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Week planning Notebook

Planning and time management can be tough for anyone. Planning just one month ahead requires careful thought and quite a bit of organization. 

Trying to map out an entire year? That’s really tough. 

It was this reality/difficulty that led Brian P. Moran to develop his 12-week year premise. His book, The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months, is intended to help you think in terms of 12 weeks rather than twelve months. 

By shortening your execution cycle (his term), you get more done in much less time. 

Throughout this guide, we’ll break down precisely what the 12 week year is, how it can help you achieve your goals, and how you can implement the system in your day-to-day life.

While this strategy may not be suitable for all people, everyone can extract some value from the 12-week year philosophy, even if it’s just a re-examination of how they currently use their time.

What Exactly Is The 12 Week Year?

In the 12 week year, authors Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington ask readers to consider redefining what constitutes a year. 

Instead of the 12-month time frame, they propose that people begin viewing a year as a 12-week sprint. 

The basis behind this idea has to do with people’s focus, motivation, and energy levels and how they fluctuate throughout the standard year. The authors found that people are much more motivated and driven to accomplish their goals during the first quarter of the year. 

This motivation, however, quickly sags during the second and third quarters and doesn’t pick back up until the final three months of the year. 

In fact, several studies have shown that most businesses make 40% of their progress towards their annual goals in the last 12 weeks of each year. The reason for this is the end of the year creates a sense of urgency.

In response, Morgan and Lennington suggest that if people adopt a 12 week year and set goals accordingly, it will help them maintain motivation and drive.

The end result? They accomplish much more in the long run. 

During a 12 week year, it feels as if the end is always looming, and this lack of time pushes people towards completing whatever tasks or goals they have laid out.

In short, the 12 week year is both a philosophy and methodology that helps individuals and organizations better achieve their goals. 

Success With The 12 Week Year

In the book, Moran explains that to successfully implement the 12 week year, you must consider eight key elements:

Vision 

It’s nearly impossible to achieve goals when they haven’t been clearly identified, and defining goals requires a clear-headed vision to create a realistic picture of the future. 

Planning

It is one thing to decide to achieve something, but achieving it is another thing entirely. As most people know, it’s next to impossible to accomplish anything without proper planning, and the planning process can be difficult. 

One of the biggest mistakes people make when planning focusing solely on the how and ignore other issues, such as scope. In the most simple terms, the scope defines exactly what goals are going to be accomplished and helps people maintain vision. 

If you find yourself working on something that’s outside the scope of your overall goal or mission, you know you’ve overstepped and need to pull back.

When considering scope, it’s helpful to rank each goal from most to least important. Doing this allows you to direct your energies appropriately, especially if time is running out in the 12-week sprint.

Process Control

Process control deals with the small details of the planning process. For example, say your goal was to lose 5 pounds in 12 weeks. You might use a time block approach to scheduling, where specific hours of each day are dedicated to different activities. 

You may block off time in the morning for cardio, a few hours in the afternoon for weight training, and sometime in the evening for working on your diet. If you miss a blocked-off time period for one reason or another, part of process control is having a plan in place to make up for it.

Measurement

Without having key metrics to measure success, it’s almost impossible for you to determine if you’re on track. If you find you’re not making progress at the necessary rate, you know you need to make an adjustment, whether it be in methodology or expectations.

Time Use 

Time must be used efficiently and with intention. In the 12 month year, you feel like you always have plenty of time to catch up. Annual goals and plans can create complacency. The 12 week year avoids the pitfalls of annual goals. Every day matters and you feel a sense of urgency. The 12 week year creates focus.

Accountability 

Learning from failure is a big part of growing and achieving success. Unfortunately, many people never truly learn from their mistakes because they aren’t capable of taking full responsibility for their actions. Without accountability, the 12 week year philosophy won’t work.

Commitment

There’s nothing more rewarding than setting a goal and accomplishing it, and doing so requires serious commitment. If you don’t fully commit to the 12 week year, you won’t experience success and won’t see your goals met.

Greatness In The Moment

Once your goals have been achieved, it’s important to sit back and reflect on what led to the success. If there were aspects of the 12-week sprint that could have gone better, this is an excellent time to brainstorm what went wrong and how improvements can be made in the future.

How Does The 12 Week Year Work?

As with any system, the 12 week year is only useful if properly implemented. We’ll elaborate on some of the concepts explored in the previous section and create a roadmap of how to properly create a 12-week plan and implement it.

