If you feel like you could be getting more done in a year, you aren’t alone. Planning, time management and effective execution are all tough to pull off – especially on a project timeframe as long as a year.
That realization led authors Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington to develop the idea of using a 12-week year to achieve more in less time.
In their book, The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others do in 12 Months, the authors explain how to achieve peak performance by redefining your year to be only 12 weeks long.
In this article, we’ll summarize the key takeaways, explain how you can implement the 12-week system and provide some high-level tips on how to get the most out of it.
What is The 12 Week Year?
Most of us approach annual planning in 12-month cycles. The problem, according to Moran and Lennington, is that 12 months is too long. Over a whole year, too much can happen that is out of our control and can’t be accurately predicted.
Not only that, but trying to plan in 12-month cycles also results in what Moran calls “annualized thinking”, where you assume there’s plenty of time in a year to achieve your goals.
Annualized thinking can delay key actions that would take you closer to completing your goals because you assume you’ll have plenty of time to do them later.
Instead, the methodology creators believe we should think in terms of a 12-week year. In a period as short as three months, there just isn’t enough time for complacency.
The benefits of a 12-week execution cycle include:
Increased predictability. Planning in 12-week cycles helps reduce the impact of random events, such as market fluctuations or unexpected weather patterns affecting supply chains. With more predictable results, you can create a more accurate plan that’s easier to stick to.
Greater focus. With the increased urgency of a much shorter period, you can focus on achieving breakthrough results. Instead of thinking there’s plenty of time to get things done later, you’re forced to act in the moment.
Improved structure. Plans made over 12 months are likely to be vague and imprecise. A 12-week period provides the structure for clearer, more well-defined goals. This helps you align your day-to-day actions with your long-term vision.
The book provides clarity and actionable advice, from foundational disciplines and principles, to how to implement their system in detail.
About the authors
Brian P. Moran is the president and founder of The 12 Week Year program and has over 30 years of experience as an entrepreneur, coach and consultant. Before founding The 12 Week Year, he had managerial and executive positions with UPS, Northern Automotive and PepsiCo.
Michael Lennington is a professional consultant who has worked throughout the world providing time-coaching to many entrepreneurs. He has also written extensively about leadership, business execution and time management.
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The 12 Week Year philosophy
In The 12 Week Year, Moran and Lennington outline their “execution system”. According to the authors, there are eight key elements of their execution system that enable users to take total control of their day-to-day lives.
These elements include three core principles and five disciplines. The three core principles are trainable qualities that are essential for success using the 12-week system:
Accountability. To be successful, you need to be willing to take full ownership of your actions and the consequences of those actions.
Commitment. Commitment means doing whatever it takes to achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself. To have a solid commitment, you need a strong desire to accomplish your goals.
Greatness in the moment. Finally, it’s vital that you live in the moment, applying every ounce of self-discipline to take the actions required to achieve your goals.
The five disciplines, on the other hand, are like the roadmap to the 12-week execution system:
Vision. What do you want to achieve in life? This personal vision is the target you’re aiming for, which helps drive you towards achieving your goals in the short- and mid-term.
Planning. With your vision in mind, planning helps focus your efforts on the initiatives that will make that vision reality.
Process control. This is the set of tools you use to align your daily actions with your plan. These tools include weekly planners, peer support and techniques to track your progress.
Measurement. Measurement is the process of scoring your success. Without comprehensive feedback on your progress (or lack of progress), it’s impossible to make good decisions.
Intentional time use. Approaching your time with clear intentions is vital if you’re going to make the most out of your 12-week cycles.
How to implement The 12 Week Year
In part two of The 12 Week Year, Moran and Lennington provide a step-by-step guide for setting up and implementing their high-performance system. These steps are based on the five disciplines and cover each action you need to take to get the most out of a 12-week approach.
Here are four steps to help you create your 12 Week Year planner.
1. Establish a compelling vision
Your vision is the tether between your personal and professional lives. It creates tangible stepping stones that guide you to your aspirations. Goal-setting also provides an emotional reason to pursue your dreams, making the day-to-day actions you need to take much easier.
There are two parts to establishing your vision:
Envision your long-term goals. Think about where you want to be in five, 10 or 20 years (and beyond). What do you want to achieve in life? This includes any area of your life, from achieving financial independence, growing your business to a seven-figure revenue or being able to run a marathon.
