Episode #11 - Is there a parallel between shrinking your waistline and growing your business?

Behind the Screens #5: How setting personal goals can benefit the business

This week Nic and Nathalie sit down to talk about the benefits of setting both personal and business goals. We’re now halfway through 2020 (and what a beginning to the year it’s been!) which seems like as good a time as any to review those January resolutions.

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to disrupt organisations across the globe. Business plans, forecasts and even products aren’t looking the same as they were when the year began. Goals we set for ourselves may have looked optimistic and achievable in January, and now look near impossible come July. Could using this midpoint in the year to compile a different set of goals help people regain a sense of control that was lost to lockdown turmoil?

Nic sets goals on a regular basis but lacks accountability and review. With CookiesHQ now on a steadier path than it was a few months ago, he’s found the headspace to look back on what he’d wanted to achieve this year. He particularly enjoys the satisfaction of forming new habits, and has found there’s an interesting parallel between shrinking your waistline and growing your business.

Nat is less rigid in her goal setting and points out that the 1st of January looks the same as 31st December to her. She tends to pick something she enjoys, such as mentoring, and aim to do more of it – which she has! Perhaps the secrets to her success lie in her famously neat notebook…

While people set goals and measure success in different ways, Nic and Nat agree that there’s a universal satisfaction in ending the day with a completed to-do list, meeting your KPIs or hitting that deadline. However, as 2020 has shown us, it’s just as important to be flexible with your goals when situations arise out of your control.



This is the fifth in a series of Behind the Screens episodes in which Nic and Nathalie will reflect on everything going on at CookiesHQ and look ahead to what’s on the horizon.

Join the conversation on the CookiesHQ Twitter. Head over to LinkedIn to find out more on Nic and Nat.

Read the transcript

Nic:
Hello, and welcome to the Tough Cookies Podcast. It’s another episode of our Behind The Screens series where Nat and I speak about what’s going on in CookiesHQ. How are you, Nat?

Nathalie:
I’m okay, thank you. Hello.

Nic:
Hello. How was your week?

Nathalie:
Positive, actually, this week after a few months of struggle, we’ll say with the whole COVID-19 situation. So we’ve just finished our first quarter of the year. So we’ve had to look at numbers in particular and actually it was quite positive. So all the hard work that we have put in in the past couple of months has paid off clearly because yeah, we managed to still grow and make quite a decent profit margin and everything. So yes, I’m very happy that everything we’ve been doing is working.

Nic:
It’s a shame that we can’t celebrate just altogether. That’s the kind of thing where we normally would bring croissants, pain au chocolat, and do a big breakfast all together.

Nathalie:
Yeah. But yeah. And obviously it’s the work of the whole team. We couldn’t have done it just the two of us. So yeah, in between everyone, I think they all stepped up and they all helped us to go through this tricky, very tricky phase. And we’re not out of the woods yet, but it’s a bit of positive in what’s been quite a difficult quarter and a rocky quarter, but I mean, it’s the same for everyone out there, I’m guessing. But yeah, it’s good and it brings… I don’t know, it just makes me happy and still tired and stressed and all of that, but yeah, it’s positive. How about you?

Nic:
If you’re happy, I’m happy, that’s the first thing. Yeah, very good week. Got a lot done last week, produced quite a few documents, managed to work on some code as well, which was interesting. Had a little fix in getting into code again after month off CTOing, which was great. And I started to activated some goals as well. So I work extremely sensitive into dates. So anything like, “Okay on Monday, I will start to get healthy. Or it’s the 1st of January and I’m going to set some goals.” And we were approaching, so obviously we’re now the early July, but this week we’ve passed the 1st of July, which is the half of the year. And I think with the whole COVID and the whole situation in the world, it felt like the right time to set new goals and say, “Okay, from the 1st of July, I’m going to start something new.” And that’s what I did in the past weeks, so probably a week before the 1st of July, I was thinking about what really matters, what I really wanted to achieve. Sat down, wrote them, and it feels good.

Nathalie:
You do that quite regularly though. I mean, I know you do it at the start of the year, usually for the 1st of January, kind of during the Christmas break, you take time to think about that and you do it on a regular basis to review those goals and set new goals.

