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If you knew that you had a year to complete something, what would be your sense of urgency on that task?
For example, let’s say you’re not a runner, but you’re creating a goal for yourself to be able to run ten miles (for simplicity’s sake) in one year.
Are you going to get up from the couch right now and start training? Or are you going to figure it’s fine to wait a week before considering making a move? Maybe you want to take your first week “off” to be able to enjoy yourself before you have to get to work.
Now let’s say that 12-month goal is condensed into 12 weeks. I bet you’re going to be more eager to find your running shoes and get started since the deadline is already looming.
This new sense of urgency is what creates the framework for Brian P. Moran’s 12 Week Year.
When I first read about the 12 week year, I was reminded of Parkinson’s Law, which essentially says that a task will take as long as you allow for it to take. If you give yourself a week to do a two-hour task, you will expand that task into a week-long project. On the other hand, if you give yourself an hour to complete something, it will be finished in an hour.
Similar to Parkinson’s Law, Moran argues that if you break each year into four years (four sets of 12 weeks), then you can–in essence–get four years of work accomplished in one calendar year.
In this article, I will talk more about the structure of the 12 week year and provide you with a brief step-by-step process on how to implement this productivity tactic.
Let’s start by exploring Moran’s reasonings for believing in this concept a bit further.
What is the 12 Week Year?
Brian Moran found fault in the idea of creating goals to be completed within a calendar year. He believed:
Moran argues that one reason people feel the need to work on a variety of things (either in their personal or professional lives) in the span of a year rather than focusing on one goal is that predictability plummets with time. So let’s say you spend the entire year working toward getting promoted and then that position is eliminated. Did you just waste your year? People don’t want to put all of their eggs in one basket.
Additionally, Moran found people would create goals for the year that were simply concepts rather than specific, measurable goals (for example: “become a runner” vs. “be able to run one mile without stopping within the next week”). Concepts lack focus and don’t have a clear finish line, while measurable goals have a beginning and an end.
Without having a focused, tactical plan, you’re not choosing the few critical tasks that you need to do in order to get where you want to be. You’re lacking focus and often working hard, but not really getting anywhere. Also, it’s nearly impossible to know how your experiences and feelings will alter your course through life. If you reduce your time frame for your goals, you will have more opportunities to adapt to shifting circumstances. You never know when you may have an experience that could have an impact on your goals moving forward.
However, when you bring your long-term vision in and set shorter deadlines, you’re forced to cut out any unnecessary work, become laser-focused, and work smarter, not harder.
Breaking your 12-month plan into a 12-week plan makes you realize what your most important tasks are and leave out anything that is secondary.
Your 12-week goals will help you work toward meeting your one year vision, your five-year vision, and so on. However, it will keep you focused on the task at hand rather than trying to master multiple things at one time.
Your ability to predict the future of your goal increases with a short-term view, and with a 12-week goal rather than a 12-month goal, you find it mandatory to create structured plans that can be implemented to be successful. Your sense of urgency becomes constant, yet healthy, as you now have to do a month’s worth of work in a week.
With all of this in mind, Moran believes a 12-week goal calendar encourages a shift in people’s mindset. With that sense of healthy urgency, your actions are more likely to be congruent with your thinking, which can lead to breakthroughs in your progress.
5 Steps to Your 12-Week Year
So, how do you implement this 12 week year? Let’s look at an overview of the step-by-step process that Moran explains in his program.
Step 1: Write Down Your Goals
Before even writing your goals down, you need to take the time to figure out what your ultimate vision is and what your inspiration is to get there. Once you have a personal connection with your goal, you will be motivated to take action toward it, because after all, you can’t control your outcomes, but you can control your actions.
You want to make your goals a bit of a stretch, so you know you’re challenging yourself, but still within the realm of possibilities. Don’t create a goal that you’re so unlikely to achieve that you will end up quitting halfway through.
Then you will want to record your goals. You may think to yourself, “I know what my goal is, why would I need to write it down?” Well, if you aren’t willing to put forth the effort to write down your goal, how much effort are you really willing to put into reaching it? When you write down your goals, the probability of achieving them goes up 80%.
Further, you’re seven times more likely to be successful at achieving your goal if you have peer support or someone else is holding you accountable. When other people know about your goal, it will make you own your results without trying to make an excuse for them. Make a bet with someone else on your success for the next 12 weeks. Or, if you can, have a meeting with 2-4 other people who are using the 12 week year strategy each week to help keep each other accountable. Using this method makes you face your progress every three months, so keeping yourself accountable is an important part of your overall success.
Step 2: Get Specific
Create 12 weekly targets to meet in order to attain your goal, along with an action plan for each week and the keystone habits or tasks you will have to complete in order to hit your target. Make sure that each week builds upon the last, making it so not executing one week will compromise your future success.
