Imagine you could condense a year of high quality, focused activity into just twelve weeks. Just think of what you could achieve if you strung several such 12-week blocks together?

The authors of The 12 Week Year, Brian Moran and Michael Lennington, suggest that the possibilities are endless if you follow the advice in their book, allowing you to dream big and to do amazing things.

There are a multitude of books on the market that promise to help you to be the most effective “you” possible. I’ve even reviewed some that on this blog: The One Thing a prominent example. What makes The 12 Week Year any different to the other titles?

Admittedly there is a lot of common content. The idea of creating your vision or mission was suggested by Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Breaking a dream down into actions that you can take right now was suggested in The Four-hour Work Week. Time blocking is the cornerstone of The One Thing. Focusing on the most important activities covered in Essentialism. Creating enough space for focused work is the central theme to Deep Work. It seems that a lot of the ideas have come up before.

This book covers all of these topics suggesting that by concentrating on a small number of actions, either once off or repeating over the short twelve week period, and by regularly scoring your performance, you can achieve a year’s worth of progress towards your goals.

To break it down into constituent parts, first come up with a vision and a set of goals that will move you towards this vision. Next identify tactics, the actions you can take to complete the goals and fit these into your calendar to ensure that you have the right amount of time to complete each task. The last part involves scoring yourself week by week and periodically checking your overall progress towards your goal. Each section has an extension to discuss the application into a team setting.

Vision

For me, I liked the reasoning about why having a vision is so important. Doing great things can be hard. They wouldn’t be “great things” if they were easy, or if everyone was able to do them. When things get hard, having a clear vision of what you are trying to achieve helps to get keep you focused.

It is the absolute clarity that you gain from knowing your vision that helps you stay the course, even when things get tough. And it helps you to know that you are moving in the correct direction, that you are still progressing to the right goal.

Your vision should be forward thinking, set five to fifteen years in the future, and be a big ambition. It should also encompass all the different aspects of your life. There is some great advice on how to get started with this. By far the most time that I spent in setting up my first 12 Week Year was to draft and re-draft my vision.

When you have a long term vision you can start pulling the vision into a closer time frame, say the next three years. This is similar to the strategy in The One Thing and other planning books. I still found this a tricky step to do. In some cases my far future vision was too close to the three-year out version; I had to go back to the earlier draft and increase its scope.

After a few iterations I got down to something tangible that encompassed my career, writing, family and friends, my financial future, health, fitness and mental health, training and development, and some other wider social and environmental aspects. Getting to a vision like this was difficult yet worthwhile.

I decided to choose only the things that mattered to me the most to spend time on during my first 12 Week Year. My first draft of a plan, however, was too packed, even despite cutting out a lot of things. I had to iterate a few times before I got down to a set of activities to reach some reasonable goals in the time frame allowed.

The key here is identifying the activities rather than the goals themselves (e.g. time spent writing rather than the number of finished blog posts) that will allow me to reach the goals set for the twelve weeks. I’m happy with the progress so far and the increased clarity that you get when you have to fit all this into twelve short weeks.

Focus on 12 Weeks

We tend to focus on years. Annual company goals, new year resolutions, and annual performance reviews are examples. Howver, often we are not successful over a one year period. We quickly lose interest in new year resolutions, annual targets only demand our full attention and interest towards their deadline, and the goals that we evaluate at the end of the year may no longer really apply.

In order to make the most out of a 12 Week Year plan, you have to really see it as being an opportunity to make significant progress towards your goals. There is no room for error. Miss a week, and you will be fighting to catch up, unlike in a regular yearly plan where we think that we can catch up later, but rarely do.

Can you get a year of work done in twelve short weeks? This seems impossible. But consider the 80/20 rule, which suggests that  80% of the value we deliver is produced by 20% of our activity. It is possible that we spend too much time on things that are not really adding value. If we cut out what is not really necessary, what are the limits of what we can achieve? I don’t know and unless you try to cut them out yourself, you probably can’t answer that easily.

Each 12 Week Year plan is ambitious. But it is easy to follow. It is also correctable; if you find that your actions are not leading you to complete your goals then you can course correct. You will have spent a maximum of only twelve weeks finding this out. With your next plan you can zero in on the right activities. After six months you will be getting close to your targets. Compare this to a twelve month plan, where it may be a long time before you realise your actions are not helping you.

Lead and Lag measures

I followed the guidance from The One Thing last year when setting my goals for the year and tried to find activities that I could plan to do to reach my goals. I used the 411 technique in which you lay out on one page what my targets are and to track it week to week. However, I fell into the trap of trying to measure the goals rather than the activity that gets you to your goals.

In terms of a sales job, for which many of these productivity books are aimed, the lag measure is the number of sales. But the activity that you should be tracking to ensure you reach your goal is the activity you do to get the sales. This could be calls or client meetings, sending fliers and searching for new leads. The time you spend doing these activities is proportional to the amount of sales.

The 12 Week Year has uses the terms lag and lead measures to make the distinction between goal and activity, clear. I was able to see where I was going wrong with my measures. Rather than count the number of blog posts which is a lag measure, for example, I should be making sure that I give adequate time to writing, editing and finishing the posts. When doing more technical posts, I also need to allocate enough time to write code, debug and test.

By switching to using these lead measures I feel a lot more confident that I can hit some of the goals I have. Each thing I want to measure, I ask whether it is a lead or lag goal. If it is the latter, then I need to figure out what activity will make that goal possible.

For example, to reach my target for reading books for the year, a lag goal, I need to allocate time to reading. Stop counting the number of books and start time-blocking space to read. In my case I schedule this for just before bed, but if my calendar won’t allow this, I try to fit it in earlier during the day.

This idea is not new, but the explanation given in the book allowed me to understand it better and to make adjustments to both my planning and my tracking methods.

Team

Every section of the book contains a description of how this approach can be extended from the individual to the team setting. Whether you are only a member of a team reporting upwards, or manage your own group of employees, the book will add some value.

I suggest trying your own plan first, starting with a personal vision, both in your personal life and professional setting. Use the success of this plan to make those around you realise the potential that the 12 Week Year can give.

This can apply to your team in your day job, your family and children, or wider social circles.

Conclusion

Try writing a vision of what you want your life to be in ten or fifteen years time. Include every aspect of your life, from professional to family life to health and wellbeing. Think big, and don’t worry about how you might get there. Be brave.Now ask “What if?”

What if you were able to achieve this within your life? Think of the personal benefits, the improvement to your family and the wider impact on society. It may just be possible so why not give it a try.

The 12 Week Year will help you to come up with the vision. After reading it you should be able to craft an ambitious statement of how you want your life to unfold. And best of all, you will have the tools to start building towards that life. I think it’s worth the time and cost of the book to give it a try, don’t you?