Review: 12 Week Year

After several false starts I finally finished reading The 12 Week Year at the end of last year. I have mixed feelings about the full system they sell… but I heartily recommend the base principles.

The book starts with a simple claim: we already know what to do, we just don't do it:

The barrier standing between you and the life you are capable of living is a lack of consistent execution.

This really did grab me. Even with all my systems and automation, the most important tasks and projects seem perpetually shunted into a never-arriving future. The first half of the book argues that we abandon our systems before a chance of effect. They present a useful a mental model called the Emotional Cycle of Change:

  1. Uninformed optimism: "Running will be awesome!"
  2. Informed pessimism: "My feet hurt!"
  3. Valley of despair: "Is it always like this?" (This is where we usually quit!)
  4. Informed optimism: "It's just sore… and I can do this tomorrow."
  5. Success and fulfillment: "I'm a runner."

The authors recommend a two-fold system: first creating an aspirational vision, then planning within the twelve weeks. I tend to fight the touchy-feely aspects of the aspirational vision, but it has helped me:

the critical first step to executing well is creating and maintaining a compelling vision of the future that you want even more than you desire your own short-term comfort.

After you've designed the vision, you plan within the constraints of the twelve weeks… and use the bounds to create what the authors call "productive tension":

a heightened sense of urgency and increased focus on the critical few…

While I'm all about the critical few, I find constant deadlines to be stressful. However, I know folks who love deadlines. Everyone responds differently to the same motivations.

Despite my apprehension with the celebration of urgency, I've been experimenting with some of the core principles over the last six months.

In my task manager I have had a couple odd "projects": Leadership at Work. House. Marriage. They contain tasks but they never really complete. It's hard to feel like I'm making progress, no celebration or review… these areas are simultaneously the most important areas of my life… and the places where the most important tasks go to hide for years.

Projects in a task manager, showing Q2

I "canceled" the Eternal Projects, and migrated their contents to new projects labeled something like "<project> Q1". I also gave each project a Deadline corresponding with the end of my first 12 week year. I'm now on my second or third 12 week year. Merely having a goal of what I want to accomplish in the formerly "Eternal Projects" within those 12 weeks, and having regular times to review and adjust my strategies for accomplishing those tasks means that many formerly "stuck" tasks have been completed.

This past quarter I started a proper 12WY plan: identifying the two or three practices that will bring me closer to our family's aspirational goal. I also am using their idea of "strategic blocks" (very similar to Newport's Deep Work time) to make sure that I put time on those critical few actions. I still lack a proper scoreboard like they recommend, but I will certainly implement this next quarter. (Probably in my Simple Markdown Zettelkasten!) For now, I can see the completed tasks in each project at the end of a 12WY.

In many ways this has all pointed out a weakness in my previous implementations of Plan Your Year (which I still love!) In previous years I never revisited the plan so the first quarter of the year was bursting with productive action… dying somewhere around April. I think the two systems are fully compatible and intend to use them together. I would say that Plan Your Year is more family oriented, and less deadline-focused, if that is something that tends to drag your motivation more than propel it.

I still feel very strangely toward the book. I first feel aversion towards the celebration of deadlines, but the wisdom of being diligent with the time we have coupled with the helpful mental model of the Emotional Cycle of Change has made this a book I keep talking about.

  • 2022-06-08 11:31:29 -0500
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