You know that Big Important Thing you want (and maybe desperately need) to do? Maybe it’s changing careers, writing a book, saving for retirement or finally building the dream home you’ve talked about for years. Ever wondered why you can’t seem to just get it done? Your excuse might be that you don’t know enough to make it happen. That’s bull: Your failure to meet your goals has nothing to do with what you do or don’t know—and everything to do with how well you execute.
People say knowledge is power, but it absolutely isn’t. Execution is. Despite our $60 billion diet and fitness industry, 65 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. The fact is, most people know how to get in shape—eat better, exercise more—they just don’t do it.
You can be smart and have access to lots of information and great ideas; you can be well-connected, work hard and have lots of natural talent, but in the end, you have to execute. Execution is the single greatest differentiator between great lives and mediocre ones.
Most people have the capacity to double or triple their income just by consistently applying what they already know. Despite this, we continue to chase new ideas thinking the next one is the one that will magically make it all come together—when what we really need to do is apply the Nike slogan to our lives.
So why don’t we just do it? You’re dropping the “execution ball” for the same reason companies can’t meet their goals: You’re thinking about time in the wrong way.
We tend to think we have all the time in the world. Let’s say you have a baby and you have all these vague notions about saving for college. Well, before you know it, he’s 12 years old and you don’t have a penny saved. Quite simply, we don’t do what doesn’t seem urgent.
Our new book, The 12 Week Year, offers a new way to think about time and how you use it. In a nutshell, plan your goals in 12-week increments rather than 365-day years. When you do so, you’re far more likely to feel a healthy sense of urgency that gets you focused. And whether your goal is of the business or personal variety, you’ll get far more done in far less time—and you’ll feel a lot less stressed and a lot more in control. Read on for a few tips on how you can better tackle life’s big to-dos.
Envision a future that’s worth the pain of change. The number-one thing that you will have to sacrifice to be great, to achieve what you are capable of, and to execute your plans is your comfort. Therefore, 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. Then and only then can you align your shorter-term goals and plans with that long-term vision.
If you are going to perform at a high level, take new ground and be great, then you better have a vision that is compelling. One way to get there is by asking, “What if?” Doing so allows you to entertain new possibilities and begin to connect with the benefits. If you’re going to create a breakthrough—if you’re going to reach the next level—you will need to move through fear, uncertainty and discomfort. It is your personal vision that keeps you in the game when things become difficult.
Once you have your vision, stay in touch with it. Print it out and keep it with you. Review it each morning and update it every time you discover ways to make it more vivid and meaningful. And share it with others. Doing so will increase your commitment to it.
Live with intentional imbalance. How many articles, books and blog posts have you read emphasizing the importance of establishing work/life balance? A lot, right? But where much of the advice on creating work/life balance goes wrong is around the idea of equality. Often, we’re told what we need to do in order to spend equal time in each area of our lives. The result is often unproductive and frustrating. Life balance is not about equal time in each area; life balance is more about intentional imbalance.
Life balance is achieved when you are purposeful about how and where you spend your time, energy and effort. At different times in your life, you will choose to focus on one area over another, and that’s perfectly fine, provided it’s intentional. Life has different seasons, each with its own set of challenges and blessings. The 12 Week Year is a terrific process to help you live a life of intentional imbalance. Think about what could be different for you if every 12 weeks you focused on a few key areas in your life and made significant improvement.
Make sure you’re committed, not merely interested. There is a humorous anecdote about commitments involving a chicken and a pig at breakfast time. The chicken has contributed the egg and is therefore merely interested in the breakfast; the pig, however, contributes the bacon, and is thus completely committed. Kept commitments benefit both parties involved by improving relationships, strengthening integrity and building self-confidence. Commitments are powerful and, oftentimes, life-changing.
When you’re merely interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstances permit, but when you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results. There’s no denying that at that breakfast, the pig is all-in. And that’s how you must approach the commitments you take on as part of your 12-week plans.
Put hard (and short) deadlines on what you need to get done. The annual execution cycle many organizations embrace lulls people into believing they can put things off—critical activity—and still accomplish what they desire, still achieve their goals. It sets one deadline, year-end, which in January—heck, even in July—still feels too far away to spur you into action. But consider the rush of productivity that occurs when a deadline you have to meet draws closer.
In many companies, during the final five or six weeks of the year, there is a frantic push to end strong and kick off the new year with gusto. It’s an exciting and productive time. The problem is this urgency exists for just a handful of weeks in a 365-day year—but it doesn’t have to. When a company sets deadlines every 12 weeks rather than every 12 months, that excitement, energy and focus happen all year long. And this strategy works with all goals, not just business goals.
The great thing about having a 12 Week Year is that the deadline is always near enough that you never lose sight of it. It provides a time horizon long enough to get things done, yet short enough to create a sense of urgency and a bias for action.
