Balance includes imbalance. And the best way to find balance – and achieve greatness in all facets of your life – is to embrace the imbalance of the 12-week year.
That's the claim of Holt, Mich.-based consultant Brian P. Moran, who helps individuals and corporations set and meet their goals. His technique, the 12-week year, does not promise that you can achieve great things by working only 12 weeks a year. Instead, it's an argument that we can achieve our goals through intense, sequential 12-week periods of focus throughout the year.
It's intentional imbalance.
"Think about your health and fitness. What might be different if, for the next 12 weeks, you made a commitment to improve in this area?" he asks in his book The 12 Week Year, co-written with colleague Michael Lennington of the Execution Company.
He believes a lot can be different – in just 12 weeks. Too often, we set out annual plans – for example, when individuals make New Year's resolutions and corporations issue year-long operational plans or budgets. He said there will be some initial momentum but, since the end of the target period is so far in the future, we soon ease off. In most cases, when October and November roll around, we panic, realizing we are nowhere near achieving our goals, and intensely dedicate ourselves to meeting the objective. Effectively, we end up working for a short period, perhaps eight to 12 weeks, and squander much of the rest of the year.
He noted that athletes train for breakthrough performance in short bursts through an approach called periodization. While they have annual plans, they also have shorter plans such as the two- to six-week "mesocycle" and one-week microcycle in which the focus is specific and intense, aimed at peak performance.
"Twelve weeks is a long enough period to make profound progress but near enough so you don't put it off," he said in an interview. "It's amazing what can be done in 12 weeks. We have thousands of clients who do more in 12 weeks than in the last 12 months."
Perhaps you're concerned about health and fitness. Instead of a year-long effort, why not try a 12-week plan to address some elements of the problem? You might identify a small number of tactics that you can effectively implement in the next three months, be it 20 minutes of cardio three times a week, training with weights three times a week, or limiting your calorie intake. Or, instead of a series of steps, maybe there's one core action that can make a difference. You won't achieve perfection in 12 weeks. But you can propel yourself ahead, and then, if more improvement is needed, you can develop another 12-week plan.
He suggested you can use this approach beyond health and fitness. Perhaps you want to focus on relationships, either with one person or a number of people. "How might those relationships be different if you committed yourself to making real progress over the next 12 weeks? This can be as simple as making an action commitment like having one date night or family night a week and following through for the next 12 weeks. It truly is incredible what you can accomplish in just 12 weeks when you commit to a specific action," he wrote.
It begins by taking stock of your life and what you want to achieve. "You need a vision of greatness – not just good. What will life look like then? It's not what others want for you. What do you want to do?" he said in the interview.
Then you align your life with those goals, through the three-month bursts of activity. It's not complicated, but at the same time he stressed it's not easy. You have to be clear about your priorities and dedicated to them. It's important that you don't set yourself too many goals for the 12-week period, or you might become overwhelmed. "One goal is better than two, and two is better than three. It's hard to have more than three in 12 weeks," he warned.
He said you might have one goal for improving your family relationships, one for health, and one or two for your career. Ask yourself whether the goal is truly meaningful and something you are committed to. "You can't be committed to a lot," he said. "There is no right number but the basic principle is less is more."
Then translate your 12-week goals into weekly and daily actions. Seek peer support, buddies with whom you can chat once a week about how you're faring, to keep you accountable. Also score yourself: If you had eight actions to complete this week and managed to accomplish four, that's 50 per cent. "If you average 85 per cent a week, you'll generally hit your goal. You don't need to be perfect," he said.
But you do have to be willing to be uncomfortable. The biggest stumbling block in making progress, he said, is that people don't want to sacrifice their comfort. So develop a vision of greatness, embrace discomfort, and adopt imbalance in the short term for greater balance over all.
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter