The 12-Week Year
by Brian P. Moran
Knowledge is power, but it is only powerful if you use it, if you act on it. Knowledge demands action.
If more information was the solution, we’d all be ripped millionaires.
The barrier between you and the life you are capable of is is a lack of consistent execution. Effective, consistent execution is the way forward.
The problem of annualized thinking
Most people think in terms of annual goals. They may break them down into quarterly, monthly, and even weekly goals, but they judge themselves on the annual goals.
This is what the authors call annualized thinking. They believe this is harmful to our progress, and should be abandoned.
Annualized thinking is bad because we unconsciously believe there is plenty of time to make things happen. This creates a lack of urgency. The deadline is just too far in the future. You’ll keep thinking that you have lots of time left, and therefore postpone action.
I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a lack of feedback mechanisms. If your only feedback is a singular, Boolean measurement in December, then you won’t get very far. What gets measured get managed. You want rapid feedback loops.
So what is the solution? The 12 week year!
This framework is geared towards action. It reduces the Feedback Loop time of goals to 12 weeks, and encourages frequent measurement, so the actions towards those goals are guided by even more regular feedback.
- Craft a compelling vision
- Establish a 12 week plan structured around implementation
- Make and keep commitments
- Install process control
- keep a weekly plan
- Track execution score (%)
- attend weekly accountability meetings
- Measure regularly
- Track lead indicators
- Track lag indicators
- Use time intentionally
- Time blocking
- Review past 12 weeks
- Measure new quality of life
- Evaluate success disciplines
- Improve towards breakthroughs
The three principles
- This is about ownership. It is a character traint indicating that you are willing to own your actions & results, no matter what.
- You have the freedom of choice. You choose your outcomes. So if you want more, ask yourself what you can do to get results.
- This is a personal promise to yourself.
- Keeping promises to others builds strong relationships.
- Keeping promises to yourself builds character, esteem, and success.
- Commitment is accountability projected into the future.
- Greatness in the moment
- Greatness is not achieved when a great result is achieved, but long before that, when you make the choice to do what is necessary to become great.
You cannot hold someone accountable. It’s a myth.
But you can take accountability. Accountability is more like a character trait. It is to take responsibility and ownership, no matter the consequences.
And you must take accountability for your life. Your situation. The reality is, there are nothing we have to do. We can always choose. But we often choose to view things we don’t like, things that are burdensome, as things we “have to do.” You don’t. But since you view it that way, you do the minimum for that task.
Instead, if you see activities as “choose to,” you are taking accountability for your life. You’ll approach tasks with a much better mindset. You do your best. And for that, you’ll see better results.
To not take accountability is to look for someone else to tell you how to live your life. Do you really think that person has your best interests in mind? Your goals? Unless it’s your mother (and maybe even then), most likely not. Take ownership of your own life. Your results.
We look for things to change, but we don’t want to change ourselves. Things should get better without us doing anything. It’s never our fault. Someone is doing this to us. This mindset is for losers. They’ll live in their own misery their whole lives and wonder why everyone & everything is always against them. Not a good way to live. Avoid the victims mindset.
Taking accountability requires action. It is certainly not passive. You get the freedom to change, but it isn’t easy. You’ll have to confront the uncomfortable. Be uncomfortable. But that’s how you bring about change.
Be reliable. When you commit, you do. When you say you’ll do something, actually do it.
I cannot exaggerate the importance of being reliable. Being someone who can commit and then act upon it.
When it comes to your goals, you don’t want to merely be interested. What a thing to say: “My goals? My highest aspirations? I’m interested. I’ll kinda work on them when circumstances are perfect, otherwise I’ll just sit around.”
Greatness in moment
It’s not something you become when you get the results (if you ever do), but rather something you become when you commit to doing what you know you need to do.
Results are not the attainment of greatness, they are the confirmation of it. You have to become great long before the results show it. You have to take on the role before you can assume the role.
Like when Mike Tyson said “To be the champ, you have to BE the champ.” Or Lionel Messi, who said "It took me 17 years and 114 days to become an overnight success."
The five disciplines
- A compelling vision creates a clear picture of the future.
- Align your business vision with your personal vision.
