Productive people strive to find the balance between effectiveness and efficiency. The goal is to increase your results with less time and less stress. In his book, The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks Than Others Do in 12 Months (12WY), authors Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington teach you how to do it.
The concept behind the system is to have clear focus on what is most important and to focus on those high priority tasks within a short period of time (12 weeks). The purpose is to overcome distractions and eliminate everything except the top priorities. Moran says that most plans have too much in them. According to author Brian P. Moran, the goal of the 12 Week Year is for you to be great at a few things instead of mediocre at many. When you invest your time, energy, and attention on only what is most important, then you will produce the best results possible.
The system works because of the 12 week time constraint. It is impossible to know exactly what will need to have your attention 11 months from now. In the book, the authors state:
“The farther you plan into the future, the less predictability you have. With long-term plans, assumptions are stacked upon earlier assumptions, which are stacked upon even earlier assumptions. The reality is that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to determine what your daily actions should be 11 or 12 months into the future.”
However, if you are only planning for the next 12 weeks, it is much more reasonable to decide what you should be doing. The system is designed to filter anything that does not directly relate to your 12 week goals. It is perfect mixture of planning plus execution. First, you make a 12 week plan according to clearly defined goals. Next you execute the plan by working on high priority tasks only.
The 12 Week Year (12WY) System
Let’s start by explaining how the 12 Week Year system works. Moran summarizes the system in a single sentence, “Stop thinking in terms of a year; instead focus on shorter time frames.”
- Start with your “why”. Think through what is most important to you, and write it down. Use this to form a vision for the future you want to create.
- Establish your 12 week goals. What do you want to accomplish in the next 12 weeks? Remember that less is more. Limit yourself to 3 or 4 significant goals.
- Create an action plan. Break down your 12 week goals into weekly action plans.
- Review regularly. Track your progress based on how you execute the plan. How well are you performing your lead measures (more on that later)?
If it sounds simple, it is – but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. But there are certain things that can make executing your 12 week year plan more difficult. You want to avoid these, and you can – if you know what to look for. I want to help you by pointing out some of the roadblocks that can detour your path to achieving your ideal future, whether that’s climbing the corporate ladder or launching your side hustle. Here are the most common mistakes we see people make using the 12 week year framework (and how you can overcome them).
Common Mistake #1: Trying to change everything at once
This is the number one mistake people make. But it’s understandable. If you’re like me, whenever something isn’t right you try to fix it. But this mindset can actually hurt you when you implement 12WY because you can’t “focus” on everything at once. You have to choose which area is most important and figure out what you can do that will provide the biggest change in that particular area.
There’s a saying that you can either be an inch deep and a mile wide, or a mile deep and an inch wide. The point is you can’t be both (at least not right away). You must focus your energy if you want to create significant and lasting change. If you try to achieve the elusive “balance” in all areas of your life at once, you will never get there. You’ll never be able to create the change you want but trying to fix all the things. You have to laser focus on the thing that is causing your the most pain and figure out how to change it for the better. Once you’ve taken care of that particular area, you can move on to the next one.
It can be difficult to “neglect” certain areas while you work on one, but it’s important because the whole idea of “balance” is a myth. There will always be more things for you to do than you have resources to accomplish. You have to learn to say “no.” So by giving up on the idea of balance and embracing intentional imbalance, you can shift thing in your favor.
There’s an exercise we use here at Asian Efficiency to help decide what areas to focus on called the Wheel of Life. You can hear more about it (and even hear Thanh apply this personally) in episode 139 of The Productivity Show:
Dojo member Nate Lowrie started using 12WY to transform his life and grow his business. But he didn’t do it all at once. In fact, 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.
Less is better – especially if you’re just getting started with the 12 week year. Start with one thing and do it well. Once you get a few wins under your belt, you’ll gain skill and confidence with the system and you’ll be able to achieve even more.
Common Mistake #2: Not having a strong enough “why”
You absolutely MUST have a compelling personal vision. This is the “why” behind what you want to accomplish and achieve. It provides the motivation to follow through and take action, even when you do’t feel like it. Let illustrate by sharing a personal example.
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 first two core values, which are:
- Glow Green
- Pull Others Up
Help people answer the question “why am I here?” by inspiring, encouraging, and teaching them how to discover their destiny, connect to their calling, and live the life they were created for.
This alignment between my personal mission and the AE core values provides meaning and purpose behind every piece of content I create. It’s my “why” behind all the productivity things. I have a vision and a purpose behind everything I do, and it’s extremely 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.
If you need a little help creating your vision, there’s a great 12WY training course in the Dojo. The course contains 3 videos and several downloads which can help you implement the 12WY yourself. Here’s a section of the first video on why your vision is so important, which includes some great tips for helping you craft your won personal vision.
A compelling vision of the future that is in alignment with your values inspires the consistent action required to carry out your 12WY. It helps you stick with it when it’s uncomfortable or painful because you can see the future you’re trying to achieve. You’ll willing pay the cost of doing something you don’t feel like in the moment because you can see how it will help you achieve your vision. As the saying goes, the price of discipline is far less than the price of regret.
