The 4 Disciplines of Execution

Have you abandoned a New Year’s resolution? Still want to make lasting change amid the “whirlwind” of daily responsibilities? Consider the research-based method promoted in The Four Disciplines of Execution: Achieving your Wildly Important Goals.

  • Pick only one “Wildly Important Goal”
  • Define positive behaviors that lead to that goal
  • Keep score
  • Stay accountable

Wanting a cleaner house, I recently applied this method to everyday routines. I chose as my Wildly Important Goal “kitchen completely clean by 8:00pm each day.” Every day on the calendar I note the time that cleanup ends. Every time I miss my goal, I look for ways to streamline the process. It’s turned a chore into a game. And the kitchen is starting to stay clean with less effort. At the two month mark, it’s nearly a habit. Hooray!

  • Update April 19, 2013: Still successful with this strategy! Will check in again in a few months.
  • Update Aug 2, 2013: Definitely a habit now; it’s pretty automatic!
  • Update Nov 1, 2013: Cleanup is often done well before 8pm; and I’m looking for a good song about washing dishes to support getting started.
  • Update April 11, 2014: Cleanup temporary abandoned while in the final push on a big project, but the habit has now been re-established.
  • Update Oct 13, 2014: Falling behind on the dishes is now the leading indicator that I’m over-scheduled. Much easier to stay on top of them than get behind.
  • Update Oct 10, 2015: Clean / dirty kitchen still the best indicator of whether I have the capacity to add more to my life (or not).

Although the book targets a business audience, the method applies to behaviors crucial to faculty success, like regular writing sessions:

  • Wildly Important Goal: publish more peer-reviewed research. Phrased more specifically: [paper] to [journal] by [date]
  • Specific behaviors: write [# hrs] per [day / week]
  • Track [pages / words written] and [time spent] and [obstacles to troubleshoot]
  • Find an accountability partner [tracking method, buddy, group, or coach]


“The real enemy of execution is your day job! We call it the whirlwind. It’s the massive amount of energy that’s necessary just to keep your operation going on a day-to-day basis; and, ironically, it’s also the thing that makes it so hard to execute anything new. The whirlwind robs from you the focus required….The whirlwind is urgent and it acts on you…every minute of the day. The goals you’ve set for moving forward are important, but when urgency and importance clash, urgency will win every time. Once you become aware of this struggle, you will see it playing out everywhere.”

~McChesney, Covey, and Huling (2012) The 4 Disciplines of Execution, p. 6-7.