Nic:
I do them on a regular basis. I don’t know if I review them on a regular basis. I do set them on a regular basis. And I think that’s what I was probably lacking most of the time, is the review of them and some time, the accountability as well. Early on in Cookies, we were certainly, or I was certainly lacking the accountability in my goals. Obviously now it’s a bit different. We have regular board meetings and things set up to keep all of us accountable. I think I really started to look at those differently in 2019 when my only goal for… Two goals, my only real goals for 2019 was to lose weight, I think after years of raising kids, working for yourself, and not looking after yourself, I kind of like piled on a serious amount of weight.

Nic:
And I decided to go for a weight loss thing. And as I think I did every single January of the year since we know each other, but this time somehow it’s stuck. I think this time I really enjoyed… I took it one day after another and I enjoyed the habit formation that came with the goal of weight loss. I enjoyed the little by little increments. I enjoyed the everyday success, at least for the first six, eight months. And then I manage to lose a serious amount of weight, which somehow without thinking about it, it had a dramatic impact, I think on Cookies, not me just being lighter, just I think this idea of having daily actions, having set a discipline for daily activities helped me setting the same kind of discipline in Cookies as well.

Nathalie:
It’s forming habits. I think it’s the same when you work and in your personal life is, if you don’t have this habit of doing something every single day, when you go on a weight loss journey, you wake up early in the morning, you go do some exercise, you go for a run. You’re more careful when you get your meals ready and all of that. It’s the same with work is, you don’t do just your day to day that you would do normally, but you also add a little bit every day where, I don’t know, you write for the blog every single day, but little by little, and that’s why the progress is made.

Nathalie:
So obviously all the rest still has to happen, but it’s these little add-ons that make the difference and that actually make you feel good, because you feel like you’re achieving more. And when you review your goals after a few weeks or a few months, that’s where you see the results of the little bits that you’ve been doing every day have actually achieved this great thing that you wanted to do.

Nic:
It’s certainly, this compound effect is extremely powerful. Once you pass the first pain of actually acting on your goals and the change of your everyday life. So obviously weight loss, you’re going to have to change your eating habits. You’re going to have to change your exercise habits and try to not run for the biscuit tin all the time. And we’ve got plenty of biscuits in the office as well. So that was difficult at the time, but the change helped me forming new habits for Cookies. And I think it kind of was linked to what was our best year so far.

Nic:
I think the two were linked because I was more focused on myself, I was more focused on Cookies at the time. But I kind of lost that in the second part of the year. And certainly like January this year, I was trying a little bit, but I completely lost the whole focus on losing weight again and doing these daily habits on looking after myself. And I basically ended up piling weight again, which I didn’t feel good about it. I didn’t feel good. I was really feeling good by mid last year when I was a my lowest you’ve ever known me.

Nathalie:
Well, it’s energy levels. It’s mindset as well. And it’s being more positive and yeah, I think more energy and wanting to do more and do actual bits here and there.

Nic:
So what I did was, and it’s weird how your brain functions sometimes, I guess. The whole thing started with an Instagram post. One of those very cheesy entrepreneur porn kind of Instagram posts that was like, I don’t know, I can’t even remember the picture. But the text said something along those lines, which I think we all know, but sometime just reading it is like, actually it’s that easy, was not to set goals, basically set between two and three goals, make your what is going to be your measure of success? Set a deadline. And set your next three actions that you’re going to do for each of these goals. And it was late June and it was like, “Yeah, I haven’t done that in a long time.”

Nic:
So I took my notebook they offered me for Christmas and started to nicely put down, “Okay. For the next 90 days, I’m going to lose 20 pounds in weight. I’m going to find new clients. I’m going to find so much clients and it’s going to have so much of financial impact.” And I thought we’d stop at that, which is what I normally do, it’s basically a goal for myself and a goal for Cookies. And I’ve added an extra one, which is more about writing. There is something about sharing writing, blog post, things like we do here, like podcasting and sharing the whole journey, kind of documenting what’s going on. And we used to be really good at it with Cookies and somehow in the past, I don’t know the past year or so, we kind of lost touch with the regular blog posting, writing, documenting, sharing what’s going on, or sharing what we learn.

