Want to reach your goals four times faster this year than you did in 2013? You can make it happen by treating every quarter as though it were a year unto itself, says Brian Moran, author of "The 12 Week Year."
This insight came to him, he says, after he observed his executive coaching clients had lots of great ideas but fell down when it came time to execute them. Now, he says, "Everything we do is designed to help people execute better. "Knowledge is only power if you act on it."
To help people act on their plans more effectively, Moran suggests thinking of the "year" as 12 weeks instead of 12 months. Otherwise, you may fall victim to what he calls "annualized thinking."
"In January, December looks a long way off," he explains. "Most people start the year with big goals. By the end of January they're a little behind, but they don't worry about it." In Moran's experience, most don't start worrying until October or November and by then it's too late.
"If you embrace 12 weeks as a year, it changes your thinking," he adds. "It creates a healthy sense of urgency. Twelve weeks is long enough to make significant progress, but near enough that you don't lose sight of the deadline."
If 12-week planning sounds like something you'd like to try, here's how to get started:
1. Begin with a vision.
You can't get where you want to go until you know exactly where that is. "We work with life vision because business is just part of life," Moran says. "What do you want your life to look like in three years? What do you need to make happen to create that life? Without a compelling vision of the future, it's too easy to choose what's comfortable and that's why companies go out of business."
So how do you get out of your own comfort zone? "We believe it starts with a personal vision and that emotional connection," Moran says. "I'm willing to be uncomfortable because I've got this vision of where I want to be further down the road. If I want to create a different result I have to do different stuff."
2. Create a plan.
Once you've got a clear vision for where you want to go, put together a plan to get you there. If you've ever done any sort of career or business planning, this part of the process may seem familiar: Figure out where you need to be in a year so as to reach your five-year goal within five years. Only this time is different since your "year" is only 12 weeks long. "Set 12-week goals: Where do I need to be to be on pace with the long-term vision?" Moran asks. And, he stresses, less is more. "Most plans have too much in them. People are overwhelmed at the start, then the plans get diffused throughout the year. Instead, let's be great at a few things."
Another problem with most plans, he says, is that they're too strategic, providing only a direction. "I'll literally spell out the action I need to take: 'Ask for referrals at every meeting,' versus 'Build referrals,'" Moran says. "Build a tactical plan with the critical few tasks in it."
3. Set your process.
Mike Tyson famously said, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face," Moran notes. Knowing that your daily and weekly responsibilities are going to punch you in the face means that you can better prepare and avoid getting derailed from your goals.
That's why, Moran says, you need process control. "I'm pulling what is due on a weekly basis from the 12-week plan," Moran says. "Simple as that sounds, it's powerful. I'm maintaining a discipline I'm working from. By default, everything in the weekly plan is priority A, and everything else is priority B."
What about urgent matters that arise? "Most of the urgent stuff isn't as urgent as we make it," he says. "Often the urgent is a great excuse not to work on the more important." People tend to be tempted to work in reaction to what comes up rather than in accordance with a plan he says, but it's bad to be sucked into the urgent more often than necessary. "If the day's controlling me, I have no power over my destiny."
4. Get some metrics.
"Measurement is the anchor of reality," Moran says. "Are my actions having the impact I wanted?" Look for lead results rather than lag indicators, he adds. For instance, a lag indicator might be increased sales, but if your sales pipeline is long, it may take a while before you see that result. Such metrics as a larger number of appointments or more traffic in your store or your website are lead indicators that a sales increase may be coming, Moran says.
He also advises measuring execution rather than your results. "Did you do what you said you needed to do to be where you want to be?" he asks. "We control our actions, not their outcomes. If I'm not getting the result I need, it's because either the plan is flawed or the execution is flawed, and 65 percent of the time, the problem is the execution. Nevertheless, most people go look for a new plan because that's easier."
5. Take control of your time.
"Most people use their time the way they save money," Moran says: "If there's any extra time left over I'll work on strategic goals." But if you want to make progress toward those goals, you have to take the opposite approach, he says: Carve out time for strategic initiatives and fill in with other tasks afterward.
"Carve out a time when you turn off your email, shut off your phone, and lock your door," he advises. "In those strategic blocks, your ability to concentrate is dramatically improved. Most of that strategic activity doesn't have a payoff today, but if I don't carve out that time to do the strategic work, it never happens." And it's imperative that you find that time for strategic work, he says. "These are the things that are positioning you for the future."
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