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5 Common Mistakes That Cause The 12 Week Year to Fail (and What to Do About Them)

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12 Week Year Tips

The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks Than Others Do in 12 Months (12WY) by Brian P. Moran is a system that has you plan and execute in 12-week periods of time. 12WY teaches you how to increase your current results with less time and less stress.

How?

Not by hiring a team of 4-Hour Workweek (4HWW) virtual assistants from the Philippines. Not by downloading the latest app. Not by working 16-hour days. But by focusing and taking urgent action on the activities that matter most. 

This style of planning and execution forces you to shed the low-value activity that keeps you stuck.

The 12 Week Year (12WY) System

12WY has become a Dojo (Asian Efficiency’s online membership community) favorite. The system is simple.

  1. Create a compelling vision of the future.
  2. Plan what strategies and action steps will get you closer to that future.
  3. Measure your execution to keep yourself on track.

Simple in theory. Simple (but not necessarily easy) in execution.

I’ve been part of Asian Efficiency’s 12WY-style planning ever since I joined the team full time in April 2014.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but two years of being in the planning and execution weeds have given me a few practical insights I’d like to share.

Common Mistake #1

PROBLEM: Trying to change everything at once.
SOLUTION: Focus on the critical few.

Priorities

This is by far the biggest obstacle we faced as a team. As ambitious people, we were eager to make our mark in the world. This caused us to over stuff our weeks with huge projects that never got enough attention.

After a year getting beat down by overly optimistic planning syndrome (oops for short), we finally got more realistic about what our team could do in three months. ‘Less, but better’ has produced more results for Asian Efficiency. Our audience size and business revenue has grown. At the same time, our team members’ stress levels and workload has gone down.

Dojo member Nate Lowrie agrees (read his case study here on how he implemented the 12 Week Year). Nate’s on his third 12WY. His #1 tip is to not try to do it all:

Don’t try to do everything or even half of everything. The purpose of the 12 week year is to narrow your focus for the 12 weeks down to the 1-3 goals that matter so you can make incredible progress on those things. The biggest mistake I have made is trying to cram too much into the 12 weeks. I think that 3 major goals is a good limit with 1-5 “tactics” per goal.

Common Mistake #2

PROBLEM: Not creating a compelling PERSONAL vision.
SOLUTION: Focus on how the action is moving you closer to the life you want to live.

inspiration

When I joined the Asian Efficiency team, we went over the core values, purpose, strategic plans, culture, and vision. These had me fired up. Especially the core values.

I could see how the mission of the business (to make the world a better and more efficient place) dovetailed with my personal mission (to help others find more focus and clarity in their lives.) The relationship worked. But sometimes I had to do things for the business that I didn’t enjoy. It wasn’t until I sat down and wrote out my entire personal manifesto that I saw how most of the actions I was taking at Asian Efficiency aligned with where I wanted to go.

Knowing that I was building the life I wanted to live was motivating. This was Dojo member Katie R’s insight as well:

My second tip, which I did some time ago but realize was so important to me being able to determine my short and long term goals is to create your personal manifesto and your values. The personal values activity was a game changer for me (if you search the forum you will see discussions on these and I believe I also wrote about how I went about this activity too – a way I would highly recommend). It not only helped me to understand myself better, but to make better decisions, and when I did my goal setting activity, I better understood what my goals were really about. I used to make goals lists and compare, and then change mine to be how others were because I thought I was “doing it wrong”. I wasn’t. I just didn’t understand what my values really were, and so why those goals were important to me.

A compelling vision of the future is something you want even more than your short-term desire for comfort.

I don’t always want to:

  • Present a webinar
  • Go to Toastmasters
  • Write an article
  • Record the podcast outros

But I see how all these activities help me live out my mission. I also see how they align with my values and bring me closer to my “perfect day.” That knowledge gives more energy and motivation to my daily activities. With a regularly scheduled review of my personal manifesto, procrastination isn’t something that happens to me much anymore.

Common Mistake #3

PROBLEM: Failing to plan.
SOLUTION: Make your mistakes on paper.

Planning on the detailed colorful timelines

In late 2015, we hit a major bump at Asian Efficiency.

