Increasing Productivity & Self Confidence with The 12 Week Year

I have written and spoken a number of times about productivity. This is a topic that both fascinates and inspires me. As I reviewed 2017 and planned for 2018, I knew I needed to implement some strategies and habits to help me focus on the “big picture,” while also getting the little things done.

I ended 2017 by reading two books: Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, and The 12 Week Year by Brian Moran. I had read Carrie Dil’s review of The 12 Week Year and it sounded like something that could work for me. I am a very organized and fairly disciplined person, but I can very easily get pulled into the small stuff and had never actually given much thought to an overarching “Vision.” In addition, the idea of setting goals for a quarter – or 12 weeks – instead of a year makes a lot of sense, as it is easier to keep goals in mind for a shorter period of time. The concept of “attention narrowing,”  highlighted in this article, says that when a finish line or goal is in sight, it is more likely you will race to that finish than if it is so far away, you take more time to get there.

If you’re like me, perhaps you kind of “backed in” to your business – maybe even phases of your life – without considering an overall theme, plan or vision. If you start as a freelancer or solopreneur, it’s not common to have a formal business plan, you don’t invest much capital and there’s not much risk. If your business grows and you become more successful, you celebrate the wins, the income, the satisfied clients and just keep plugging away – that can work. And there’s nothing wrong with that. 

[Tweet “If it’s not broken, you don’t have to fix it. But you might be able to make it work better.”]

Work / Life is Not A Balance

My life is at a defined “transition point.” My kids are off to college and I just turned 50. My husband has a new job and we have a comfortable income. All of this was the perfect opportunity for me to PAUSE for the first time in many years, to reflect on who I am, who I want to be, and what I want my life to look like in the future.

I have felt guilt about spending so much time working on my business, working for clients and spending time in front of my computer. We hear about the “4 Hour Work Week” and think we must be doing something wrong if we are working 10-12 hour days at our desks instead of out surfing or hiking. What I failed to recognize and celebrate was that I built my own business, and had the flexibility for many years to be home with and for my kids, to be able to put them first when needed, and to immerse myself in building a business I love and am proud of.

What was missing? The “FOMO” Fear of Missing Out I experienced was that I was not working the “right” way, that there should be a “balance” between work and non-work time. Was I not having enough “fun?” Because I worked so much, did that mean I was not happy? As I analyzed these feelings, what I realized was that I really AM happy! What was missing was intentionality – a purposeful approach to using my time where, rather than feeling controlled BY my business, I put myself in control.

Gaining Intentional Control of Your Life

What gave me the control I was searching for was the combination of

  • Designing Your Life, which helped me give thoughtful consideration to what is important to me and what I enjoy, and
  • The 12 Week Year,  where I learned how to measure and be accountable not only to goals and small tasks, but to how these goals and tasks fit into the vision I laid out for myself.

Here is what my Vision, using the12 Week Year Format, looks like for the short and long term:

12 week year template

It’s very satisfying to see this vision in writing (and somewhat scary to share it here publicly!). While my goals are not as measurable as is advised (i.e., “Increase Revenue by XX%” or “Bring In 5 New Clients”) I feel very proud and confident about my plans and goals.

Once the overall vision is spelled out, it makes it easier to “align your actions with your intentions” by selecting 2 or 3 key goals to support that vision.

Scoring Activity

Measurement and accountability are keys to The 12 Week Year Process. Scoring your weekly progress toward your goals is a key  – a “link to reality” that tells you how your actions are impacting the world. While the 12 Week Year suggests 3 goals, I list 3 business goals. plus 2 personal goals. Here is a recent week’s plan and score. I give myself partial scores if I started or made progress on a tactic that might not be completed yet, and then move that tactic to the next week’s plan:

On a daily basis, I use a handwritten “To Do” List in a notebook on my desk. A key for me is ending each day reviewing what I did and did not complete, and creating a plan for the next day. The Bullet Journal technique, with bullets, arrows and x’s, is helpful for tracking tasks over days and moving them forward. While I use ToDoIst for a task list, I find my day to day To Do Lists must be written down on paper for me to pay attention to them.


The 12 Week Year encourages weekly accountability meetings – “WAMs” – with others using the process. In the Business of WordPress Slack Group that Sara Dunn and I started, there are several people who are embracing The 12 Week Year and we are checking in on Slack every week to report our progress and scores. This is a great motivator to keep up with the measurement of weekly tactics and to keep an eye on overall goals and vision.

One thing we all face is that our day-to-day businesses rely on client work, which is often unpredictable, and is generally not a “tactic” toward a goal, as it is on-going work – but in the end that is what pays the bills. Getting client work done is often at the expense of the business goals that support our longer term vision.

I am trying – not super successfully – to use “block scheduling” to set aside time for client work. The 12 Week Goal outlines some critical blocks, such as a weekly 3 hour Strategic Block and a weekly “Breakout Block” where you do nothing work-related. This is hard to stick to, but keeping it in mind has at least led me to achieve some more structured and focused time for strategic work. I may set this as a tactic toward my “Business Process Improvement” goal in a coming week to give it more focus and to hold me more accountable.

The result of this intentional planning for me has been a decrease in anxiety, and improved self-confidence. Thinking hard about your life, your work and your long term vision is a hard thing to do, but once you have defined some important things, it is easier to feel good about yourself and your life. Clearly planning out each day to align with this vision is reassuring. Measuring your activity toward your goals and vision is a motivation to keep those things in mind and be the best you can be.