Summary of the 12 Week Year Method of Productivity

This is a summary of the 12 Week Year method of productivity, from the book of the same name by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington. It’s a very motivating book! I recommend it. Here’s the gist:

The 12 Week Year is much more than just planning for 12 weeks instead of 12 months. It’s a system of Principles and Disciplines to make you more productive. The 12 week thing is just a small part of the picture.

Why a 12 Week Planning Cycle?

12 months is too long. There’s no urgency. You have way too much time, so you end up procrastinating most of the year and then rushing at the very end.

Things change over an entire year. Often the assumptions made at the beginning of the year will become less accurate over time. When you plan and sprint in shorter chunks, your assumptions avoid the degradation of time. The sum of your plans over a year is ultimately more accurate and productive.

It fits. Incidentally, a full year happens to break down nicely into 4 chunks of 12 weeks, with a 1 week break at the end of each chunk!

How does it work?

STEP 1: Embrace the 3 Principles

These are more like character traits:
  • Accountability: “Accountability is not consequences, it’s ownership.” You must be willing to own your thinking and actions and not blame others or make excuses for your results.

  • Commitment: Keeping your promises to yourself.
    Keys to a solid commitment:
    • Strong desire. Without it, you won’t be motivated to keep going when things get tough.
    • Count the costs. Anticipate the obstacles ahead of time.
    • Act on commitment, not feelings. “Learning to do the things you need to do, regardless of how you feel, is a core discipline for success.”

  • Greatness in the Moment: Basically having the discipline to stick to doing the hard things that will pay off later in moments when you are tempted to do more comfortable (but less important) things instead.

STEP 2: Follow the 5 Disciplines

1. VISION: Motivation when things are tough
What do you want to get done? Your vision is the driver of your goals. You will NEED a compelling vision to keep you motivated when things get tough. First, brainstorm the things you really want in life, blue sky thinking, your “long term vision.” Then, based on your long term vision, describe your 3 year vision. You’ll use your 3 year vision to create your 12 week goals.

2. PLANNING: Turning vision into 12 week goals
Based on your vision, choose one or more goals to pursue for the next 12 weeks. Your goals should be specific, measurable, and realistic. Then, for each goal, define the actions you need to complete each goal. These include one time actions like “join the gym" and weekly or daily key actions/habits that will drive progress on your goal, like “wake up at 6:30am every morning and run for 20 minutes, before breakfast.”

For each action, give it a deadline. “Join the gym” is due week 1. “Run for 20 minutes” is due every week. At the end of planning, you should have a list of actions scheduled for each of your 12 weeks.

Here's a sample 12 Week Plan from their website

3. PROCESS CONTROL: Disciplines to keep you on track
The main ones are:
  • Take 15 minutes every Monday to plan your week - that is to decide when you complete your actions that are due this week (more below).
  • Re-read your vision every morning.
  • Take 5 minutes to review your day and see how your actions aligned with your vision.
  • Join a WAM (Weekly Accountability Meeting): a 20 minute Monday morning call where you share your success, challenges, your last week’s score (see next point).
4. MEASUREMENT: Weekly score how you did on your actions
“Scorekeeping lets us know if what we’re doing is effective.”
Score your lead and lag indicators. Your lead indicators are the key actions you’ve scheduled for each goal. Your performance on these lets you know how you are doing toward reaching the goal. Every week calculate the percent of actions you accomplished. If you ran 4 out of 5 days, that’s 80%. It’s not fun to score yourself, but it keeps you from blissful ignorance if you’re not making real progress.

Lag indicators are the goals themselves (remember your goals should be measurable). If your goal is to lose 10lbs in 12 weeks, then your lag indicator is your weight at the end of each week. Not all goals will have an easy to measure lag indicator, that's okay. The emphasis here is on scoring your actions.

Measurement is one of the first things people skip. Don't fear your score, it simply tells you where you can improve, which is the whole point of having goals!

5. TIME USE: Intentionally plan your actions (and other stuff) into your week
Most people choose comfort now over payoff later. To be successful, you’ll have to do the hard things that create your biggest payoff. You have to schedule time for important tasks and say “no” to lesser things. At the beginning of your week, take 15 minutes to schedule the important things first (the Week Dominator is great for this!). In this order, schedule (choose a day and time) for:
  • the key actions for your goals that are due this week.
  • 3hr “Strategic Time” block every week for deep work.
  • one or two 30-60min “Buffer blocks” a day to do low-value things like email and emergent tasks.
  • 3h “Breakout block” during work hours to do some non-work. Getting away from work is important to recharge yourself and stay sharp.
  • everything else (like meetings, appointments, etc).

That was a rough summary of the 12 Week Year. I hit all of the major points and outlined the system. The book is more inspirational and detailed than this outline, but now you can get started today on your 12 week year!


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