Aaron Lynn, AE’s co-founder, decided to leave the team. In addition to the legal and financial work that comes with dividing an international company, we were in the midst of planning our first live event. Our plan wasn’t perfect. In fact, we made a lot of mistakes. We spent too much on the production side, and ticket sales weren’t where they needed to be to cover the costs.

For about three months, from October to December of 2015, we were scrambling. The unexpected circumstances meant we had to make things up on the fly.

The new year came. The dust finally settled.

But, after three months of shooting from the hip, we’d gotten out of practice. We skipped our first quarterly planning session. We didn’t even think about it. Because of this, we overextended ourselves in some areas and didn’t push hard enough in others.

This less focused quarter reminded us that we’re not “too smart” to plan. Planning. Making your mistakes on paper. Always pays dividends in saved time, energy, money, and frustration.

If you are serious about building a business and a life that makes an impact, book your next four 12-week planning sessions now. Your planning is done on the 13th week. We happen to start at the new year. Some people use the fiscal calendar. You can start your 12-week cadence at any time. If right now makes sense, start now. If not, book a calendar appointment.

Setting simple, measurable, positively stated goals with weekly actions that will lead to the achievement of those goals will be the most productive time you’ll ever spend. And if you’re productivity nerds like us, it’ll also be pretty fun.

Common Mistake #4

PROBLEM: Not having an easy way to track your actions.
SOLUTION: Put the tracker in your face.

seinfeld method

Tracking your actions is important for two reasons.

1. It holds you accountable.

You need accountability. If your current system lets you drop the ball and not notice when planned actions are missed, the system will not produce results. It’s as simple as that.

2. It motivates.

The two things that motivate people more than anything else are:

  • Growth
  • Recognition of that growth

Think about it. When you achieve a goal, how do you feel? Pretty great. What about when someone notices you’ve lost those pounds, hit that business milestone, or cleaned up the basement. Even better, right?

In a way, that’s what tracking gives us. A daily reminder that we’re growing. The gradual gains are made visible by tracking.

I’m focused on my evening ritual at the moment. It’s my goal to be in bed each weeknight by 9pm.

The early bedtime has been a challenge for me. The first week I succeeded two out of the five weeknights. The next week I’m not sure how I did.

Why?

I hadn’t made my tracking system dead easy. I was relying on my journaling practice to let me know if I went to bed on time. But I often forgot to write down if I’d achieved my bedtime goal or not. After a day or two of missed tracking, I had no idea how I was doing on my ritual.

On week three, I finally took a taste of my own medicine and started using the tracker I had created for the recent evening ritual challenge.

Paper tracker

Click here to download.

Nate also experienced a bit of friction when tracking his results.

You have to have an easy way to track it and you have to ritualize the tracking. The first 12WY cycle I started without a scorecard at all. Eventually, I stopped doing the scorecard because it was a pain to manually keep track of it all. The second cycle I developed an at-a-glance Excel sheet for me to track.

Nates-score-card-768x470

It was A LOT better and removed the friction of tracking it. But, I still had the issue of finding a time to enter the tracking. I had made it a before-bed activity, but half the time I would leave my laptop downstairs and then just say screw it, I’ll do it in the morning. This third 12WY cycle, I am tweaking the format further. I now have a poster with the scorecard blocks for the week hung on the wall in my master bathroom. Each day, as a part of my evening ritual, I simply mark what I’ve done with a pen. Then, I’ll take it down at the end of the week and put it into Excel as part of the weekly review.

Avoid our mistake and make your tracking system dead simple. If you like tracker apps, use those. If you need something more visual like Nate and me, I’d suggest putting something up on the wall, whiteboard, or cork board.

(Sneak Peak: We’re currently working with Jesse at NeuYear to make both Ritual and 12WY tracking even easier.)

Common Mistake #5

PROBLEM: Focusing too much on lag indicators.
SOLUTION: Focus on the behavior, not the outcome.

New goals don’t deliver new results. New actions do. For this reason, 99% of your energy should go into taking action (and not worrying if the results will show up).

My fiancée (this is the first time I’ve typed that…yay!) recently lost a great deal of weight with this one tracking strategy. She got a virtual coach at MyBodyTutor.com and tracked everything she ate and drank. She focused on the lead indicator of nutrition and let the lag indicator of body weight take care of itself.

It’s easy to focus your attention on the scale. The goal is to lose weight, right?