Define The Why

Motivation is a big factor in success, and without clearly defining your why, you may lose commitment and drive over the course of 12 weeks. 

Because of this, Moran recommends writing two different statements. The first should convey how you want your life to unfold over the long term, and the second should be focused on the short term, outlining exactly what you want to accomplish over the next 365 days. 

These statements are important and will serve as the basis for meaning, context, and motivation throughout a 12-week sprint.

For example, say you run an online business selling t-shirts and other apparel. Your first statement might read something like…

“I want to build my business up to six-figure revenue, which will give me enough money to start purchasing rental properties, which will allow me to spend more time with my family.”

On the other hand, the short-term statement might read something like…

“Over the next 365 days, I want to increase my sales by 145% so I can increase my marketing budget and offer my clients cheaper shipping options.”

Set SMART Goals For Each Of The 12 Week Sprints

After defining the why, it is time to define precisely what you want to accomplish in the 12 week period. Outlining goals is not always as easy as you may think, and it is essential to set clear realistic expectations. 

Otherwise, the sprint may fail to produce. Luckily, there is a simple and effective way to do this, and it’s called SMART goals.

SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based

Specific: The more specific and narrowly defined a goal is, the more obtainable it becomes. General or nonspecific goals can mean many things, which makes them hard to plan for and measure.

Measurable: Goals need to be laid out in such a way that their progress can be tracked. The more quantifiable a goal is, the more measurable it becomes. For example, a goal such as ‘increase client base by 15%” or “lose 15 pounds” is easy to track and measure. A goal such as “increase my businesses reach” and “improve my body image” aren’t specific enough, and success will be hard to track and measure as a result.

Achievable: It’s crucial to pick goals that are both well-defined and easily measurable. Once this is done, it’s much easier to determine if a goal is achievable. An example of an unachievable goal would be a 200% increase in sales in two weeks. While there may be a few rare occasions when this has occurred, it’s not very realistic, and the likelihood of this goal being achieved is low.

Relevant: Is the goal truly relevant to your overall vision and desires? This is a good time to look back at the two why-defining statements to see whether it’s in line with both your long-term and short term gameplans. If it doesn’t seem relevant, scrap it and pick something new.

Time-Based: Is 12 weeks a realistic time frame for the chosen goal(s)? If not, it’s time to redefine.

Leading And Lagging Indicators

We’ve talked a lot about measurement, metrics, and quantifying goals, but we haven’t talked about practical ways to track your progress. This is where the concepts of leading and lagging indicators come into play. 

Leading Indicators: Leading indicators, sometimes referred to as inputs, are used to predict future conditions. They also give you insight into what actions are needed to meet or exceed objectives. This is why they’re called leading indicators – they lead towards a final outcome.

Leading indicators are always in the form of incoming information and give you insight into how close you are to meeting your goals. Examples of a leading indicator include:

  • Number of new monthly subscriptions for a software company
  • The number of pounds lost over eight weeks into a 12-week sprint.
  • Percent increase in sales from the start of a 12-week sprint

Lagging indicators: Lagging indicators are used to analyze the present and determine what level of progress has been made.

In contrast to leading indicators, which tell you about things happening now, lagging indicators tell you about things that have already happened. Examples of lagging indicators include:

  • How effective an investing strategy was last year
  • How many pounds a person weighed at the start of a 12 weeks spring
  • Last months’ sales numbers

Create An Action Plan

Every goal needs an actionable series of steps you can follow throughout the 12-week time frame. Without creating a roadmap of how you’re going to achieve the goal, the likelihood of accomplishing it is low.

In most cases, each goal will consist of several small tasks and milestones that must be completed in a specific order. 

Laying out and defining these steps is called the action plan and is absolutely essential. Not only does it give you a direction for your energies and efforts, but it also allows you to gauge success and progress over the 12-week sprint.

To make this idea clearer, let’s look at an example. Say a couple wanted to do a cross-country road trip of the United States, starting in Oregon and ending in Florida. 

Before embarking on such a journey, they would need to sit down and plan out how much distance they need to cover per day to have the trip fit within a certain time frame. 

They may also decide to plan out the trip in such a way that they hit all the important sights and landmarks along the way. 

By doing this, they build a step-by-step guide that they can follow that allows them to complete their overall goal.

Constantly Review

Taking time to review your progress is an essential component to the 12 weeks year process. Moran recommends setting aside time every week to look back on what has been accomplished and what still needs to be done. 

