The 12 Week Year: A Time Management System

Have trouble thinking about the future? Does it seem so far away that it’s not all that important?

The 12 week year might be just the thing you need. This time management system focuses on goal-setting in 12 week sprints so that every three months or so, you’re making major headway on projects.

12 Week Year

Sound interesting? Keep reading to find out what this system is, who came up with it, how it works, tips for success, and more.

What is the 12 week year?

The 12 week year is a time management system created by Brian P. Moran, who authored the book by the same title. Moran describes the gist of the 12 week year in a single sentence: “Stop thinking in terms of a year; instead focus on shorter time frames.”

While most organizations set long-term goals based on the calendar year, Moran’s system takes a different approach wherein a “year” is 12 weeks long. Thinking about goals in more short-term sprints (12 weeks at a time, that is) forces you to act with urgency and to focus on what matters most, thus avoiding the pitfalls that come with more annualized thinking.

“We mistakenly believe that there is a lot of time left in the year, and we act accordingly. We lack a sense of urgency, not realizing that every week is important, every day is important, every moment is important. Ultimately, effective execution happens daily and weekly,” Moran writes.

How does the 12 week year work?

When it comes to the 12 week year, there are some important steps to take as you leverage this time management system:

Define your why.

As you sit down to think about what you want to accomplish in the next 12 weeks, you’ll want to first get clear about the why that’s driving those efforts. Ask yourself: Why are these projects/goals important? How will they help my team?

From there, write two different statements: One should be aspirational and should speak to how you want your life to look from a big-picture perspective. The other should be short-term, speaking to key goals you want to accomplish within the next 1-3 years. This will serve as your foundation as you move forward and provides meaningful context on what you’re ultimately working towards.

Establish goals for each of the 12 weeks.

12 week is the same as three months, so you’re essentially asking yourself: What do I need to accomplish in this short time frame? Remember to set SMART goals so that you’re not setting yourself up for failure.

“Whether it’s 12 weeks or a quarter, the magic is in these short term sprints that help you stay focused and that keep you from procrastinating or forgetting about things.” -Genki Hagata, Web Developer at HugeInc

Build a plan of action.

To start making progress toward your 12-week goals, you’ll need an actionable series of steps that’ll help you get to the finish line. Assign realistic due dates to each task and consider the potential roadblocks ahead of time so you can anticipate them and proactively plan for those as well.

“I’ve found that using quarters as my main time horizon is the perfect balance between the extremes of daily/weekly planning and the annual review.” –Roxine Kee, freelance marketer

Review often.

A key component to the 12 week year is frequent review of progress so you can accurately assess how things are going. Schedule a block of time (no more than 30 minutes) into your weekly calendar to look back at what’s been accomplished and what’s still left to do.

“I love the aspect of ‘halting production’ and getting up in the helicopter to review whether we’re still moving in the right direction. We use the same methodology with our clients, and it works so well.” -Andrew Lolk, Founder of Savvy Revenue

Schedule time for deep work.

Speaking to slotting time–you’ll also want to schedule in blocks of time during which you can focus on strategic progress toward your goals. This may mean saying “no” to phone calls and/or closing your office door for heads-down work, but it’ll help ensure you eliminate distractions and can realistically have time for the tasks that need to get done.

“The 12 week year is the only system I’ve stuck to for years, so I always go back and reference the book. I don’t always stick to it 100%, but it’s the underlying system I use for everything!” –Marie Poulin, business system designer

Key elements to the 12 week year

Moran writes that there are eight elements that are crucial to the success of this time management system working for you:

  1. Vision: A compelling vision creates a clear picture of the future.
  2. Planning: An effective plan clarifies and focuses on the top priority initiatives and actions needed to achieve the vision.
  3. Process control: A set of tools and events that align your daily actions with the critical actions in your plan.
  4. Measurement: Lead and lag indicators that provide comprehensive feedback necessary for informed decision-making.
  5. Time use: Using your time with clear intention is a must.
  6. Accountability: Accountability is ultimately ownership. It is a character trait, a life stance, a willingness to own actions and results, regardless of the circumstances.
  7. Commitment: Keeping your promises to others build strong relationships, and keeping promises to yourself builds character, esteem, and success.
  8. Greatness in the moment: The results are not the attainment of greatness, but simply confirmation of it.

If any of these don’t seem like a natural fit for your work style, type of work, or general perspective, this may not be the right strategy for you.

Pitfalls to be aware of with the 12 week year

Setting unrealistic goals

If you’re not setting goals you can realistically achieve within 12 weeks, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Make sure that the objectives you’re working toward are ones you can accomplish without overextending yourself and causing unnecessary stress.

Too much too soon

When you’re first getting started with the 12 week year, it’s better to start slow and then ramp things up as time goes on. For your first sprint, maybe set smaller, simpler goals so you can gain traction and work out the kinks before trying this model at a more aggressive pace.

Not tracking progress

If you’re not tracking progress as you work using this time management model, you’ll have no real way to gauge your success or to see where changes need to be made. Set up a spreadsheet to take notes, to track deadlines, and to keep your moving parts in an easy to view and easy to use format.

No accountability partner

The 12 week year works best when you have an accountability partner. Make sure you have a point person in place who can keep you in check with your goals, progress, and deadlines. This is a simple way to build in an external accountability measure that will help boost your success rate.

Find out if the 12 week year is right for you

You can read and learn all you want about this time management system, but you won’t know for sure if it’ll work for you until you give it a try. See if shorter “years” are the mental model you need to accomplish more and to achieve maximum productivity.