Seven Ways to Beat the Benchmark – The Value of Stretch Goals


“One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”—Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., American poet and philosopher.

The above quote is one of my favorites. In this New Year, how can you extend it to your performance? Make a decision to stretch yourself beyond your ordinary productive limits! We Americans are famous for our productivity; we regularly exceed our previous peaks. This has become particularly true since the beginning of the electronics revolution, and continued even during the Great Recession of 2008. In part, this may be because we’ve learned to stretch our abilities to new dimensions—since for a while there, we had no choice.

But just as even the finest Spring has its cool or wet spells, not everyone regularly increases his or her productivity. Often there’s room for improvement, whether team-wide or individual. That doesn’t mean we don’t hit our benchmarks, because we usually do. But it also doesn’t mean we’re standing out above the crowd, either; and if you don’t do that, how can you rise in the organizational structure? Make 2017 your year to push your limits!

Stretching Beyond Your Dimensions

Your productivity shouldn’t be noteworthy because it’s “better than it has to be,” in the words of a certain oil company. Make that a given. Your productivity level should be noteworthy because it’s always getting better. To do this requires consistent setting and resetting of stretch goals, with the intentions of excelling and staving off complacency.

Try these seven ways to beat the benchmark and push your productivity ever upward.

1. Exceed set goals by 10%. When leadership sets a specific goal for you, think of it not as a target to reach, but as the lowest acceptable performance. Lift your personal goal to 10% higher or more, whether it involves making sales, completing software modules, or beating the clock.

2. Maintain rigorous quality control. Try harder to do a better job on the first round. Don’t just assume you can come back later and fix something. For example, if you assume you’ll do three edits of all your reports, don’t just pound out any old thing on the first draft. Instead of being sloppy, use the proper phrasing and language the first time. That way, you can focus on good grammar, spelling, and punctuation in your second or third edits rather than rewrite whole sections.

3. Try to beat your best month. Act as your own biggest competitor. At MOBE, a business education company using an affiliate marketing approach, the CEO’s goal is to beat his best month’s revenue every month. For the last five years, he mostly has—and the company recently crossed $100 million in sales. You can use the same approach with your personal productivity.

4. Don’t impose limits on your abilities. Henry Ford once said, “If you think you can do a thing or can’t do a thing, you’re right.” So much has been accomplished by people who didn’t know it was “impossible” that it makes no sense to decide you can’t do something in advance. Even if you can’t, you may still hit new heights.

5. Pretend you’re a superhero. It would be nice to live in a world where Superman or Spider-Man could zoom in and save the day. What could you accomplish in your work if you were the superhero? Now: knowing you’re not, what’s the closest you can come? Even if it’s a little outrageous, what’s to stop you from trying?

6. Take it one bite at a time. You know the old joke: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Your stretch goal may seem like an elephant, but so what? Break it into smaller, more manageable chunks, and achieve those mini-goals. The trick is to keep your momentum.

7. Don’t rest on your laurels. So you’ve finally met that stretch goal. Hooray! Celebrate, take a break—then set another stretch goal, and start building toward it. Don’t just say, “I deserve a break,” and sit back on your laurels.

Moving On Up

Reaching a stretch goal isn’t going to be like taking an express elevator to the top. It’s more like an escalator: it’s slow but it never stops, and you will get their eventually. Attitude and perseverance mean the most here. And no, you don’t have to sacrifice all your free time and health; you just keep pushing onward, until you hit that new peak of productivity, impressing all those who matter—especially you.


© 2016 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored seven books, including Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (January 18, 2016). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and in 2015 was inducted into its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401 or visit her website.



  1. Barry Hall says:

    Great post Laura many thanks, Happy new Year to you and your team.- Barry.

  2. Sonja Lonson says:

    Great post – the last paragraph really resonated with me…Sonja