Common Mistake #3: Not tracking your actions
Tracking your actions is important because you are what you repeatedly do. You are always building habits, either by intention or by accident. Every time you shut the TV off and go for a run, you reinforce an intentional good habit. But every time you say “I’ll do that tomorrow” and watch another hour of Netflix, you reinforce an accidental bad habit. Tracking your actions shows you in black & white what habits you are really creating. It shows you what you actually do as opposed to what you think you do (and sometimes, there’s a significant difference).
As I write this, I’m training for a my first half marathon. I’ve been training consistently, and I’ve gone from barely being able to finish a 2 mile run at a 10’00” pace to running over 13 miles at an 8’30” pace (that’s more impressive if you’re a runner). But it didn’t happen overnight. I’ve been running 3x-4x per week for months in order to realize that growth. But it’s paying off.
I’ve made running a habit. In fact, if I go more than a couple of days without a long run, I start to go crazy. Running for me at this point feels better than not running. But that’s because I’ve made it a habit. And every time I get done with a run and see that I ran faster or farther than last time, I get inspired by my growth and it makes me want to keep going.
Tracking is a daily reminder that you’re growing. The gradual gains are made visible by tracking. But tracking your actions doesn’t mean that it’s automatically easy or that you’ll never slip up. There were plenty of days when I excused myself from running. 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. 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.
Be intentional about your habits and track your progress. You could use a habit tracking app on your phone (I like Productive myself), or you could do it paper/pencil.
Common Mistake #4: Focusing too much on lag measures
There are 2 different places you can focus when creating outcomes:
- Lag measures (the measurement of a result you are trying to achieve)
- Lead measures (foretell the result, can be used to “trigger” your goals)
When it comes to making positive change, many people focus on the lag measures. But all the lag measures can tell you is how you did – you either hit your goal or you didn’t. They can’t tell you day to day whether you are going to achieve your goals, they just show you what happened after the fact.
Lead measures, on the other hand, are a great way to predict your success. Lead measures are both predictive, meaning they lead logically to the accomplishment of your goal, and they are influenceable, meaning you can do something about them. You have to focus on the lead measures if you want to hit your 12 week year goals.
Another way to say this is to 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 on the lead measures and not worrying if the results will show up. When I started running, I wasn’t concerned about how far I could run or how fast. I just ran consistently. I knew that if I pushed myself enough to run enough times then the speed and the endurance would come.
You can use the same approach to achieve any goal. I used this approach when I wrote my book. Brooks used this approach when he launched his business. Thanh used when he started Asian Efficiency. If you can dream it, you can achieve it by consistently taking action on the lead measures. The only barrier between you and the life you’ve always dreamed of is consistent execution on the right small actions.
Common Mistake #5: Going it alone
If you’re serious about achieving your goals, the best thing you can do is tell others about it. Many people avoid sharing their 12 week year goals with others because it makes them feel vulnerable. Your vision is very personal, and throwing it out there for the world to see is scary for a couple of reasons:
- You’re afraid you won’t succeed. You don’t want to look like a failure publicly. By not sharing your goals, you ensure that no one can remind you about how you didn’t achieve them.
- You’re afraid of being ridiculed. Your vision may be fragile at the beginning as you’re figuring things out. By not sharing your goals, you make sure no one can threaten your vision or call it “stupid.”
- You’re afraid of the unknown. I’ve met people who were actually afraid of success! They didn’t want to “lose who they were,” so they stayed where it was comfortable instead of stepping out into the unknown.
Fear is a natural part of the process. But it doesn’t have to immobilize you. You can transform your fear into the energy that will help you create your ideal future, but you must shift your perspective. And surrounding yourself with the right people who can support you and encourage you will go a long way in helping you achieve your goals.
And in my own personal opinion, this is the most valuable part of the Dojo – the community. Jim Rohn once said that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. And one of the fastest way to change your situation is to change who you surround yourself with. Put the right people around you and success is inevitable. And the Dojo gives you access to some of the smartest, most productive people on the planet. If you want to surround yourself with like-minded achievers who have embraced a growth mindset, the Dojo is the place for you. There’s even an entire user-created section on the forum devoted to public accountability for people to post their 12 week year progress:
There’s an African proverb that says, “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” So find a few people who will make your world larger instead of smaller and share your vision & goals with them.
To make sure the 12 Week Year will work for you, follow these steps:
- Familiarize yourself with the method (if you haven’t yet)
- Develop a strong vision using some of the tips above
- Identify your lead measures (what will really make a difference) and track it
- Find someone to hold you accountable for your progress (or lack thereof)
And if you need a little more help, check out the Dojo. The Dojo community can provide the accountability you need to achieve your goals, even if you don’t have anyone near you with a growth mindset. You’ll also get access to the whole 12 Week Year video training course and all the supplemental materials (including a spreadsheet like Nate’s) that you’ll need to implement it well.