But it’s the sleep, diet, daily movement, and exercise that’s going to get you to your ideal weight. Focusing on the outcome can be a hard habit to break. Making tracking dead simple can help with this.

young fitness woman runner running on trail

Consistent execution is everything. The only barrier between you and the life you’ve always wanted is consistent execution.

In Conclusion

Creating a compelling vision will inspire and motivate. Planning the strategy and execution tactics in 12-week sprints will allow you to make swift progress. And an effective tracking system will keep you on your path.

Simple in theory doesn’t always make it simple in execution. Learn from my mistakes. And knock your next 12 Week Year out of the park!

If you want to get more 12WY implementation tips, enter your name and email below and we’ll let you know when we have something new to share.

12 Week Year Tips

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10 Comments

Posted by Matt  | August 31, 2016 at 10:25AM | Reply

I’ve on my first 12WK YR and it’s been going good so far. I developed a spread sheet to develop my goals and measure my lead indicator performance against those goals. I’d love to share the spreadsheet with anyone interested.

Posted by Paul  | August 31, 2016 at 12:40PM | Reply

Hey Matt, I’d love it if you could share your spreadsheet.

Great review too Zac
I’m doing my first 12WY as well and it’s certainly showed me a lot of weak spots in my execution. I write my progress every week and I find it’s always an eye-opener. It’s easy to think I’ve been productive but the scorecard tells whether or not I’ve actually executed my critical actions and more often than not, I haven’t.

I definitely identify with feeling the friction towards tracking and not being in the habit of tracking consistently. I probably need to adopt your strategy of printing it out poster-style and hanging it up somewhere where it’s easy to mark off each evening. The biggest friction for me though is actually checking my weekly plan everyday, so hopefully that will help with that. My execution is always better when I do, but flops when I go days on end without simply looking at my plan.
We actually have very similar goals looking at your scorecard.
Keep it up & love to read more of your system.
Cheers
Paul

Posted by Maria  | September 3, 2016 at 10:41AM | Reply

I just started to follow with AE in July. I have tendency to try to bite more than I can open my mouth and choke on my goals pretty fast, giving up on the goals all together. Signing up for the tips, hopefully will allow me to start slower but be more productive and more successful.
BTW, Zach, congratulations on your engagement! All the best!

Posted by Matthew Foucheaux  | September 6, 2016 at 10:27AM | Reply

Few things I’ve done are:

1: Print out my 12 week goals and my weekly tracking sheet so that I can keep tally of all my actions through out the week.
2: Set my 12 week plan as my desktop background on my computer. That way I see it every single time I’m on my computer and can review it daily.
3: I also have a standing appointment on my calendar to review my weekly action.s

Posted by Suzanne Hanks  | September 15, 2016 at 10:37AM | Reply

Hi Matt,
I’d be interested in your spreadsheet if you’ll send it my way…thank you!

Posted by Beau Branson  | September 19, 2016 at 7:31AM | Reply

Does anyone have a recommendation for a website that has *brief* and *focused* information about the 12-week year?

I will never cease to be amazed at programs and products supposedly about time-management / productivity that spend enormous amounts of time conveying essentially no, or extremely little, actual information about their products. (As, for example, the links I have seen so far to the 12-week year).

It’s difficult to know whether one wants to invest in something if the sales pitch itself is so long one can’t possibly listen to it.

Posted by Matt  | September 21, 2016 at 9:14AM | Reply

I’m not sure how to share the spreadsheet.

Posted by scott  | January 7, 2017 at 11:36PM | Reply

Hey Matt,

I am reading the book and I am about to start my 12 week year. I love to take you up on your offer of using your spreadsheet. Thanks,

Scott

Posted by John  | May 7, 2017 at 7:35AM | Reply

Great article! One of my biggest challenges is paring things down goal-wise to the top three most important. I guess I just don’t want anything to slip through the cracks. Thanks!

Posted by Drew  | July 31, 2017 at 11:08AM | Reply

Hi Matt, just upload it to Google Drive and paste the link here (just make sure sharing permissions are set so that anyone with the link can view). You can even convert it to a Google Spreadsheet easily so people can literally use it instantly online, make their own versions and post them, etc.

Or can share on Dropbox if you prefer that service.

If you haven’t guessed, I would also like to check it out! :)

Thanks.

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