The calendar year wasn’t designed for business people. It’s a little too long to plan in its entirety. And, if you do manage that, the chances are your plans are going to go a little awry within the year’s lengthy space. Maybe you’ll lose track of your goals, or maybe the end of the year will always seem far enough away that you won’t feel the urgency of achieving them.
This is the problem on which Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington focus in their book, The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months. Whilst the subtitle sounds like any number of productivity books, it’s not really that at all. Rather, it argues for a bit of a reconceptualization of the way we think about time, so that we set ourselves more achievable goals. There’s a lot to unpack in the book that can be hugely helpful for business people.
The basis of their argument is that, as you start planning further into the future, the degree of unpredictability gets greater. This means that the conditions on which you are basing your plans are only going to change. And, as a result, you establish your plans on fairly shaky foundations.
Moran and Lennington suggest an alternative option: think in segments of twelve weeks.
This is a long enough time to see real results. But, it is short enough that you avoid the flabby, unproductive middle moment in which the endpoint seems too far away to matter. Thinking in twelve-week chunks brings a bit more urgency to the table.
Remember Parkinson’s Law, which observes that ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion’? This is precisely what the twelve-week year hopes to counter, by shrinking the time available and forcing you to focus on the little tasks at hand.
The virtues of planning and reviewing
Honestly, there is maybe nothing worse than sticking to a bad plan. As we discussed in my article on the Obstacles to Implementation, an excessive dedication to a plan often leads to a failure to recognise new opportunities coming your way.
And the point that Moran and Lennington are making is that, over a conventional year, plans are often doomed to become bad plans. Or, at least, they become plans that don’t really match a new reality.
This is not to say that you should scrap planning. Rather, you should super-charge it. In a twelve-week plan, you dramatically cut the threat of a plan taking you the wrong way. But you build much more robust and realistic goals the results of which you will see relatively soon.
As Mike Fishbein says, twelve-week goals might be to grow your email list to 5,000 subscribers, or have six articles written for your blog. These are concrete and recognisable achievements, rather than numbers plucked out of thin air for the year ahead.
The more concrete your plans, the easier it is to review your progress. Part of Moran and Lennington’s book emphasises the importance of the review – which needs a dedicated weekly timeslot – so that you can keep track of how your plans are progressing.
Taking action and thinking small
In turn, the smaller framework of your plan unlocks opportunities for greater precision. It’s very difficult – if not entirely impossible – to plan week-by-week or day-by-day what you are going to be doing a year in advance. Rescaling your plan allows you to think through precise action points on a daily basis.
Remember David Allen’s method of how to get things done? That was precisely about scaling your larger projects down into straightforward actions – and this is what Moran and Lennington would have you do too.
So, the twelve-week year is not just about the twelve weeks. The book rather urges you to shrink your thinking into manageable, tangible chunks – and to keep track of them. At the beginning of every week, think about what your next five days should hold in store. At the end of every week, think about how well you achieved your goals in the past five days.
Vision and commitment
What you might be thinking in all of this is doesn’t this just lead to short-termism or a change of direction every twelve weeks?
The answer to this is ‘no!’, but a little bit needs to be added to the whole scheme. Your overall vision, ‘the bigger picture’, will inform the types of activities you are doing in each of your the twelve-week segments. For Moran and Lennington, this vision is split into two parts: the aspirational vision and the three-year vision.
The first is the answer to the question, who do I want to be? or what do I ultimately want to achieve? This, the Mission and Passion parts of the Ikigai, should guide each of the actions you take and ensure you stay ‘on-track’ and aligned with your vision. You could print this out and review it regularly to remember what it is you are in business for. It is a motivator.
Your three-year vision, on the other hand, is more concrete, quantifiable. Have a turnover of half a million. Win a sport’s competition. Whilst you won’t be planning long, speculative routes to this goal, each twelve-week plan should take you a step closer – small actions each at a time.
Over time, you will implement actions to incrementally get you to your goal. Without these ‘small wins’ it is easy to become demoralised, overwhelmed, and lose enthusiasm. However, with this technique, you will enjoy the all important reward and sense of achievement that will spur you onto the next one! Making achieving those big goals just a little easier!