Decide on your three-year goals. With your long-term vision in mind, it’s time to create the stepping stones that you’ll use to get there. This includes all of the personal and professional milestones you need to hit in order to achieve your dreams. Following the example above, you might aim to increase sales by 50% by the end of the year or run a half-marathon in the next two years.
Your vision should be meaningful and compelling. It should create a powerful emotional response that will provide the motivation to pursue it. To get the most out of your vision, Moran and Lennington recommend regularly thinking about your aspirations.
For example, you could print out your vision and review it every morning before work. Say your goal is to become the top salesperson in your team this quarter. A visual reminder of this goal will help you to stay on track and avoid distractions.
Likewise, you can use a similar approach as a sales manager. Create long-term goals for your team and compile these into a simple statement (for example, close twenty sales). You could then display this in the office and update it regularly as you move closer to achieving your sales objectives.
2. Create your first 12-week plan
Next, it’s time to break down your mid-term goals into a short-term, 12-week-year planner.
To achieve your mid-term and long-term goals, you’ll need a detailed plan. Planning is crucial to achieving your goals because it allows you to allocate time and resources effectively.
Your 12-week plan will outline the actions you need to take and the tactics you will use to finalize each goal.
To develop your 12-week plan:
Determine your 12-week goals. Moran and Lennington recommend focusing on no more than three 12-week goals. As you decide on your goals, write down why each goal is important to you and how it links to your vision (creating an emotional connection).
Work out what daily actions you need to take. For each goal, determine what weekly tactics and daily actions are required to achieve it. Specify when each action needs to be taken (whether it’s a one-off task or a daily activity).
Consider the challenges. For each action, ask yourself what obstacles and challenges might get in the way. Come up with solutions to each challenge in advance so that if they come up, you have the resources necessary to overcome them.
When creating your goals, Moran and Lennington recommend the SMART system. To create SMART goals, you need to be:
Specific. Avoid vague descriptions that will need clearing up later. Make sure your goals are specific and narrow so that you (and your team) know exactly what needs to be done and when.
Measurable. Make sure you can track your goals. If they can’t, you’ll have no way of knowing how far you are toward completing them. For example, instead of saying “increase sales”, you would say “close ten new clients”.
Achievable. Your goals need to be realistic. If you choose goals you cannot achieve in the given timeframe no matter how hard you work, you’re setting yourself up for failure. For example, you shouldn’t set a goal to complete a training course in a week if the course requires study over several months. Instead, decide on specific, attainable goals.
Relevant. The goals should be relevant to your vision. Take a look at your vision statement and decide whether your goals will move you closer to your short- and long-term goals. If not, scrap them and decide on new weekly goals.
Time-based. Adding deadlines to your goals creates a sense of urgency that will help you get them done. Without deadlines, you run into the same problem caused by annualized thinking – that there’s always time in the future to accomplish your tasks.
3. Create an action plan for each goal
Once you have your 12-week goals, you need a roadmap of how you will achieve them. Twelve weeks is still a relatively long period of time. To achieve your goals, you’ll need to take it one week at a time.
Each action plan should consist of a series of steps you will take each week to ensure you accomplish your top priorities. These actions should be scheduled into weekly and daily routines so that you know exactly what to do and when to do it.
Let’s explore how this might look in practice. Say your long-term goal is to get your business to the point that it’s producing seven figures in revenue. Based on this, your mid-term goal might be to increase sales by 50% over the next year. You then develop the 12-week goal of increasing sales by 10%.
With your 12-week goal in mind, your action plan might include increasing prospecting activities, booking more sales meetings and reducing the length of your sales process.
Once you have a list of key activities in place, it’s time to break them down even further into discrete actions you need to take. For example, you might research sales prospects every morning for an hour, or aim for 10 phone or face-to-face sales conversations by Friday.
The key is to have a list of distinct, clearly defined sales activities that work towards your longer-term goals.
4. Schedule regular reviews
Reviewing your progress is essential if you’re going to achieve your goals. Moran and Lennington recommend setting aside time at the start of each week to reflect on the week before and examine your successes and failures.
By reviewing your progress, you can uncover important insights and adjust your action plan as needed. Maybe something isn’t working like you thought it would. Or perhaps a new opportunity came up that you didn’t know about beforehand.
Your 12-week plan isn’t static and neither are your long-term goals. Unexpected things happen and your priorities might change over time, but that’s okay. Regular reviews give you the flexibility to reconnect with your vision and set new short- and mid-term goals as required.
