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You have big dreams, lots of ideas, and you know the opportunities are endless. So why isn’t anything happening?

A lot of us get stuck on wanting to create, build, and flourish, but never actually doing anything. The ideas are fun to think of, but the execution takes a lot of work.

If you’ve got lofty goals but need the extra push and accountability to get things done, the 12 week year might be exactly what you need.

When I discovered the 12 Week Year I was stuck behind a door. On the other side of the door was thing huge amazing thing I wanted to build that would give me more personal freedom, and also let me achieve success as big as I wanted to take it.

Unfortunately there was the door. The metaphorical door was blocking me from actually executing. Sometimes the door was sick kids, cancelled child care, negativity, reality TV, lack of confidence, and sometimes it was probably just laziness.

I needed something to essentially kick me in the ass. And since this was a project I wanted to tackle on my own, I knew that something had to ultimately come from me.

When I read about the 12 Week Year I knew it was a good fit for me. I need a system to hold me accountable, and I need some kind of tangible measurement to feel like I’m “earning” something at the same time.

I’m only just getting started and the 12 Week Year has already kickstarted my productivity. I know my goals are within reach, and I can’t wait to see what I’ve accomplished at the end of my first 12 weeks.

Is there something in your life related to health, business, relationships, or another topic that you’re dying to accomplish but haven’t yet?

Maybe the 12 Week Year is right for you too.

We’re breaking down everything you need to know with this 12 Week Year beginner’s guide below.

What is the 12 Week Year?

The 12 Week Year book, by Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington, is a productivity concept that can be applied to any facet of life. It was published in 2013, but it’s still continuing to gain speed, and results.

The concept essentially reforms the way you think about time. Instead of measuring everything in a year, you measure everything in terms of 12 week periods. Hence the term, 12 week year.

Why change the meaning of a year?

Moran and Lennington point out that a year is really too long of a time period to consistently accomplish results. When New Year’s rolls around a lot of us choose ambitious goals we’re ready to tackle, and we usually start off pretty strong in January too.

If we’re lucky, we may even still be going strong in February. And then something funny happens.

We start to lose steam. We’re not getting the results we want. We’re not getting them fast enough. Or we’re just burnt out on something we couldn’t really maintain from the beginning.

But it’s OK because we tell ourselves we have the rest of the year to make it up. And then a few months roll by and suddenly it’s June. We’re halfway through the year and no closer to accomplishing our goals.

But again, we tell ourselves, it’s OK because we have SIX months left. Six months is a lot of time. We can surely accomplish our goals by then.

Can you guess what happens next? Not a whole lot. Until the end of the year that is. The end of the year rolls around and one of two things happens,

  1. We kick it into high gear and make a last ditch effort for any sort of progress.
  2. We decide to scrap it and start the whole crazy cycle again in January.

A year is too long to maintain anything. But 12 weeks? Now that might just work.

How Does a 12 Week Year Work?

The 12 Week Year uses a design process to help you visualize your goals, and then structure meaningful activities that will help you get there.

First, you figure out what you want. You write everything you want out of life on a piece of paper. Then, start categorizing into a timeline. What can you accomplish in 5 years? What can you accomplish in 10 years? What about 15 years?

Then, start breaking your vision down into actual goals. What meaningful goals could you accomplish that would help you get there?

As you break down these magical visions into goals, you start to create the framework for your first 12 week year.

Moran and Lennington don’t suggest tackling everything at once, but picking the initiatives that will have the biggest impact.

Getting Rid of Time Sucks

A major concept the 12 Week Year touches on is choosing the most impactful activities to measure. For example, if you were doing 10 activities to help reach your goal, but 2 of those activities were delivering 80% of the results, it may make sense to focus all of your attention on those 2 activities.

Those two activities are the ones you’ll want to focus on in your 12 Week Year.

The other eight activities are likely time sucks that are distracting your productivity without delivering big results. If you could change your focus to matter on the things that create the biggest impact, you should be able to meet your end goal much faster and more efficiently.

Setting Up Your First 12 Week Year

There are a few steps towards setting up your first 12 week year, but they shouldn’t be too hard as long as you have a strong vision for what you want.

It should actually be kind of fun.

Choosing 12 Week Year Goals

You’ll need to identify goals for your 12 Week Year plan. It’s probably best to start with anywhere from 1-3 goals, depending on how complex and time consuming they are.

Spreading yourself too thin and tackling everything at once will most likely dilute your progress.

If you’re not even sure where to start, revert back to your visions. What do you need to do to get to make these happen?

When I started my first 12 Week Year, my goals fell into three categories:

  • Side Hustle (which I wanted to turn into my full time job eventually)
  • Regular Work (I own a consulting company and had a specific goal for one of my clients)
  • Health (I was on a track to get back to a certain weight after welcoming to kids into the world)

Your categories might be totally different. But those were mine.

Identifying 12 Week Year Leading Indicators

Once you’ve determined your goals, you’ll need to figure out which weekly activities will help you reach those the most efficiently.

I’ll run through two of my examples to give you a better idea of how I figured this out.

Example #1: Side Hustle

My side hustle was starting this website. My goal for the first 12 Week Year was getting this website to a point of being accepted in a certain advertising company, meaning I would need to hit a certain number of page views and session per month. This is a requirement to apply to the company, so it seemed like a fitting goal.

To get to more page views, I looked at what activities have the biggest impact. I also considered where I was struggling. For me, sitting down and writing content was a struggle.

It was something that I knew if I could do consistently, I would see a huge impact. But like many of the things blocking me from success above, it was too easy to get derailed and not hit my weekly quotas.