- Effective plan creates clarity and focus on the top-priority initiatives and actions needed to achieve your vision.
- A good plan is structured around effective implementation.
- Process Control
- This is a set of tools and events that align your daily actions with the critical actions in your plan.
- This is what drives the process. You use both lead and lag measurements to get comprehensive feedback, which is necessary for informed decision making.
- Time Use
- Everything is centered around time. If you aren't in control of how you spend it, you aren't in control of your results. Spend it with intent.
Without a compelling vision, you won't follow through on your goals. So figure out what you want to do, and why you want to do it.
To reach our goals, we will have to do things we haven't done before. That is uncomfortable. We'd rather abandon our strategy for comfort.
But instead, we should have a vision so compelling that we have no choice but to act on it—the realization of the vision is worth infinitely more than the comfort it costs.
This is how Elon Musk seems to act: he has repeatedly stated that his life is not great. That death will be a relief. But even with high risks of failure, he proceeds, simply because the realization of his vision is too important to not be realized.
And it's also why you should have a big vision.
Keep your vision in mind. Remind yourself of it regularly.
Your personal vision should be supported by your business vision, not the other way around. Once you know your personal vision, you know what to demand of your business vision.
Creating your vision
To create a vision, you need to articulate what you want in each area of life.
- What do you want your life to look like?
- Your family?
- Career? Earnings? Fulfillment?
- Social life?
- Health & fitness?
- Activities? Hobbies? Interests?
- What do you want to spend your time on?
Start with what-if
A lot of people think their visions to be impossible. Instead of starting with "how," it might be more useful to simply ponder "what if," when it comes to your vision. Once you see your vision as being possible & probable, you can start asking how.
Start by imagining how things could be. No idea is too grand. → Start listing down as many items as you can think of.
→ Then begin tying them into a grand vision for your life 5, 10, 15 years into the future.
Now that you have your aspirational vision—your long term vision—it’s time to get specific. → Write down your vision for what you’ll create in the next 3 years.
At the end, you should have goals for the following time horizons:
- Long-term aspirations, from 5 to 15 years in the future.
- Mid-term goals, for the next ~3 years (36 months)
- 12 weeks, which comes next.
Once you have your vision, you need a plan.
Planning is like sharpening your knives. You don’t want to have it be all you do, but if you don’t, you’ll be cutting with a dull knife soon enough. Planning makes everything more efficient. You save time, reduce mistakes, and it helps you focus.
The point of planning is to identify the critical few actions that you need to take to reach your goals. If your plan doesn’t have that, it's a bad plan. Your plan should help you execute, because that’s the only way reach your goals: effective execution. So write your plans with implementation in mind.
You don't want too much detail, but not too little either. Too much leads to inflexibility. To little leads to a lack of clarity, which leads to inaction. Start by identifying overall (the) overall goal(s). These should further you in your journey to your vision.
This reminds me of Feedback Loops. You are the input that is continuously fed back in. Depending on your habits, actions, environment, systems, the loop is either dampening or amplifying.
A 12 week plan has 2-3 goals, each of which has their set of tactics. Choosing few goals allows for greater focus.
It is critial that your plan is a more like roadmap than some thoughts and ideas about the future thrown together. Write down actionable, step-by-step instructions. This is why your plan should start with a specific and measurable goal.
This occurs in three steps.
- → Set the vital few 12 week goals that are critical to progress on your vision
- → Write down tactics / keystone activities for each goals that follow the advice below on creating good goals and tactics.
- You may want to do a brainstorm of all possible actions. From that brainstorm, prioritize the actions by importance/effectiveness, and then pick the vital few.
- Assign deadlines to the tactics. You can do 'every week,' or specific week(s).
- → Think about why each goal is important to you. What will be different when you reach it?
Ensure that your 12 week plan matches your long-term vision. Your goals should advance you towards the vision. Achievement of your goals is the progressive realization of said vision, so each one is critical.
Likewise, your plan should be meaningful to you. If you fill your week with things that you don't want, that's a recipe for disaster. Don't fill your week with things other people want you to do. Fill it with what you want to do. Not making time for yourself first leads to burnout.
Before finishing the plan, ponder these questions:
- What will you struggle with?