Nic:
So I’ve set myself a goal of writing a minimum of 300 words a day and that’s actually my first task in the morning is actually when I wake up, I went and sit down and I go for writing 300 words a day. And somehow within a week, apparently I already have two blog posts that could be ready to be be published very soon, which is very encouraging. And I really like this idea of sharing and I really like this idea of hoping that some of the articles or what we do is helping other people.

Nathalie:
I think the sharing still happens. Maybe it happens in different forms, whether it’s going to meetups or giving talks or mentoring entrepreneurs. And the writing, the blogging, it’s sad, but it always comes as the least priority because it’s not crucial to what we do every day. And yeah, we do client work first and we do company work first and unfortunately the blogging comes at sort of the bottom of the pile. But other people do it in the team and this all should be a shared effort, it shouldn’t be just you and me writing the blog posts. And it’s not just you and me. It’s a lot of other people involved. So…

Nic:
No. No. No. But there is something that I really like the feeling of pushing publish on a blog post. And I don’t know, when you read, it’s very egocentric. I know it, but when you read somebody like having a comment on one of your posts or just sending you an email saying, “Hey, this article really helped me.” Or, “Hey, I’m doing that. I’ve read that in your blog post, but how about I will try to do that?” Kind of thing. It’s really good. I really like that feeling of, okay, maybe somewhere in the world, we’ve helped someone going from A to B.

Nathalie:
Well, the same way that you read blog posts, you think that, and sometimes you reach out to the authors and it’s all trying to give a little bit of what you’ve learned to someone who’s not as far in their journey and still have more to learn, but yeah, it’s always learning from the next person. Isn’t it?

Nic:
Maybe I should comment a thank you on this entrepreneur porn on Instagram thing that-

Nathalie:
Yeah, if you can find it again.

Nic:
… kicked me in the butt to actually write my goals. But somehow, the process is a process I’ve never went into the length of actually writing down the goals, writing down what is going to be the measure of success. And more importantly, writing down the three habits that are going to be formed for each goal. So I now know that in order to lose weight, I will exercise daily, I will eat healthy daily, and I will take a break on healthy eating for one meal a week. That’s the schedule.

Nic:
In order to find new work, I know that daily, I will have to possibly contact people. I will have to go back to the lead list and produce content. And that’s my daily three tasks for that. And for the writing, I know that every morning when I sit down, I make a cup of tea and I just start writing on whatever I’ve planned to write on that day. And I think this idea of putting what are going to be the three key actions for your goals, it’s something I’ve never done. And it led me now to, I’ve always looked at your notebook and you have a really nice and neat writing and everybody commends on your notebook. Everybody commends on Nathalie’s notebook because they are impeccable writing.

Nathalie:
I remember, a client just making a comment during a meeting just because he was watching me write and I become really self conscious because I wasn’t sure if he was trying to read what I was writing and actually, no, he just commented on how neat the writing was. Quite funny.

Nic:
But I’m now tracking daily, have I done the activities I’m supposed to do? And obviously I’ve got the daily to do list and all that, which normally for me was on a loose A4 paper that would go in the bin after the day kind of thing. And this time it’s in a really nice notebook and I’ve been extremely productive somehow. I’ve been extremely productive and I feel really good.

Nathalie:
It’s good. Again, it’s habits. So the key here is to obviously not just be motivated for the first week or month, it’s to actually keep it going for… If it’s forming new habits, then it will be years to come. And I think that’s what I struggle with, it’s forming new habits. And I feel like I can’t change my ways too much. So I do set goals ish, but I wouldn’t do it as strict as you do. And for me, the 31st of December is the same day as the 1st of January. There’s no steps and there’s no… I don’t know. It doesn’t really make a difference to me. I don’t see the goals in the same way. Obviously we’ve got the goals for the company in terms of revenue and profit and team and projects and clients. And obviously we set those for the year and for the quarters and these will be reviewed regularly.

Nathalie:
And for myself, I know what I want to action, as in this year, I want to do some more mentoring. So I’m just going to go out and see which programs need mentor and apply to those. But it’s not forming new habits, it’s things that I already do and then I try to add something if I want to achieve a particular thing, then I’ll action is, but I don’t see the goals in the same way as you do. And I don’t structure them. And maybe in my head there are KPIs, but I’m not too sure. And I think I’m just… I don’t know why. I just-

Nic:
Have you ever tried to sit down and say, “Okay, three big things I want to achieve in the next 90 days and I’m going to write them?”

Nathalie:
I think my biggest problem, and it’s been true for the past few years and probably, I mean, since the Cookies is big enough to be a completely full time job and we’ve got kids on top of it, I feel like there’s no room for me and I know it would just be a bit of change, but there’s no room for me to change anything. Because I run from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep. I don’t know what I should change because I don’t feel like, I’m not in control of my whole schedule, I’m only in control of my working hours, which are usually quite short. And the rest of it revolves around the kids and their schedule. And I can’t change that. It’s not in my hands.

Nathalie:
So I’m quite limited in terms of what I can actually do. And then I mean, running an agency, it’s time consuming and there’s always a lot to do. And there’s sometimes more reactive than proactive. And obviously there are things that need to get done, but again, I don’t feel like I’ve got a lot of wiggle room to add anything else or to change anything the way I do. I try to be more structured in my work in terms of setting goals for the week. I know what I need to achieve that week or that month, but it’s more writing the to do list, than having the goal.

Nic:
Task based, rather than goals, yeah. But I think… So I’m extremely… So I’m a creature of habit. I need habit, I crave habits, and I crave structure myself. And obviously people like me will say, “Well, easy enough, just wake up early,” because I’m an early riser. So it’s like, yeah, wake up a bit more early and then you can achieve stuff when nobody’s awake. The kids are not around. Or some other people will say, “Well, don’t watch TV in the evening and do that thing that you want to do.”

Nic:
It was, I think I’ve heard a talk from Gavin, JamFactory. So he’s a senior designer at Aardman, but he’s also an extremely prolific creator on the side. He always has projects on the go and he would create toys, he would write books, and create fantastic things online. And he is just a prolific creator. And he does that in his own time. I think he’s a late bird, so he will stay late, which I personally can’t do. But one day, I think they had this goal with his wife or partner or something, to open an online shop. And if I remember well, it was something around jewellery and they were doing jewellery or something like that.

Nic:
And they had this goal of opening an online shop and he said, “Rather than trying to say, okay, we going work on the online shop every day, every night or something like that.” They said, “We are only going to work on it on Wednesday night.” So on Wednesday night, we’re not going to watch TV, we’re not going to do anything else. But on that night, we are only going to work towards the online shop. And after a few months, they launched the online shop. And I find that very powerful. It’s like, okay, you don’t have to change every… I’m the kind of person that if I have a goal, I would say, “Okay, I have to work on it every single day.” And even if it’s small tasks, but I will have to do something every single day. I don’t know if I would have the discipline to say, “Yep, I’m only going to do that on a Wednesday evening.” I don’t think I would.

Nathalie:
It’s easy to go off the rails because if you miss one Wednesday, then it’s a long time until the next one and then two weeks. And then you’re like, “Oh, I didn’t do it in the last week. So might as well. What’s the point? I can miss another week.” And then before you know it, it’s off completely. And I think that’s why you need the daily routine of actually doing everything every single day. And yeah, I think I’m too sensitive to whatever happens in the day. And some days I will stay up late to finish, but it’s more to finish things rather than to stay up late for something. I feel like I haven’t got enough time to do everything that I need to do already. So for me, trying to mentally add something on top of it, it’s just, I can’t picture it.

Nic:
It’s interesting. I don’t know. I can’t live without… I don’t know an idea of, what is the next thing I want to achieve?

Nathalie:
I know what I want to achieve. Like I said, and I told you earlier this year, one of my goals for this year was actually to do more mentoring and I did. I mean, we both took part in the Loop program for tech startups. I now also mentor someone from UWE with the summer scholarship. So I did all of these things and actually I got in touch with quite a few people and I do things with SETsquared. So I activated it. I actioned it immediately in January I got in touch with people, made my plan and I carried on.

