If you’ve ever worked for yourself, you know that it has its challenges. How do you create structure, goals, and routines for your work week? And how do you know what to focus on and when?
One of the greatest tools I’ve discovered is the 12 week plan. It’s a brilliant way to set goals and work strategically, and I’m really excited to share it with you. I truly believe that it has the potential to transform your business and life!
What is a 12 Week Plan?
Based on the book The 12 Week Year by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington, 12 week planning involves setting goals and objectives for a 12-week period, and then weekly tasks against them.
Why 12 Week Planning?
If you have a corporate background like I do, you may be used to planning in 12-month cycles. The annual planning process can take months to complete, and it can feel overwhelming having to map out activities so far in advance. What if things change? How do we account for changes in the marketplace or with our competitors? Can we really foresee how we’ll need to pivot?
The beauty of the 12 Week Plan is that it allows you to plan in “seasons”. Instead of having to guess at what will be most important to your business or life in a year, you can focus on the short term and create a more deliberate plan that will be better aligned to your goals.
A 12 week cycle is enough time to make significant progress and accomplish a good amount of work, yet it’s short enough to be manageable and also to create a sense of urgency.
I’ve been planning in 12 week cycles for the past few quarters, and I really like it. It’s given me more clarity with respect to what I should be focusing on. It also accounts for the fact that every few months, my goals shift, as does the overall theme of what I’m looking to accomplish.
Here are the steps I take to do my planning. I do this every quarter, and it’s pretty easy to follow!
Step 1: Set Your Goals.
First, you’ll want to identify 2-6 goals for the 12-week time span. These should be strong goals written in a way that is achievable. (For more on this, check out my post How to Write Goals You Can Actually Achieve).
In other words, instead of making a goal of “Grow my email list by 500 people” (something I can’t directly control), it could be “Create 4 new lead magnets to drive sign ups to my email list”. See the difference? Again, this post has more detail about how to set the right kind of goals.
The number of goals you set depends on the time they will take as well as how much time you have available. I typically set 4-5 meaty blogging goals per 12-week plan, but that’s because I’m blogging full time.
I’ve created a FREE 12 Week Plan Template for you to use in getting started! To grab your copy, sign up to get access to my Free Resource Library. You’ll receive an email with the access details, and you can then find the template in the Planning and Productivity section.
Step 2: Break Them Down.
Now that you have your goals identified, break them down into tasks. For example, my goal “Continue to publish 2 blog posts every week” would have sub-tasks like “Write 2 new blog posts every week” and “Edit, schedule, and prep 2 new blog posts every week.”
Depending on the goal, you may have 1 task or quite a few. And some may be sequential. For example, if your goal is to write an eBook, your tasks may include choosing a topic, drafting an outline, writing a first draft, and so on.
Step 3: Slot Your Tasks Into Weeks.
Now that you’ve identified your goals and tasks, it’s time to assign a time frame to each of them, or essentially to slot them into a week. As you can see in the free template, tasks are listed in rows and weeks are listed in columns.
Go through your tasks and assign a week to them by indicating an “X”, writing “To Do” or providing more details. For example, if you want to write 10 articles, maybe you plan to write 5 articles in the first week (and input “5” into the cell).
However you do it, be sure that the order of tasks makes sense, and that you’re not overloading any week. The key is to set yourself up for success. So if that means not starting on any of your Goal 3 tasks until Week 8, that’s fine! Not everything has to be done concurrently.
Step 4: Put it Into Action!
With your 12 week plan in hand, you’re ready to get to work!
I’d suggest that at the start of every week, you look at your weekly tasks and slot them into your calendar. This betters the chances of you actually getting them done. And it also gives you visibility to what’s on the docket for the week.
As I mention in my post The Best Way to Use an Electronic Planner I typically do this exercise on Friday afternoons. This makes Monday morning a breeze: I just turn on my computer, and know exactly what I have to do.
Accounting for Time Off
If you have any long weekends or vacations planned, make sure you note that in your 12 Week Plan. You can always gray out the column for any weeks you’re away. Taking a day or two off? Note “4 Day Week” or something like that under those weeks to remind yourself.
That way, when you’re slotting in tasks, you have visibility to how much time you’ll realistically have to dedicate to them.
Making it a Habit
Your first 12 Week Plan may take a bit of time since it’s a new process. But once you’re familiar with how it works, subsequent cycles should be much quicker.
My recommendation is to not take a break between 12 week cycles, but instead to dedicate an afternoon the last day of your 11th or 12th week and spend that time planning the next cycle.
Happy planning! I hope you find this process to be as useful as I have. And don’t forget to grab your FREE 12 Week Plan Template for you to use in getting started! To grab your copy, sign up to get access to my Free Resource Library. You’ll receive an email with the access details, and you can then find the template in the Planning and Productivity section.