- How will you overcome your struggles?
Pros of 12 Week plans
A lot can happen in 12 months. Shortening this down to 3 makes it a lot easier to deal with. You’re more certain of what’ll happen. 12 week planning allows you to plan actions with relative certainty. This is harder when planning 12 months.
12 week planning allow for greater focus. You commit to fewer things. 3 months from now seems much more tangible and smaller to plan for than 12 months. When you do annual planning, you often end up planning too much. And even worse, you don't make a concrete plan to get them handled. So you “Yeah, I can probably achieve these 17 things at some point during the year”… This is a recipe for not getting things done.
Shorter cycles allow for more feedback. They allow for greater focus. You focus on what is essential only. You will have to prioritize what matters to the achievement of your goal over the inessential.
Recall that Jan 14 is quitters day. It seems that annual planning just isn't concrete, urgent, and concentrated enough to inspire you to action.
Creating good goals and tactics
The instructions are similar to setting SMART goals.
- Make them specific and measurable.
- Quantify and qualify what success looks like.
- How many calls to make? Pounds to lose? Dollars to earn?
- State them positively.
- Don’t use 2% error rate, use 98% accurately (for example).
- Ensure they are a realistic stretch.
- Your goals should be a stretch, but not too much. They should be achievable still.
- E.g. don’t write tactics to go to the gym 6 days a week when you haven’t even gone once.
- And if it seems too easy—if you can do it without changing anything/much—pick something more ambitious!
- Assign accountability.
- If you are in a team, that is. Otherwise it’s all you.
- Be time-bound.
- Set deadlines for execution/accomplishment.
- When should the goal be reached? The tactic executed?
- For example, in week one, you may need to research workout plans. Then it should be due that week, so you can execute on the workout plan in later weeks.
Tactics should be full sentences, starting with a verb.
- Do 20 minutes of cardio three times a week.
- Train with weights three times a week.
- Drink at least six glasses of water each day.
- Limit calorie intake to 1,200 daily.
- Reach out to 15 potential customers each week.
- Write 2 articles a week.
Tactics are daily actions. If you perform your tactics on time, you’ll reach your goals on time. Simple as that. What you do daily is an indicator of your future result.
- Goal: write a book.
- Tactic: write 3 pages a day.
Then you’ll be finished in due time.
Most of us desire change. But desire isn’t enough. For things to change, you have to act consistently. This is what tactics helps with.
Long-term results are created by the actions you take every day
It doesn’t get much simpler. I have never grown as much or as fast on Twitter as I did when I posted every day. Daily actions are key.
It’s obvious when you think about it. What you do each day counts. Every second, minute, hour. It all counts. Everything either gets you closer to your goal, or further from it. If you don’t work on it every day, you’re just putting off your goals. And weren’t those what you deemed to be of the greatest importance to you?
Don't overthink—focus on execution
Don’t overthink or over analyze your plan. It’s best to make one and adjust as you go. You’ll learn as you execute.
Your plan is the solution for how you’ll bridge to gap from now to your 12 week goals. So naturally, if you find a better way, then the plan adapts.
Once you have your plan, it's time to implement process control. This is how you ensure you stay on track.
There are two things that go into the support structures that keep you going when you lack the willpower/motivation/discipline.
- Weekly plans
- Peer support
For cultivating peer support, you can hold regular accountability meetings. Importantly, it’s not about holding people accountable (as established earlier, this is impossible), but rather cultivating accountability in each individual.
It's easy to skip this part, thinking that it's stupid or something. Author encourages you to not do so, as they have results proving that this works much better than not doing it. So work from written weekly plans and meet regularly (weekly).
- Score your week
- Plan your week
- Participate in a weekly accountability meeting
The weekly plan derives from your 12 week plan. It isn’t just a glorified todo list. Since tactics have designated weeks, these populate your weekly plans. There are other important aspects as well, but these are introduced in Time Use.
Weekly plans are how you ensure your daily actions match your weekly goals → your 12 week goals → your short term goals → your long term goals → your vision.
You see how it all propagates / bubbles / cascades upwards? How, by planning intentionally and with focus, you can ensure what you do on a daily basis is the best you can do to reach your goals? This is why it's so important to do this. Even the grandest goals need to be boiled down to the most minute (atomic) actions.