By doing this every week, it allows you to make adjustments if you need to. Due to the condensed time frame, if reviews are conducted less than once a week, you may not have enough time to implement any changes you may require to meet your goals on time.

Consider Using Deep Work

Coined by Cal Newport, an author and computer scientist, Deep Work refers to a state of distraction-free concentration

Throughout the day, most people give only a portion of their attention to what’s in front of them, and the rest is spent bouncing back and forth between their inbox, private messages, and mobile notifications, which Newport calls attention traps.

The best way to remove these attention traps is by creating a distraction-free environment, which can be done by turning off your cell phone, closing unrelated internet tabs, and removing any other source of distraction from the room.

Common Mistakes When Using The 12 Week Year Method

It doesn’t matter how effective a method or philosophy is, if certain pitfalls aren’t avoided it won’t produce results. In this final section, we’ll look at some of the most common mistakes people make when using the 12 week year approach and how to avoid them.

Goals Are Unrealistic

If you want to experience success, you have to pick goals that can be reasonably accomplished within the 12-week time frame. Goals that are too ambitious are unlikely to be met and can cause you to overextend yourself unnecessarily or feel frustrated that you didn’t hit them.

This is why vision and scope definition is so important. The more specific and defined a goal is, the easier it will be for you to determine if it can be accomplished within a 12 week period. 

In some cases, the goal can be split up into smaller milestones over a series of sprints. For example, a 120% increase in sales over 12 weeks is probably overambitious in most cases. Instead, aim for a 30% increase per 12-week year, which will result in you reaching your goal after four sprints.

Experience also plays a major role in goal setting. The more sprints you complete, the better understanding you’ll have of what you can reasonably accomplish over 12 weeks. 

This is one of the reasons why accountability is so important. If you’re accustomed to blaming external circumstances for your lack of success, you’ll never learn and may continue to set unrealistic goals and experience failure.

Not Starting Slow

When people first learn about the 12 week year, they often want to jump in headfirst. While enthusiasm is great, many people make the mistake of biting off a little more than they can chew, and don’t give themselves the proper adjustment period.

The 12 weeks year requires acting with a sense of urgency and drive that most people aren’t used to. Because of this, it’s a smart bet to set smaller, easily obtainable, goals for the first couple of sprints, gradually increasing the ambition level of the goals each time.

Doing this gives you the chance to get used to the shorter time frame and gives you insight into what you can reasonably accomplish in 12 weeks.

Not Conducting Consistent Reviews

As we’ve noted, goals must be framed in such a way that they can be measured and tracked. But measuring and tracking aren’t enough. Without consistent reviews, most goals aren’t met.

Reviews allow you to track and measure your progress and lets you know if something needs to change. If you find that you’re significantly behind schedule, you need to ask yourself why. 

Sometimes, it can be a matter of setting overly ambitious goals or tweaking your process controls slightly. Other times, however, lack of progress may signal larger issues, like lack of drive or commitment.

Either way, failing to do reviews on a consistent basis is one of the most common mistakes that ultimately lead to failure of the 12 week year.

Not Conducting A Final Review

At the end of every 12 week period, a large in-depth review should be conducted where you take a deep-dive look at what went right, what went wrong, and what improvements can be made for the next sprint.

Although the weekly reviews are important, they lack the perspective that a final review has. The end of one sprint brings the beginning of another, and people often get caught up in the planning phase and ignore the sprint-ending review.

Not Keeping Detailed Records

Conducting a final review is great, but if detailed records aren’t kept, they may not offer a great deal of insight. Every weekly review should include a quantified report of progress using leading and lagging indicators, which can be used for analysis at the end of the sprint.

It is incredibly valuable to see the difference in measurable success from one week to the next, and it allows you to go back and see what changes and adjustments worked and which ones didn’t.

The Power Of Shortening Your Execution Cycle

The 12 week year is a powerful technique because it forces you to be in a constant state of action. In a typical 12 month year, far too much time is wasted because people adopt the attitude of ‘there is always next week.’ This procrastination ultimately results in completing a lot of work within a short period of time to meet their quickly approaching deadline.

This burst of productivity is what the 12 week year seeks to tap into and exploit. Since a deadline is always around the corner, people approach every day with a sense of urgency and action, the result of which is a much higher degree of productivity.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.


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  1. This was good. I read “The One Thing” last year so of course, this book FELT like a good idea but I was so overwhelmed once I started. I like how you explained it though. Thank you! I’ll try it again. lol!

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