Nathalie:
So it was my goal and I’ve actually achieved it and I will probably carry on doing it, but I don’t feel like I can add. But then that’s not something that I need to add daily and it’s not a new habit. For me, it’s a new… I don’t know. It’s a new activity that I do on the side the same way like you’d say, “I’m going to go swimming.” Well, I’m going to go mentoring because I find it fun and fulfilling. So, but yeah, I don’t know. Yeah. It’s a different way of looking at things, but I don’t feel like I can form new habits when I already can’t quite go through my days with everything that I have on my plate.

Nic:
Yeah. I’m having it rather easy at the moment. You actually have a lot to do at the moment and there’s not a lot I can help with. But it’s true that I think somehow since the beginning of the lockdown, the plates piling reversed and you have a lot more somehow to do than… Usually I was the one with a lot to do and not enough time and I don’t know how I ended up in that situation where it’s like… I still have quite a fair amount, but it’s manageable now. I’m not rushing one task after another and ending the day with a non-finished to do list kind of thing.

Nathalie:
It depends on projects that are going on. It depends on clients and we do very different things in the company. So we’re not in charge of the… We’ve always had very separate roles and I guess that’s where it’s coming from. And also, we still are looking to recruit a project manager, which will take a lot of task off my hands. And once we have that new person in the team, I will then be able to breathe again. It’s just been a hard few months, but it’s just the way it is. And I’m not complaining about it, I just need to get through it and the work will get done because I’m trying to be organised every week and have these weekly goals. And maybe when I have a little bit more time, I will try to have another goal, another objective, something else to add that I will feel like I can do it because I’ve got a bit of room to breathe and actually think about something else.

Nic:
You’ve accepted the challenge of recording a minimum of 12 podcasts together.

Nathalie:
See, that was another one.

Nic:
So kind of a goal-ish.

Nathalie:
Yeah, it is. It’s all part of goal setting. But again, it’s not the same as sitting down and having a goal with a deadline, with a KPI, with… It kind of is, it’s just not formalised as much.

Nic:
All right. So, on that note, do you have anything planned for next week? Is there anything that is going to happen next week that you’re looking forward?

Nathalie:
We have more interviews with project manager candidates. There’s still working on projects that are really busy. I don’t know if there’s anything else. There’s a lot of little things that need to happen and the normal agency stuff, managing team, onboarding a new developer, which is going to be interesting because that’s the second person that we onboard during lockdown. And so we’ll see how that happens. Try and make sure that it’s all smooth and everyone is happy. But no, I think that’s all.

Nic:
Well, yeah. I’m helping on-boarding our new developer as well, so I’ve been helping a little bit this week. Simon has helped tremendously on-boarding him. We are planning some video content which is going to be interesting. I’ve done a few video interviews, I’ve never actually managed to do a face shot kind of video. So hopefully it’s not going to be too terrible. And we-

Nathalie:
I didn’t know that was what were you were planning. I thought it was just like a screen share kind of video.

Nic:
No. No, no, no, no, no. It is a proper face shot video, which is going to be quite interesting. So that’s what’s being planned for the next two weeks and obviously a couple of blog posts writing and, yeah, I feel in control, which I’ve come… I was really not in control in the past few months, and somehow I have a sense of peace now being back and-

Nathalie:
Well COVID did shake the boat and I don’t think anyone was really in control for a few weeks. So there’s probably that piece coming back as well. And actually everyone being able to calm down a little bit and plan for the future, rather than react to the present, I guess, that’s coming as well at the same time. So it’s probably helping.

Nic:
Yeah. Maybe it is. But maybe it’s actually the act of writing goals for yourself and acting on the goals. I don’t know. I would like to think that’s the reason.

Nathalie:
Maybe you should think of having some then.

Nic:
I think we decided to make shorter podcasts, so it’s probably now time to wrap up. As usual, you can find us on www.cookieshq.co.uk. You can also find these podcasts on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. If you have any comments, you can find Nathalie on LinkedIn, Nathalie Alpi. And myself on Nicholas Alpi. And also Nic Alpi on every single other kind of social network available. We will see you very soon next week. Bye.

Nathalie:
See you next week. Bye.

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