Write down your plan. It lets you make your mistakes on paper. A “plan” in your head isn’t really a plan. It’s wishful thinking. That’s because life gets in the way, and if you don’t have a written plan, you will almost certainly drop the ball in the first few days. The world is noisy, the unexpected happens, distractions arise, your innate desire for comfort tugs at you, and you lose focus on the things you know you should do. But if you sit down at the start of your 12 weeks and write out your strategy, it forces you to think through potential pitfalls up front.
With a written plan, you make your mistakes on paper, which reduces miscues during implementation. You no longer waste time on unimportant activities because your plan triggers your actions. Your action choices are made proactively at the beginning of the 12 weeks when you create your plan. In short, a 12-week plan helps you to get more of the right things done each day, and ultimately it helps you reach your goals faster and with greater impact.
Give each goal its own set of tactics. The way your plan is structured and written impacts your ability to effectively execute. Effective planning strikes a working balance between too much complexity and too little detail. Your plan should start by identifying your overall goals for the 12 weeks. (Yes, you may have more than one goal during that time frame.) Then, you’ll need to determine the tactics needed to meet each goal.
Break your 12-week goal down to its individual parts. For example, if your goal is to earn $10,000 and lose 10 pounds, you should write tactics for your income goal and your weight loss goal separately. Tactics are the daily to-dos that drive the attainment of your goals. Tactics must be specific, actionable, and include due dates and assigned responsibilities. The 12-week plan is structured so that if the tactics are completed on a timely basis, the goals are achieved.
Take it one week at a time. To guide you on your journey to completing your tactics and meeting your goals, you’ll need weekly plans. Your weekly plan encompasses your strategies and priorities, your long-term and short-term tasks, and your commitments in the context of time. It helps you focus on the elements of your plan that must happen each week to keep you on track with your 12 Week Year goals. Your goals in turn keep you on track with your vision. Everything is powerfully aligned.
Start each day with your weekly plan. Check in with it several times throughout the day. If you’ve scheduled a tactic to be completed that day, don’t go home until it is done. This ensures that the critically important tasks, your plan tactics, are completed each week.
Keep track of your efforts, not your results. You’ve probably heard or read the mantra, “What gets measured gets done.” It’s true: Measurement drives the execution process. After all, can you imagine the CEO of a large corporation not knowing the numbers? As the CEO of your own life and business, you need to know your numbers. But don’t measure your results (how many pounds you lost or how much commission you earned)—instead, measure your level of execution (the extent to which you stuck to your diet and exercise plan and the number of sales calls you made).
You have greater control over your actions than your results, and your results are created by your actions. To measure your execution, you need to know to what degree you followed through on each week’s tactics. This allows you to pinpoint breakdowns and respond quickly. Unlike results, which can lag weeks, months, and in some cases years behind your actions, an execution measure provides more immediate feedback, which allows you to make game-time adjustments much faster.
Block your time. The 12 Week Year is designed to help you spend your time with more intention. That said, many of us engage each day on its own terms. In other words, we satisfy the various demands of the day as they are presented, spending whatever time is needed to respond without giving much thought as to the relative value of the activity. You can regain control of your day through time blocking.
Basically, you block your days into three kinds of blocks—strategic blocks, buffer blocks and breakout blocks. A strategic block is uninterrupted time scheduled into each week. During this block you accept no phone calls, no faxes, no emails, no visitors, no anything: You do only the activities on your plan. Buffer blocks are designed to deal with all of the unplanned and low-value activities—like most email and voicemail—that arise throughout a typical day. Breakout blocks provide free time for you to use to rest and rejuvenate.
Finally, embracing the 12 Week Year will help you rethink your multitasking ways. If you’re accustomed to sending emails during meetings, juggling texting conversations, and rushing from one place to the next, you’ll be shocked by how much getting focused on what matters most will change your life.
Most people look back and realize that with all their efforts to not miss anything, they were missing everything. They see that nothing was getting their full attention, not the important projects, not the important conversations, and not the important people.
We must all remember that the current moment—the eternal right now—is all we have. The future is created now; our dreams are achieved in the moment. Consider Olympic great Michael Phelps: He didn’t achieve greatness when he won the 18th gold medal or when he won his first. He achieved greatness the moment he chose to put the effort into his training. Results are not the attainment of greatness, but simply confirmation of it. That’s why the 12 Week Year is so pivotal. It provides a structure that helps you do the things you need to do to be great.
Brian P. Moran is founder and CEO of The Execution Company, and has served in management and executive positions with UPS, PepsiCo and Northern Automotive. Michael Lennington is a consultant, coach, leadership trainer and vice president of The Execution Company. The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks Than Others Do in 12 Months is available at bookstores nationwide. For more information, visit 12weekyear.com.