12 Reasons to Try the 12 Week Year

This winter when I was wistfully remembering the days of nonchalant air travel, one of the things I realized I missed was “airplane reads” – those books that call to you from every airport store and which you can read during the travel time of one trip.  


To relive some travel memories, I picked up a copy of “The 12 Week Year: Get more done in 12 weeks than others do in 12 months” by Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington.  It provides a system to use time more efficiently and to harness the power of shorter time frames to motivate continued improvement.  

12 Reasons to Try The 12 Week Year

Work Related Reasons

  • You have a data driven job and you want to increase your numbers
  • You want to commit to a new/big project
  • You want to invest more deeply in your job
  • You want to impress your boss
  • You want to show you can excel and are ready for a promotion or raise
  • You are bored and would like a challenge
  • It’s time to finish your dissertation/write that book/get that grant

Personal Reasons

  • You want to lose weight, exercise more, or eat better
  • You want to make time for a side gig or hobby 
  • You want to change careers and need to focus on preparing for your future
  • You are overwhelmed by a home renovation, marital separation, or other life-changing event
  • You are ready to commit to important financial changes

The Theory Behind The 12 Week Year

Moran and Lennington hypothesis that a year is simply too long a time frame to engage a feeling of urgency or to delay gratification.  Businesses spend countless hours creating annual plans which are then shelved, edited or otherwise not well-used simply because we really can’t pay attention for a whole year.  

Instead, the authors invite us to shrink our year from 52 weeks to 12.  With only 12 weeks in front of us, we continue to feel a sense of urgency to get things done.  With only 12 weeks, we are able to successfully delay gratification and to make choices that lead to achieving our goal.  With only 12 weeks, we don’t have time to get distracted or slack off.  There is an urgency to get it done.  

Throughout the book, the authors stress these aren’t simply quarterly goals.  To engage this plan effectively, it is important to think about each 12-week block as a single unit of measurement, like a year.  They say by using this plan, people are able to get a year’s worth of development and growth done in the span of 12 weeks.  They may be right.

The Basics of The 12 Week Year

We humans are quite adept at wasting time.  Study after study shows us the shocking truth about how much time we waste.  (Here is more information about wasting time at work.)  

The 12 Week Year provides structure to keep us focused and on-task so that we will accomplish the goals we set.  It begins with creating a vision. It includes lots of planning, structure and accountability.  It involves daily and hourly focus.  It is a simple concept, which has the potential for profound results.


This system starts with the big why: clarify your vision.  Make your vision big and as rich and clear as possible.  Really see yourself within that future vision, and write it down.  This is your aspirational vision.  

Start with something interesting but out of your reach…something you think is impossible.  Then imagine “what if?” What would it take to make it possible?  From there, write down the steps it would take to get there.  This moves your thinking from possible to probable.  Once you have your grand aspirational vision and you know what it would take to get there, focus on just the next 3 years in order to bring it more deeply into your reality.   Finally, use sets of the 12 Week Year to accomplish your vision.

Planning a 12 Week Year

The time you spend on planning can double or triple your effectiveness, and the 12 Week Year relies on regular planning.  You’ll spend an hour or two creating goals and tactics before you begin a 12 Week Year, another hour or so each week reviewing the previous week and mapping out your next week, and take time daily to review your work.

Set Your Goals

Each 12 Week Year begins with a few goals.  Set one to three goals for your next 12 weeks.  Begin them with a verb, state them positively and make them measurable.  Tweak them until they feel like an achievable but not easy goal.

Set Your Tactics

Each goal will have several tactics to complete on your way to reaching that goal. Tactics need to be time delineated.  Will you do them once, most days, or weekly?  Some tactics you will do every week or every day (File all papers before leaving the office on Fridays; Meditate 20 minutes daily).  Others will be one-time or sequential events (Get a physical in week 1; Discuss blood work results with doctor in week 3). 

Like your goals, your tactics also need to begin with a verb, be stated positively, and be measurable.  

Process Controls

This system uses three types of process controls:  Measuring and scoring; Planning; and Accountability.  

Score Your Week

Each week, you have a list of measurable tactics to complete.  A sometimes difficult, but always important part of your week is to take the time to review what was done and what was left undone, and then give yourself a rating. 100% is ideal, but not always realistic.   If you are completing at least 85% of your tactics each week, the authors say you’ll likely make significant progress towards your goal.   

Plan Your Week

Create your Ideal Week

Before beginning your 12 Week Year, prepare by creating an ideal week.  You’ll likely never use this exact week, but it will give you a jumpstart to planning each particular week during your 12 Week year.  Each week will include Buffer Blocks, a Strategic Block and a Breakout Block.

Daily Buffer Blocks

Your week will include daily “buffer blocks.” These are generally 30-60 minutes of time at the beginning and end of the day for administrative tasks like email, phone calls, paperwork, etc. Get them on schedule and get your administrative tasks complete during these specific blocks, freeing up the rest of your day for bigger projects. 

Strategic Block

Find time each and every week for a single 3-hour block of strategic time.  This block ensures that every week you are dedicating a serious amount of time to your bigger picture vision and goals.  It is time to set down all the “to dos” and “shoulds” and focus solely on living into your preferred future.  

Breakout Block

The 12 Week Year can feel like an intensely regimented system.   Each week, plan in a 3-hour Breakout Block of time for creativity and fun.  Scheduling –and USING– these blocks prevent burnout and provide a much needed break.  Don’t skimp on them.

Weekly Accountability Meeting

This system requires accountability. We humans do not excel at keeping ourselves accountable.  The authors encourage setting up a weekly accountability meeting with one or a few others.  This Weekly Accountability Meeting (WAM) is quite short– only 15 to 30 minutes — to review your results to date and your weekly results, to verbalize your intentions for the week, and to get some encouragement to keep up with your plan.

If your work team is all participating in the 12 Week Year, using them as your WAM would be an obvious choice.  If you work with a coach, WAMs may become part of your coaching agreement.  You might find a friend in a very different profession who would be willing to try the 12 Week Year along with you.  If none of these fit your situation, you could even enlist a friend or family member who is simply there to support you in being accountable to yourself.

Give it a Try

I walk you through my process of applying these concepts here, and report in mid-cycle here.  If you have one of the 12 Reasons to Try the 12 Week Year and would like me to be part of your WAMs, contact me.

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