I remember sitting in a tiny cold studio apartment ten years ago in Nagoya, Japan as the autumn made its transition to winter. I had cleared off a narrow space on the desk in front of my computer monitor and had a small blue Japanese notebook open in front of me. With a pen, I wrote the week down and then I set several objectives beneath it. This was the beginning of a deliberate and ongoing approach to work that I carry through to this day.

Since then, I’ve iterated, tweaked, and optimized how I approach achieving goals. Somewhere on this path, I worked with a business coach. When we ended the engagement, I asked him a few questions to improve my self-knowledge. One of them was, “What do I do well?” He told me that out of everyone he worked with, I was in the top 1% of being able to set and achieve objectives.

Self-knowledge is important when setting and working towards goals. The better you understand yourself, the smarter you are about framing objectives in a way that makes it more likely that they’ll be accomplished. In particular, I seek out how to apply my strengths to achieving goals. Leveraging strengths makes challenging objectives less challenging and enables you to raise the bar with what you seek to accomplish.

Recently, I developed a useful method to tap into my strengths. After setting objectives, I create some form of game that is based on me using a strength. The objectives I set are the what, the game is the how.

For me, one of my strengths is strategic thinking. Here’s the game I created for my last set of objectives:

The game is that anytime I find an exploit, shortcut, or way to delete or delegate effectively, in a way that makes it easier to execute these objectives, I get a point. If it’s unconventional, I get 2 points.

To win the game, I need to get five points over a three-week period for a small prize.

It’s a tiny optimization, but I’ve been surprised at how it affects my thinking and behavior. The above game is the third one I’ve created. The first one was also designed around strategic thinking and the result was that I completed all my objectives in less than half the time I gave myself. The second game I created was oriented around focus as a strength, and while also effective, it had a side effect that I became anxious about finding enough dedicated focus periods in my week.

For you, if you know your strengths, it’s a worthwhile optimization to try for your next set of quarterly “rocks” or monthly goals. It’s also worth considering how un-necessary challenges like this might positively affect your team in achieving their objectives.