sales – the number of appointments per week for new prospects.
  • Number 6: television – the maximum number of viewing hours per week.
  • Number 7: goal review – the number of days each week for a review.
  • Number 8: sleep – eight hours per night is best for most people.
  • Number 9: goals – the maximum number of items on the goal list.
  • Number 10: networking – meet ten new people per week (or month).

The main idea here is not to create a list like this one, but to simply pick one or more simple things to attach a simple number to. If exercise is a key, pick the number of sessions per week and put a system in place for getting it done. The simpler the number, the easier it is to remember and visualize it being accomplished. Seinfeld had his big full year wall calendar and reminded himself to never break the chain of marked out days.

Why does this work? Because there is no ambiguity nor is there a place to make excuses when there is sufficient importance put on the simple number. When we establish complex systems for our goals, it becomes easier to defeat them through clever means. They are also harder to remember and visualize. They are also harder to explain to others. With something simple like deciding whether or not to watch a television movie, it becomes easier to switch the thing off if the 6, 10, 2 or whatever hour per week quota has already been met.

Be careful about building tolerances into the numbers. There is a place for a zero tolerance or zero deviation goals, but they should be used sparingly and only for the main goal. Build in a little flexibility for other goals that are less important. Beating yourself up for not meeting arbitrary goals can be unhealthy. Another aspect is that the goal number needs to be achievable, even under unusual circumstances. Reading two books per month becomes more difficult if you are traveling on a six week vacation and forgot to bring reading glasses along. No need to force-read four the following month or stress yourself out during the vacation because that would be counterproductive.

An important aspect of picking a simple number is that this works better for the long term than for the short term. This technique is great when you are trying to form habits and create lifestyle changes. If you have a financial problem and are working your way out of debt, a simple goal like a “a minimum $20 per day increase in net worth” won’t do much in the short term. After a few years of this, the outcome can be quite dramatic. Similarly, a weight loss goal for an obese person of say “1 pound per month or sustainable weight loss” won’t do much in the first year but it will form the habit for longer term results.

Don’t forget to build in a termination clause. Keep the weight loss goal going too long and there might be a problem at the other end of the scale. Build in a “mission accomplished” goal number and reward yourself for achieving your desired outcome. Seinfeld probably doesn’t write every day anymore now that his show was a big hit and ran its course. There would have been some great parties and he likely has new goals.

There are a couple points on process that matter. Like with other types of goal setting, there needs to be a visual, tangible way of setting these things down. Use a calendar, notebook, wall chart or some other type of written list to make the number stick to reality. This helps with visualization, demonstrating it to others, maintaining accountability and providing a record. Keep a log of your exercise activities if fitness is your goal. Make it as real as possible. If motivation is a problem, get a partner to help. Having a goal of killing the television viewing won’t work very well if your spouse loves movies but will work great if you are both working on reading more or spending more time in bed.

So, simplify your life by focusing on key numbers. It worked for Seinfeld.

What’s your number?

Peter Paul Roosen and Tatsuya Nakagawa are co-founders of Atomica Creative Group , a specialized strategic product marketing firm. Through leading edge insight and research, sound strategic planning and effective project management, Atomica helps companies achieve greater success in bringing new products to market and in improving their existing businesses. They have co-authored Overcoming Inventoritis now available.

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