The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 23.39

Saturday, September 30, 2023

I challenged myself to a 12-Week Year — and I failed. Here’s what I learnt.

Introducing the 12-Week Year

The 12-Week Year is a popular book, methodology and resources to, as the authors put it, “Get More Done In 12 Weeks Than Others Do In 12 Months”.

The foundation is promising:

Rather than planning in annual cycles, plan in 12-week cycles. This creates urgency and focus. Done right, you can get more done in 12 weeks than most other people do in a year.

There are three core principles involved:

  1. Time Compression: Shorter cycles for planning and execution.
  1. Focus: Prioritize high-impact tasks.
  1. Accountability: Weekly reviews to track progress.

And the methodology is basically:

  1. Plan: Set 2-3 major goals for the 12-week period.
  1. Break Down: Divide goals into actionable tasks.
  1. Execute: Work on tasks daily.
  1. Measure: Weekly reviews to adjust course.

There’s a lot more to it (the book and associated resources are great), but that’s the essence.

I’m a sucker for productivity promises

Recently, I ran into a roadblock. I’ve been working on SoloBOSS (the Solopreneur Business Operating System) for way too long, and I needed to get it to market. The remaining work was some cleanup, beta testing, and then all the other bits and pieces like the community, sales page, lead nurturing sequences, and so on.

In the last few weeks, the 12-Week Year popped up on my radar again. I’d seen the book before, but never spent much time on it.

This time, I thought, “this is the trick – I can get the remaining work on SoloBOSS done way faster than 12 weeks, so let’s use the methodology and speed things up”.

So I dusted off the book (proverbially, I have the Kindle edition), and set off with great hopes.

The Plan

The first step in the 12 Week Year methodology is to plan the work. I set the goal (get SoloBOSS to market), broke it down into smaller goals (cleanup, beta testing, community and so on) and then set about planning the next 12 weeks.

This is where I learnt my first, very valuable, lesson:

I have so much “stuff” going on, the actual time I have available to work on SoloBOSS is way less than I thought.

Between limiting myself to a 50-ish hour week (I get up early), consulting work, other client work and slack time (for unknowns), I have around 16 hours a week to work on SoloBOSS (if I’m lucky).

This was a wake-up call (valuable lesson 1)

Planning in shorter cycles really forces you to take stock of everything you have on the go. As it turned out, I was way too optimistic about the time I could spend working on SoloBOSS, but that had a great, positive, side effect:

Really understanding how much time you have forces a sense of urgency and focus.

And this is exactly what the 12 Week Year is designed to do – instil a sense of urgency and focus. So I regarded this as a win.

The second valuable lesson

The planning exercise had an unexpected, but valuable, side effect:

If I really want to get the product out to market in 12 weeks or less, I would have to only do the very least I thought was acceptable.

I’m a perfectionist by nature (but only with some things, as my wife accurately points out). In Notion (which is what SoloBOSS is built on) I can tinker for hours with colours, spacing and views – none of which probably matters to users.

It’s a bit of the 80/20 rule – the last 20% (where I tend to spend a lot of time) probably isn’t worth doing.

With a rough plan in place, I got to work.

The Work

I got to work, and initially my progress was great.

Then I hit a real roadblock.

As part of introducing SoloBOSS to the world, I planned a series of videos. The first (just released this week) is a “sneak peek” of what’s inside.

Now I’ve done lots of videos before – especially in some of my courses. So I thought this would be quick and easy.

But it took me almost a full day to produce a 3-minute video!

Here’s what went wrong:

  • The first version of the video was over 5 minutes long with way too much droning head at the start and end. I scrapped most of that, thanks to the honesty of my Mastermind group (shout out to Michael and Carrie).
  • I started with a script, but I had neglected to define the purpose and target length of the video. I literally had to re-learn the lessons I had learnt previously.
  • I was obsessing about audio quality (it’s still not great) and spending way too much time with audio compression settings (the bad side of perfectionism).

Which leads me to the next valuable lesson.

Valuable Lesson 3

It’s simple, but not easy:

Whenever you learn to do something, keep notes of how to do it. If you have to do it again, pull out your notes.

Of course, I go one step further, and turn my notes into a checklist. This helps me do all the right stuff, in the right order, and I get to the end faster with a better result. (I just love my checklists.)

This experience also taught me another valuable lesson.

Valuable Lesson 4

This lesson has far-reaching implications:

If you don’t know how to do something, or you don’t do it very often, don’t put put it in a strict time box. It’s going to take longer – in some cases much longer.

What I thought would be a 3- to 4-hour exercise took a day. I’ve re-learnt a lot of the lessons, so the next videos will go faster.

But this also taught me that whatever goals we set, things will take longer if we don’t know exactly how to do it. I’ve become very suspicious of promises like “build and launch a course in 30 days”, because most beginners have to learn a lot of stuff from scratch.

Where I am today – and where I’m going

Technically, I failed at the 12 Week Year challenge I set for myself. I wasn’t able to stick to my schedule, and even though I may still come in under the 12-week timeline, things did not go as planned.

But I’m going to use the techniques of the 12 Week Year going forward.

The lessons that will help me in future

In the process of going through the challenge, I learnt some valuable lessons:

  1. Planning is key. Understanding how much time you have forces a sense of urgency and focus.
  1. Let go of perfectionism. Good enough is good enough.
  1. Keep notes (or checklists) of how to do stuff. If you have to do it again, pull out your notes.
  1. If you don’t know how to do something, or you don’t do it very often, don’t put put it in a strict time box. It’s going to take longer – in some cases much longer.

These lessons go with me into the future.

I will be using the 12 Week Year again

In fact, I like the principles of the 12 Week Year so much I will be making it the standard method I use for developing new products and services.

As the authors put it early in the book:

At the end of each year, we’re excited at the potential of the new year, a “fresh start” and the things we think we can achieve. When we plan and execute in 12-week cycles, the things we can accomplish may be smaller, but the rewards are much closer.

And who doesn’t like the excitement of starting a “new year” four times a year?