I also knew that building an email subscriber base was important, and the best method for that was using pieces of gated content. Essentially I provide a piece of content of high value, and someone trades their email subscription in order to get it.

Lastly I knew that Pinterest was one of the best options for driving traffic early on. A consistent Pinterest strategy could drive way more traffic a lot faster than SEO.

Knowing all of this, I set up my weekly activities as this:

  • 6 new pieces of content published per week
  • 1 new piece of gated content created per week
  • Two 12 minute Pinterest work sessions two times per day

These are my leading indicators, because if completed, they are most significant indicator that I will be successful and reach my goal.

Example #2: Health

This is probably way too personal to share, but my health goal was to reach and maintain a weight of 125 lbs. I had already made over 10 lbs of progress using a few core strategies, so I decided to carry those through to my 12 Week Year, and add a few other things as well.

I have trouble sticking to any diet or plan that is too stringent because I typically self sabotage after a short period of successful commitment. So for me, I knew I needed to maintain flexibility while also cutting out my biggest problems.

I noticed that my biggest issues when it came to diet were:

  • Snacking after dinner (typically in front of the TV, with wine)
  • Going to Starbucks (I don’t even drink coffee, which makes this even more pathetic)
  • Eating chips (there is a certain type of tortilla chips that are literally my kryptonite, and they pair really well with white wine…at night…in front of the TV)

Literally by making these major changes, in addition to using a food log and weighing myself every morning, I was able to lose 13 pounds in about a month and a half, without ever exercising once.

Having a food log keeps me more accountable to better eating choices because I’m embarrassed to write something down like “ate a whole bag of candy on accident.” So I added that as a leading indicator as well.

My leading indicators for my health goal ended up being:

  • No “Big 3” (The three items I mentioned above)
  • Daily Food Log (Because this helps me make better food choices)
  • Drinking 3 liters of water a day (Curbs hunger and also water is just really good for you)
  • 2 “active” sessions per week (Working out is not part of my weight loss plan but I still wanted to get slightly more active. For me an active session could count as anything from a workout to a walk with our dogs)

I identified these as my leading indicators because I felt they had the biggest impact on whether or not I would be able to get to, and maintain my goal weight.

Identifying 12 Week Year Lagging Indicators

Your lagging indicators are how you will measure success. You can’t really know if you are making progress toward your goal without measuring some kind of metric.

Using the same examples from above, these are how I decided to measure my success.

Example #1: Side Hustle

  • Number of page views and sessions per day/week/month

Example #2: Health

  • My weight

Setting Up Your 12 Week Year Performance Report

One of my favorite things about the 12 Week Year is that you have a weekly performance grade. It’s probably the same reason I always did well in tests at school, but I guess I like getting a score.

The different type of accountability factors we crave changes based on our personalities, but for me, this one really works.

Every time I think about not completing a task on my weekly activity log I think about how my score and completion percentage will reflect that decision.

The crazy thing is, no one else is even looking at this. But I will know my score, and that’s enough for me.

If that’s not enough for you, you may choose to partner up with someone, or share with a family member or close friend.

The big step here is creating a numerical measurement for each activity listed in your weekly plan.

Here is a breakdown of how I structured my measurements for my side hustle goal we’ve been following this whole time.

Example #1: Side Hustle

Weekly Leading Indicator: 6 new pieces of content published

Weekly Measurement: 6 total points available (one for each piece published)

Weekly Leading Indicator: 1 new piece of gated content created

Weekly Measurement: 1 total point available (one point for the gated content created)

Weekly Leading Indicator: 2 15 minute Pinterest sessions per day

Weekly Measurement: 7 total points available (one point earned for each day activity level was met)

That would mean within my side hustle goal, I would have 14 points available each week to earn. If I hit everything perfectly, I would earn 14/14 points and hit 100% productivity. If I hit everything except only published 4 pieces of content, I would earn 12/14 points, and hit 86% productivity.

You can keep track of this in a spreadsheet online, or using a notebook.

I structured my weekly report on a spreadsheet to help visualize it, and then I ultimately chose a dotted notebook for daily tracking.

Here are both examples.

This was the online spreadsheet template I started with.

12 week year weekly performance tracker spreadsheet example

This is the custom weekly tracker template I created using a dotted notebook.

12 week year weekly performance dotted notebook example

I nabbed this dotted notebook from Amazon in a bright yellow colorful because I felt like it would make logging a little more cheerful. The dotted template also gives a fun level of flexibility so you can build your own custom tracker just the way you want it.

Identifying 12 Week Year Sacrifices

One last important factor when planning your 12 Week Year is figuring out where you are going to make some sacrifices. Obviously you can’t magically add more time into the day, so something has to give.

I would take a good guess that there are a few activities you do during the day that are mostly a waste of time. Whether it’s scrolling aimlessly through social media, getting lost in a Youtube video tunnel, or binging a TV show.

Can you identify anything that would give you more time during the day to work on your goals?

For me, it was deciding to let go of all TV shows except for one series I really enjoy. We all need a mental break at some point! Plus, cutting out everything else was still a HUGE difference (I watch a lot of TV).

Point being, don’t expect to be able to make incredible changes if you aren’t willing to make some sacrifices too.

My sacrifices this time around were:

  • No TV except for my one series
  • 4 5am wake up days a week (to add extra time to my day)

Ready, Set, Go!

Once you’ve gone through all the steps to build the framework and tracker for your first 12 Week Year, you’re ready to start!

Pick a start date and get moving. You may just be amazed and what you can accomplish!

Want even more productivity tips? Check out the productivity section of these 22 self care apps you can’t live without.

12 week year beginners guide