→ Weekly: Spend 15-20 minutes at the beginning of each week to review your progress from the past week and plan the upcoming one. → Daily: Spend 5 minutes reviewing your weekly plan to plan your activities for the day.
This is where you track your execution rate of your weekly plan.
From research, the authors point to 85% being a good rate. 65%-75% is OK, but suboptimal. If you get below that, you need to reflect and improve on your tactics and plan.
It's important to remember that consistency is the goal here. Do not worry about getting 100%, but strive for consistency.
Your plan should be easily accessible. Print it out, keep it on your phone, or something else.
Don’t just copy paste your weekly plan. Most often, they aren’t the same week to week. And even if they are, it’s a passive action. Put in some work for your goals. Spend some time thinking about it, optimizing, etc.
It can be enticing to add new tactics as things come up. Some urgent thing comes up and you need to deal with it or something. However, it is essential to keep your weekly plan to strategic, critical tactics only. If you want to add something, let it go through your 12 week plan first. You want to make sure it deserves to be there.
Accountability meetings agenda
- Individual report out: how is each participant doing? How are they tracking against their goals? How is their execution?
- Results for the 12 week year to date
- Weekly execution score
- Intentions for coming weekl
- Feedback and suggestions from the group
- Successful techniques: group members suggest what has been working well, and how to incorporate these in to others plans
Track lead indicators, lag indicators, and execution rates.
Lag measurements represent the end goals you are striving for. Lead measurements represents activities that produce those results. Lag and lead are individual to each goal.
Execution rate (%) is the total completed / total due tactics for a given week.
If you have a goal to, say, lose 10 pounds, then weight lost is a lag indicator. A lead measure could be the amount of calories you eat daily/weekly. Or workouts done, miles run, etc. And execution rate is how many time you, say, went to the gym, out of how many times you said (planned) you would go.
Frequent measures are best. You want rapid feedback.
Measurements helps make better decisions. You know whether you’re improving or not. It can guide you towards better performance. They help you know whether failure is a result of poor strategy or poor execution. How you handle the failure depends on knowing that.
Ultimately, you cannot control your results. But you can control the actions you take towards them. That is why the most important measurement is of your execution.
- → Define lead and lag indicators for each goal.
- → Track indicators every week.
- → Spend time analyzing your measurements weekly.
If you aren't intentional about how you spend your time, you leave your results to chance.
Spending time intentionally also means you have much more clarity and focus. And you can actually determine whether you are distracted or not, because you’d know what you are distracted from! (Indistractable)
The authors encourage time blocking. But they have made their own system for it. These are the three components in their time blocking system.
Strategic blocks are 3h long. Schedule one a week (why not more?) where you work on the strategic & money-making activities. These are pre-planned tasks. Do not allow any distractions during this time. They think 1 of these a week is sufficient.
Buffer blocks are for the urgent but not important. The distractions. Sometimes you’ll need to play fireman, so you want to schedule time for it. Usually 30-60 minutes a day is sufficient.
A breakout block is at least 3 hours away from work. You’ll do something else so that you can return refreshed and reinvigorated. These are important.
Make time through time blocking for important, strategic blocks of focused work.
It’s a great idea to create the ideal, highly productive week. Then schedule it into your calendar. This also helps see whether you’re unknowingly trying to do more than you actually have time for. Or less!
How to time block
You want to create a model work week that is highly productive. The idea isn’t necessarily to cut out the low value activities, but more to carve out time for the high value ones.
- Block 15 minutes first thing Monday morning fore review of the prior week and planning of the current week.
- Schedule 3h strategic block.
- Schedule 1-2 buffer blocks a day. Usually one in the morning/mid-day and one near the end of the day is good: 11:00-12:00 and 4:00-5:00. Buffer time varies by individial and administrative workload.
- Schedule breakout block.
- Schedule all additional important activities.
Remember that being busy is not the same as being productive.
Strategic Block sample agenda
- Reconnect with vision: 5-10 minutes.
- Review vision and assess your progress.
- How are you faring? Making progress? Are you still emotionally connected to it?
