by Brian P. Moran, co-author of “The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months“
Think back to the last significant goal you set for yourself, personal or professional. How long did you give yourself to reach it? Chances are you said something like this: “I’m going to lose 30 pounds this year,” or “I’m going to increase my sales by 15 percent this year,” or “Our company is going to open five more branch locations this year.” We love to use the 365 day year as a natural execution cycle because it’s comfortable. It gives us 12 long months to make things happen, which makes us feel like we have plenty of time to accomplish our goals.
And that’s the problem: 12 months is too much time — 12 weeks is far better.
When you believe you have 12 months to complete a task, it’s all too easy to waste one, or two, or three, or more of them telling yourself you still have plenty of time to catch up. Annualized thinking kills urgency. But when you’re trying to reach important goals, whether personal or professional, every week counts, every day counts, every moment counts.
It’s not that we don’t have good ideas, good intentions, and the know-how to turn our plans into reality. We do. The problem is we’re slack on execution.
Ultimately, effective execution happens daily and weekly and on a consistent basis. To perform at your best, you will need to get out of “annual mode” and stop thinking in terms of a 365 day year. That’s where the 12 Week Year comes in.
When you redefine the concept of a year, your life will change. A year is no longer 12 months; it is now only 12 weeks, followed by the next 12 Week Year, ad infinitum. Each 12 week period stands on its own.
You no longer have the luxury of putting off critical activities, thinking there is ‘plenty of time’ left to meet your goals. When you have only 12 weeks, each week matters, each day matters, each moment matters. And the result is profound.
Here are six specific reasons why switching to the 12 Week Year is more effective than staying on the 12 month plan:
1. It reduces uncertainty and defines actions.
Most annual plans are objective based, not action based, because it is nearly impossible to predict the action needed four or more months out. They’ll tell you what has to be achieved, but they don’t specify how. That’s problematic, because when the “how” is not clearly defined, you lose a sense of scope and can easily take on more than you can physically execute.
Think of an objective-based plan as driving cross country with a set of directions that have turns out of order, combine several instructions into one, and leave out big chunks of the trip. You’ll be lucky to end up anywhere near your original destination! Unfortunately, many annual plans miss steps, lump complicated processes into a single tactic, and have actions out of sequence. Worse yet, some are merely a collection of thoughts and ideas and contain no specific actions at all!
The daily and weekly ‘hows’ of a 12 week plan are what make it execution friendly. When you get down to a granular level in terms of the tasks you absolutely must accomplish each day, there aren’t any surprises as you journey toward your goal. And since you’re able to map out the whole trip, you’ll make your wrong turns and mistakes on paper where they can be easily corrected — not in reality.
2. It sparks a vital sense of urgency.
Have you ever worked in an organization that relied on a year-end push? During the last few months of the calendar or fiscal year, everyone in the company works like gangbusters, completing important projects and tying up loose ends. The difference between success and failure for the whole year can hang in the balance during the last 60 days, and usually, results spike upward as the days left in the year dwindle to zero.
It’s amazing what happens when people have a goal and a deadline. And with the 12 Week Year, every day holds the same kind of energy and commitment typically reserved for the year-end push, because the end of the year is never more than 11 weeks and 6 days away. Suddenly, wasting a few minutes on Facebook and gossiping by the water cooler don’t seem like such good ideas. You’ll find yourself using your time more wisely, pushing aside extraneous distractions, and powering through barriers you might otherwise have avoided. Unproductive downtime and procrastination will become relics of the past as you focus each minute on driving results.
3. It gets you focused on the most important things.
A year is a long time, and we tend to feel that we should be able to accomplish a lot in 365 whole days. That’s why everyone from individuals making New Year’s resolutions to corporations laying out yearly goals tends to put too many objectives into their annual plans. And that’s also why execution fails. As you try to work toward a dozen different goals, you become disillusioned, spread thin, and frustrated: a recipe for mediocrity rather than greatness.
Because the 12 Week Year causes you to work within the parameters of a shorter, more predictable time period and makes procrastination seem much less attractive, you’ll have a lot more clarity regarding what is important. When there isn’t as much time to get things done, you’ll naturally hone in on important objectives and be better equipped to identify the one to three things that will have the greatest impact. When it comes to accomplishing great things, being involved in less is actually more.
4. It makes keeping commitments easier, which leads to consistent results.
At the beginning of the year, it’s all too easy to make promises and commitments. “Sure, honey, we can finish the basement this year.” “Of course our department will reduce its operating costs by 20 percent this year.” Frequently, though, we fall short of our personal and professional commitments. And the time frame for which they are made is often at fault. Over the course of 12 months, we may encounter unforeseen obstacles, other priorities may crop up, or our interest may wane.
It’s much easier to say you’re going to do something — and then do it — within a 12 week time frame. As I have already pointed out, making fewer mistakes, saving time, and maintaining focus all promote intentionality and encourage you to be purposeful with your time. With these working habits, your results are not left up to chance. They are high in quality, and they are consistent.
5. It makes you proactive instead of reactive.
The popular advice that urges us to “live in the moment” is generally sound, because this moment is where the future is created. However, living your life in the moment can be done in two very different ways: reactively or proactively. If you are reactive in the moment, you risk taking suboptimal actions because the primary drivers of your actions are input triggers — the phone rings, the email dings, a new task appears, someone knocks on your door, and off you go to solve the problem du jour. When you live reactively, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to stay focused on high-value activities.
That’s why 12 week planning is so beneficial. With an action-based plan, you don’t have to rely on input triggers to initiate your actions; instead, your plan triggers your actions. Your action choices are made proactively at the beginning of the 12 weeks when you create your plan. In short, a 12 week plan helps you to get more of the right things done each day, and ultimately it helps you reach your goals faster and with greater impact.
6. Finally, the 12 Week Year makes your life more meaningful.
Too many people (and even entire companies!) live their lives by default, not by design. Stuck in a reactive rut, they allow their priorities and goals to be determined by outside forces. You know how it goes: You spend your evenings doing housework and home improvement projects because you feel your house shouldlook a certain way… even though you’d rather be spending the time with your spouse and kids. Or you spend time and money getting a professional certification because your boss recommends it… despite the fact that you don’t feel drawn to that particular area within your field.
Too often, people build their plans around goals that someone else thinks are important. That’s a problem. If your personal or professional plan is not meaningful to you, then you will struggle to execute it. Fortunately, because of the focus and proactivity that the 12 Week Year fosters, you’re much more likely to think about what matters most to you and then purposefully choose to do it. On top of being more productive, you’ll be more fulfilled, content, and engaged.
Yes, the 12 Week Year is a system that helps you perform better through effective execution — but it isn’t a magic bullet that will miraculously improve your results. Making the 12 Week Year work for you takes effort, engagement, and a willingness to dramatically change how you approach all aspects of your life. But when you make the commitment, you’ll be astounded by all of the positive changes in your thinking, actions, and results.
Co-author of “The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months“ Brian P. Moran is founder and CEO of The Execution Company, an organization committed to improving the performance and enhancing the quality of life for leaders and entrepreneurs. As an entrepreneur, he has led successful businesses and been instrumental in the growth and success of many others. In addition to his books, Brian has been published in many of the leading business journals and magazines. He is a sought-after speaker, educating and inspiring thousands each year.