In a recent blog post, I outlined the theory of The 12 Week Year. This week, I will share how I’ve applied it in my own life.
The 12 Week Year begins with visioning. A few years ago, I created clear one, three five and ten year visions for my life. I’ve kept them on my bedside table and look at them regularly. But it was time for a refresh. So I spent several hours reviewing the vision work I did when I got away for some retreat time this fall.
I’ve now refreshed my one and three year goals to provide a solid base for my practice of The 12 Week Year.
Planning The Next 12 Weeks
Clarifying just-right goals for your 12 Week Year is a crucial step to making this system work well. You should have between one and three stretch goals for these weeks. These goals are things that you likely wouldn’t get done when you’re plodding along day to day, but with effort and determination you can do. Your goals should be steps towards making your one- and three- year visions a reality.
I quickly came up with a handful of goals I wanted to take on for this 12 Week session. To hone down to just a couple, I considered which goals would be the best steps for moving me towards my one and three year vision. So, “Create a meaningful Holy Week and Easter” went onto the cutting room floor. Now, this doesn’t mean that I won’t focus on creating a meaningful Holy Week and Easter for my church. I definitely will spend much of my time in the next three months on that work. However, doing this well won’t be a meaningful move forward for my one and three year vision.
The two goals I settled on for this 12 Weeks are “Reset for Healthy Balance” and “Learn and Share Demonstrable Skills for Future Church Leadership.” These are two goals that will be important for me now, and impact my life in one year and three years.
In The 12 Week Year, each goal has a number of tactics. Some of these are repeated daily or weekly and others are one-time events. All of them are stated positively, start with a verb, and are measurable. Each week, it will be clear whether I completed each of these tactics or not.
For example, in my Reset for Healthy Balance, my tactics include
- Walk or 20 minutes of exercise 4 times a week (weekly)
- Do arty things 3 times a week (weekly)
- Work less than 45 hours per week (weekly)
- Record my health numbers (week 1 and 12)
- Practice stress reduction at least 3 times a week (begin week 3)
- Use Home Chef for healthy dinner prep 3 times a week (week 1-8)
- Remove sugar, sweeteners and fast carbs from my diet (week 6-12)
Creating My Ideal Week
I realized I was pretty anxious as I began to build my Ideal Week. I needed to remind myself I wasn’t solidifying my schedule for the entire rest of my life–just the next three months. With that reminder, I was able to create my schedule with a sense of curiosity and creativity. I pulled up a weekly scheduling template for Google Sheets and got to work.
My Buffer Blocks are not always at the very first or very last of my workday. Some days, I go straight into a meeting and then later go into a Buffer Block. That seems right for my own schedule.
I love the idea of a weekly Strategic Planning block. I use to schedule monthly Think Days, and take a few weeks each year for planning and vision work. But the idea of weekly focus on an item important to my larger goals is something new, and lovely. The 12 Week Year suggested scheduling your Strategic Block early in your week so if you have to reschedule you will have time to do so.
I used Breakout Blocks a bit differently from what was originally written. I am pretty good at taking small bits of time for creativity. And since my schedule isn’t set from week to week, I have a lot of flexibility in my workweek. Instead, one of my issues–especially while I’m working from home–is knowing when to stop. So instead of creating one 3-hour Breakout Block, I created daily Dinner Breaks. These help me set down work at the scheduled time, and give me the freedom to feel like I have the time to create an interesting, healthful meal and to sit down with my family. Then, I can choose whether or not to go back to work in the evening.
I have a number of regularly occurring meetings and so added these into my calendar using a different color (blue) so I could visually see the difference between proscribed 12 Week Year blocks and regular meetings.
Because exercise is one of my tactics to reach Goal 1 this “year”, I made sure to include it in my Ideal Week as well.
At the bottom of my schedule, I listed my 2 Goals and the weekly Tactics used for each week.
Now I had an Ideal Week. I was ready to apply it!
Creating Week 1
I have already noticed a couple of things about this system:
1) Planning takes time!
It took me an hour or two to create my Idea Week, and then an hour to actually apply that plan to my first week. Each morning, I spend 15-30 minutes reviewing my plan for the day and looking at the rest of my week. Each evening, I spend a few minutes reviewing the day and thinking about how the rest of my week is shaping up. And at the end of the week, I take time for an honest review.
On the one hand, I think “how can I add 4 more hours into my week?!?” On the other hand, I can already see how this planning time is helping me use the rest of my time more efficiently and effectively.
2) I hadn’t been valuing the Important Things
I was shocked when I compared my Ideal Week with my Google Calendar. My Google calendar was a hot mess of items that were urgent to someone, but was almost completely devoid of events that were important to my goals. I realized that I was allowing my time to be planned and spent by the needs of others, rather than in a purposeful, meaningful way.
I felt…emboldened and freed up by my Ideal Week (and maybe a little selfish, too).
I went to work combining my Ideal Week with my Google Calendar to create Week 1. It was actually easier than I thought at first glance. With some juggling, I was able to fit in all the parts of my Ideal Week with all the meetings and events already on my Google Calendar.
Living Into Week 1
I’ve survived Week 1 and am into Week 2! I noticed each morning as I reviewed my schedule and planned for the day, this reinforced my commitment to my goals, my commitment to myself, and my focus for the day.
Use a timer
I have the tendency to get deep into tasks and just keep working until they’re done. To avoid this trap, I used the timer on my phone to keep me honest about my time blocks. I set a 40 minute timer at the beginning of my Buffer Block. When it went off, I took a moment to decide whether I was at a place to stop or whether I wanted to devote more time to this task. I’d then re-set my timer, and dive back into the block or start my next block. I used the timer all week long, throughout the day to keep me on task and to help me move on when it was time.
Wow! I can’t believe how much difference it made to use a timer. Each time it went off, I took a moment to ask the strategic question, “How should I use my time now?” It made a real difference both in what I got done this week, and how I felt about this week.
Using the Strategic Block
When I planned my first 3-hour Strategic Block, I wondered if I would have the focus to stay on-task that long (or even a project that needed that much time). I settled into my first Strategic Block and was amazed how quickly the time flew. At the end of three hours, I had some really tangible output and also had more work to do on this project. I was excited about my next Strategic Block and how much more I could get done during it.
Review and Preview of Weeks
The authors of The 12 Week Year say that if you hit at least 85% of your tactics each week, it is likely that you will complete your goals for the “year.” It really helps me buy into this system knowing that it doesn’t demand weekly perfection.
This week 1, I hit the 85% goal. I didn’t get in all 3 Arty events, but know how that will happen in future weeks. I feel good about Week 1 and know that I did get more done that I would have without The 12 Week Year.
This positive feeling spurred me on to create Week 2. I used my weather app to help schedule my exercise at times it looks likely I would enjoy being outside. I had to do a bit of schedule Jenga to fit things in for the upcoming week, but they’re all in and I’m looking forward to another efficient, effective week.
Have you given the 12 Week Year a try? What did you think? Are you interested, but something is holding you back? Comment below or contact me to let me know.