Likewise, you should set a “final review” at the end of every 12-week period. This is a deep dive into the last twelve weeks that will help you discover what works and what doesn’t so that you can improve in the next 12-week period.
3 high-level tips to succeed with The 12 Week Year
Even with a detailed roadmap to success in place, sticking to your plans can be difficult. Not only will unforeseen obstacles get in the way, but sustaining motivation is challenging. Luckily, the authors of The 12 Week Year have a few more tips to get the most out of their 12-week system.
1. Keep score to confront the truth
In chapter six of The 12 Week Year, Moran argues that for any system to be effective, you must measure your progress. He introduces leading and lagging indicators as the perfect way to receive feedback on your progress and make informed decisions going forward.
This is what Moran calls “confronting the truth”, where you must face the reality of whether you’re making progress or not.
Leading indicators predict future conditions. They lead to the final outcome, meaning they can give insight into what you need to do to reach your goals. Examples of lead indicators include sales metrics like the number of new clients or the percentage of increased sales since the beginning of a 12-week period.
Lagging indicators allow you to analyze end results. Rather than telling you about the future, lagging indicators let you see how effective certain strategies were. Examples of lagging indicators include the total number of sales in the last 12-week period or your body weight at the start of a new 12-week period.
Moran recommends using a weekly scorecard to track these indicators.
A weekly scorecard objectively measures how well you have stuck to your project baseline. It gives you a percentage of actions successfully completed in a week, allowing you to see how well you’re doing.
2. Leverage intentionality
Intentionality is about incisive decision-making. When you’re intentional about your time, you know what you’re doing and when you’re doing it. This requires effective time management, which isn’t the easiest skill to master.
To be more intentional, Moran recommends using the “Performance Time system”, a time-saving tactic that uses time-blocking techniques to break your daily routine into intentional periods of time. It includes three primary components:
Strategic blocks. These are three-hour periods designated for deep work, which includes all of the high-impact activities that are crucial to achieving your desired results. During strategic blocks, the goal is to minimize distractions and get things done.
Buffer blocks. These are shorter blocks of 30–60 minutes long that help you deal with unplanned activities that pop up during the day. Rather than taking on new tasks as they appear, cutting into your high-value work time, buffer blocks enable you to deal with them more efficiently at a designated time.
Breakout blocks. A breakout block is a three-hour (minimum) period where you avoid work entirely. These are completely unstructured blocks that allow you to rest and recharge, which is integral to creativity and efficiency.
3. Use peer support as process control
Unfortunately, no matter how disciplined you are, willpower doesn’t work all the time. That’s why Moran and Lennington recommend using peer support to foster accountability and improve your execution.
In chapter 15, they recommend setting up a “Weekly Accountability Meeting”. This is a brief meeting where you meet with a group of peers who are all attempting to implement the 12-week system.
In this meeting, each member takes a turn to:
Report out, discussing their progress, results, challenges and intentions going forward. Then, they receive feedback and coaching from their peers.
Share successful techniques, explaining what has worked for them and how the others might use these successes to bolster their own approach.
Encourage others, motivating their peers to remain productive.
These weekly meetings ensure that each member reviews their progress, improves their strategy and keeps taking productive actions toward their vision.
3 common mistakes to avoid
The 12 Week Year maps out a powerful methodology for improving your productivity and time management. However, there are a few common mistakes you need to avoid if you’re going to get results.
Here are three things not to do:
Don’t set unrealistic goals. Since you’re setting goals for a 12-week period, they need to be achievable in that timeframe. For example, there’s no point in setting overly optimistic sales goals that will be impossible to achieve. If a goal is too large for the 12-week timeframe, break it into shorter goals that are more manageable.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Whenever people start new project management or productivity-improving routines, they often dive in with unrealistic expectations. The 12-week system is like switching your cardio routine from long jogs to short sprints. It might take some time to adjust to, so it’s important to start slow.
Don’t avoid reviewing your progress. If you don’t track your progress, you will have no idea whether the 12-week system is improving your productivity or not. Note that improvement might be slow at first. The trick is to find out what works and what doesn’t as early as possible so that you can avoid wasting time on ineffective strategies.
The pitfalls of annualized thinking are hard to avoid. From procrastination to unpredictable setbacks to poor time management, there are many obstacles to avoid if you’re going to reach your personal and professional goals.
The 12 Week Year breaks down the activities that are most important, creates clarity and builds a practical sense of urgency that helps you get more done in less time.