- 12 week review: 10-15 minutes.
- Review metrics.
- Check results against goals.
- Inspect weekly execution score and lag&lead measures.
- Are you executing—and is it working?
- If not, what can you do this week to improve?
- Assess performance breakdowns: 10-20 minutes.
- Is there a breakdown? If yes, what is the root cause?
- Do you need to adjust your plan? Or just execute better?
- Work on plan tactics: 2-2.5 hours.
- Complete tactics from your 12 week plan.
- Other activities
- Read a book
- Take an online course
- Plan for the next 12 week year (this is most often done in week 12 or 13).
Buffer block sample agenda
- Review and respond to email.
- Listen to voicemail and respond as needed.
- Make necessary outbound calls.
- Follow up on to-do list items.
- Take quick meetings with staff to answer questions or to plan follow-up.
- Organize and file work in process and completed items.
- Identify any new to-do list items and record.
Review and further planning
Once you've finished your 12 Week Year, it's time to keep the momentum going. First, review the 12WY you've just gone through, and then plan the next one.
The review process is critical, as it helps you learn and improve. You make your efforts more effective through iterative improvement.
It takes about two hours to do the review. To do it, you should have gathered your plan for the previous 12WY as well as your weekly plans & scoreboards.
You start by reviewing your results.
→ Rate each goal on a scale from 1 to 10, one being no real progress and 10 being the accomplishment of your goal.
Since you've set specific and measurable goals, you rate reliably calculate the rating as a percentage of completion. If you lost 7 out of 10 pounds, then 7 is the rating for that goal.
→ Note down your execution scores and calculate the 12 week average.
Once you've done so, it's time to reflect.
- Looking at your results and your executions, what insights can you draw—what worked, and what didn't?
- Did you average 80% or better on your Weekly Plan & Scorecard? If not, what do you need to do differently to achieve this standard?
Quality of Life
Life balance is an ilusion. Instead, strive for intentional imbalance. At some points in life, you'll decide to spend more time in one area over another.
Rate areas from 1-10:
- 1: Spiritually empty, no foundation
- 10: Living in alignment with beliefs
- Spouse/Key relationship
- 1: Relationship strained, unfulfulling
- 10: Relationship is vibrant, loving, & full
- 1: Lack quality time, don't feel close
- 10: Family life is full & meaningful
- 1: Not in control, lack direction, feel frustrated
- 10: Business is thriving and fulfilling
- 1: No time for self, not growing, stagnating
- 10: Taking life on with energy and enthusiasm
- 1: Poor physical condition, poor health
- 10: Excellent physical condition, excellent health
- What areas are you pleased with?
- What areas do you want to improve in the next 12 weeks?
Now you rate the success disciplines presented in the 12WY framework. How well did you engage with these disciplines over the past 12 weeks, on a scale from 1-10?
- 1: Lack connection with vision
- 10: Clear connection between vision and daily activity
- 12 week planning
- 1: Didn't have/use a plan
- 10: Created and used a 12W plan
- Weekly routine
- 1: Did not Plan, Score, or WAM every week
- 10: Did it all
- Performance time
- 1: No strategic, breakout, or buffer blocks
- 10: Effective use of time blocking system
- Key measures
- 1: Not tracking critical measures
- 10: Effectively managing lead & lag indicators
- What disciplines will you commit to leveraging more effectively this next 12 weeks?
What will it take to create breakthroughs in the next 12 weeks?
- Describe your most significant accomplishments in the past 12 weeks.
- How would your thinking need to change in order for you to double the results you achieved these past 12 weeks?
- What new actions will you need to take during these next 12 weeks for you to breakthrough?
How to get breakthroughs
Outcome breakthroughs don’t come from simply working more. They come from changing something fundamentally in how you work or what you work on. It takes radical change. Not just more of the same.
This is closely related to working on vs. working in.
You have to work on the systems to increase your returns. This is how you grow and get better outputs. You don’t want to just scale your hour up. That’s brute forcing, and it’s stupid in almost every case. Remember the Tim Ferris quote:
Being busy is a form of laziness—lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.
Think about what you are doing. Spend time learning. Improve. That is the key. You need to work on and work in.