Be sure to come up with the critical few. While you may be able to list of 12 targets that you want to meet, what are the most important ones? Turn those into specific goals. For example, “I will make ten sales calls this week. Next week, I will increase that by two calls, and will continue to do so each week until I am regularly making twenty sales calls per week.” With this goal, if you skip a week, you’re setting yourself back by allowing those potential sales to pass you by.
As you’re in this step of planning, you also need to create structure for your goals that makes them easy to implement. For example, let’s say you’re trying to save money. A goal with structure could be: “I will bring my lunch to work Monday through Thursday and only leave Friday available for eating out with co-workers.” This goal has clear boundaries that you can’t “accidentally” mess up.
If your goal is weight loss, you may need to create specific process goals that you will practice that will contribute to your outcome goal. For example, in addition to your exercise goals, you may say, “I will eat clean seven days per week.” This is a specific sub-goal that will have a direct impact on your main objective. Your process goals help define your actions and habits that come together to create your ideal routine.
Step 3: Create Process Controls
Put supports and tools into place that will help you continue to carry out your plan, even if things get tough. Figure out how you can align your daily actions with your most critical tasks so you can be sure that you’re spending your energy on the most valuable action steps toward reaching your goal. How can you be sure to complete your most important tasks each day? Set up a fail-proof system.
For example, practice a time blocking approach for creating your schedule. Block off time each day to devote to working on your process goals so there is no question when or if your work will get done. Make a specific schedule, such as, “I will do cardio exercise five days a week, Monday through Friday, from 8:00 to 9:00 am.”
Or, this could look like a few different things. Maybe you create routines for each week that are made up of a variety of actions that will objectively move you closer to your goal. If you’re aiming to save money, on Mondays you can set aside 30 minutes to review your budget and last week’s spending, on Tuesdays, you can go through your outstanding bills to see where you can cut costs, on Wednesdays, you can research secondary sources of income for 30 minutes, and so on.
Or, you can simply aim to control your attitude and mindset so you don’t run into days where you feel unmotivated or don’t have the discipline to get any work done.
The idea here is to make your process controls very achievable, so you can easily reach them every day. Most days, you will likely exceed them, but just having something in place that you can mark off as being accomplished is still going to help you make progress.
Step 4: Keep Score
Keep score so you’re able to tell if the actions you’re taking are having the impact that you expected them to have. However, don’t keep score of your weekly results, keep score of your execution processes instead. If you have continuous improvement in your execution, it will eventually lead to good results.
For example, if you set a running goal that is very concrete, but you’re unable to progress at the rate you set out for, don’t fault yourself for that. Instead, look at the progress you are making each week, and recognize that it will eventually lead to meeting your goal. If you rush the process before you’re actually ready to move on (especially with running), it can set you back. If you push yourself beyond just a “challenge” and into an arena that you’re not ready to be in, you could end up getting injured (if you’re running) or setting yourself back in some other way.
Keep score by starting each week by writing down your critical actions for the week and then cross them off as you complete them. At the end of the week, look at how many critical actions you were able to complete. Generally, if you complete 85% or more of these activities, then you will probably complete your objectives. However, if you fall below 65%, you are likely to fail at reaching your goals. This means that you want to maintain as high of an execution score as you can.
Measuring your results in this way will drive you to perform throughout the week. Remember to focus on your behavior and actions rather than the outcomes that you produce. Keep score of how often you’re doing the work that is necessary in order to make progress toward your ultimate goal.
Step 5: Regroup
Make time to regroup and recognize your progress at the end of each 12 week period. Celebrate how far you have come and all of the work that you’ve accomplished. A few things you will do or ask yourself after each 12 week period is finished include:
If necessary, do some reassessment on your future goals. Do you need to spend more time mastering what you’ve been working on? Do you want to go in a completely new direction? One of the best characteristics of the 12 week year is how often you have the chance to start fresh. When you set out to reach an annual goal and March meets you with no progress, it can definitely feel defeating. However, when you alter your “goal period” to 12 weeks that can actually begin whenever you want them to, you can opt to start your new plan right away. It’s refreshing to know that a blank slate is so often available, and you aren’t confined to the restrictions of a calendar.
Final Thoughts on the 12 Week Year
Following the 12 week year program works because it speeds everything up, which results in setting more goals, taking more actions, doing more, and seeing more. Because deadlines are big motivators, having a 12 week year forces you to constantly take some kind of action. If you always feel like your deadline is around the corner, you will live with a sense of urgency and get more accomplished as a result.
The chief component of the 12 week year is focus. Implementing this plan will force you to be hyper-focused on achieving your goals and help you learn how to recognize the tasks that are secondary as opposed to those that help you work toward your ultimate vision.
Think about a future that feels compelling to you and start working toward it using the 12 week year strategy. Chances are, you will see yourself making progress faster and using your time more efficiently than ever before.
Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.
Connie Mathers is a professional editor and freelance writer. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her daughter and two dogs, running, or working at her full-time job as a social worker in Richmond, VA.