A Skeptics Attempt At The 12 Week Year

I’ve always thought that goal setting was practical and important, I just didn’t think it was for me. I am usually a logical person. I fundamentally understand the psychological benefits of setting aspirational goals. I am aware of the research that details the correlation between setting specific goals and increased confidence and performance. I get it- honestly. But for some reason, I’ve never been able to get past the “fluff” of goal setting. I simply tend to prefer action over contemplation, and thus I usually find myself diving into the deep end rather than learning the techniques of long-distance swimming. This hasn’t been a problem for me, but it hasn’t been a solution either.

I received the book The 12 Week Year by Brian Moran this past Christmas. I thanked my sister (side note- I think a book is the most thoughtful and useful gift one can receive) skimmed it, and tucked it between two others on my shelf.

It’s not that I am not interested in goal setting, I just haven't been ready for it. Today I walked by that bookshelf and, for some reason, that 12 Week Year book caught my eye. I took it out, blew the dust off, and threw it in my bag.

This morning I listened to a podcast by NPR called TED Radio Hour while getting ready for work. This episode was called A Better You. It detailed insights about the seemingly insatiable human appetite for self-improvement.

During the episode, the host Guy Raz, introduces Matt Cutts- Google engineer and self-proclaimed life-experimenter. Matt explains how he explores the world by trying something new every month- for 30 days. Some months he chooses a deceptively simple challenge, such as showing gratitude daily. Other months he elects harder challenges like climbing the highest mountain in Africa (Mount Kilimanjaro) and running a marathon. Matt Cutt’s TED talk, Try Something New for 30 Days, is really good and sure to inspire!

Watch Matt’s full TED Talk Here

It is February 27th - just one day left until the start of a brand new month- and I’m feeling inspired. I have decided to conduct an experiment on myself.

For the next 30 days, I am going to follow the “12 Week Year” process to see how much I can achieve. March 2019 is either going to change my life or prove that my “not for me” theory on goal setting was right.

To be clear, I am really hoping that my theory was wrong.

The Process

The 12 Week Year goal setting and execution process is deceptively simple- I’ve illustrated my understanding of it in the graphic below:

My interpretation of the 12 Week Year system

Step 1: Big Vision

The process begins with a big vision outline: what do you want to be doing in 3–5 years? This could be very specific (I want to live in Malibu and work as a dolphin trainer) or intentionally vague (I want to have time freedom and make a comfortable living). The only stipulation is that you give yourself permission to dream and try to align your professional and personal vision.

Step 2: Milestone Goal

Next, you should determine what milestone goals you could achieve that would bring you closer to your big vision. These are 3-month goals, so they should be broad to ensure flexibility- but rigid enough to enforce action.

You should define goals individually, not collectively. For example, “I want to lose 20 lbs.” is one goal and “I want to make $4,000/ month” is a separate goal. These two intentions have little to do with each other and as such the action steps that must be taken to achieve either of them are very different.

Step 3: Tactics

Once you have defined a 3-month goal, you break it down into individual parts. For example, if you want to make $4,000 a month- you need to decide where this income will stem from. If you’ve decided that you would be the happiest if this income came from writing, you need to break down the steps to getting there into manageable pieces. These pieces are called tactics.

“Tactics are the daily to-do’s that drive the attainment of your goals. Tactics must be specific, actionable, and include due dates and assigned responsibilities.” — 12 Week Year

Your tactics should be specific, time-based, measurable, and actionable. Using the above example, your tactics may include starting a blog on Squarespace, deciding which topics to write about based on your passions, gaining a social media following of at least 200 people, getting a story or your profile featured by Medium curators and or by other writing platform websites.

The more specific and measurable the tactics are, the better your chance of completing them. You will assign tactics (in the most logical order) to the 12 weeks in your plan. Some weeks may have a few tactics to manage and some weeks may only have one big one. It’s up to you to set the pace.

Step 4: Action Items

The second to last step is to break down the tactics into simple “action items”. For each tactic, define several action items and determine the following:

  • How will you measure the success of this action?
  • Is this a one time action or will you repeat this? If this is recurring, how often will it happen?
  • What is the target due date for this action step this week?

Answering these key questions will encourage you to get specific and realistic- two elements that are crucial for achieving success.

“Each week you will need to schedule 15 minutes to score and plan your week.” -12 Week Year

Step 5: Weekly Scorecard

The final step is to evaluate the week that’s past and prepare for the week that’s coming. The equation for scoring your week is really simple:

# of action items completed (by your own measure of success) / # of total action items listed for that week = Your Execution Score (%)

If you score higher than 85% — you can adjust the plan (only if you find that it is not producing the results you had hoped for, otherwise stay the course).

If you score lower than 85% — you didn’t execute on enough of the plan to know if it was working. Leave the plan alone and have a chat with the person in the mirror.

You can’t know if the plan works, if you don’t work the plan.

Getting Started

Now that I have the process down and a clear formula for evaluating success, this goal setting skeptic is ready to test the limits.

I will write a separate post detailing my personal “12 Week Year” goal process- starting with the big vision, all the way down to the daily action items.

It is important that I separate this piece from my personal piece because I don’t want to imprint my journey on to anyone else's path.

“You are 7 times more likely to be successful if you participate in some form of peer support” -12 Week Year

I highly recommend you try the challenge for 30 days with me. One of the most important elements of this process is peer support and I would be happy to connect and form a “WAM” (peer support) group. Even if you don’t want to (or don’t have the time to) implement that challenge right now, thinking through the 5 steps is a good creativity and self-assessment exercise.

“If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place.” — Nora Roberts

Endlessly curious about the human condition. Founder of Studio Upstart. Chief of Staff @ Untapped Ventures.

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