In January, we’ve heard, is when you make your goals. January itself, the very word, has the ring of a fresh start and a new beginning. December 31, we often make exciting goals for ourselves. This will be the year, we say, and we write them in big bold letters at the tops of our notebooks.
By the end of January, we haven’t made much progress, but that’s actually okay, because there’s still plenty of time in the year. Life gets busy and February and March pass us by, but that’s alright- we’ll catch up. Before we know it, May, June, and July roll around with little to no effort, September and October do the same… and by the end of the year we’ve gone another 365 days (of their, on average, 28,000) without making meaningful progress on goals that would improve our lives.
Did you make a New Year’s resolution this year? How is it coming along?
In the book The 12 Week Year by Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington, the authors strive to explain- and counteract- this phenomenon. They show us that this is not just a consumer trend either- in the month of December, businesses experience huge surges of productivity as teams rush to finish the year strong. Anything not absolutely essential gets pushed to the next year, and corporations see their highest numbers annually at this time. But, the authors point out, December 31 is an arbitrary date, only important because we deem it so. Some businesses close their books in June, and June is their busiest time instead of December.
Whenever it is, there is a point in which professionals meet their goals with more urgency than the rest of the year with stellar results. If we, too, want stellar results, how can we maintain that passionate prioritization and sharp focus we experience at the end of the year, all year round? It’s through urgency and focus. It’s through restructuring our year not in months, the authors argue, but in weeks- 12, to be exact.
Twelve weeks is a long enough time to make real headway and measure progress, and a short enough time to keep your mind urgently focused. Because the timeline of a year is condensed into a dozen weeks, every single day holds a week’s worth of importance. Every moment of the day counts in the pursuit of your goals. And having a deadline of three months from now to point to, instead of a full twelve months, brings that signature clarity and urgency from year’s end into focus now.
The authors’ promise: “Get more done in 12 weeks than others do in 12 months.” I’ve seen this in myself only from the first week of my very first 12-week “year.”
The 12-Week Year, explained
What is the 12-week year?
The 12-Week Year is a goal management system that asks you to set a small amount of goals, 1-2, that will ostensibly and undeniably help drive your vision for your life while also being impressive in and of itself. Each goal is a complete sentence with an actionable verb, supported by tactics, or actions you take each week to advance your goal. These tactics are typically things you know you “should” be doing, but have never really committed to whole hog. Could you imagine dedicating yourself to, say, making 50 sales calls a week for 52 weeks straight? Twelve weeks is far more manageable. The idea is that as long as you do these actions, every single week, with an at least 85% success rate, for 12 straight weeks, you will achieve your goal.
The key is implementation
What I love about the 12-Week Year is that the emphasis is on execution and implementation, DOING stuff, not necessarily on the end result. At the start of the “year” you decide on those tactics- the handful of critical actions you take each week, every week, that advance your efforts forward. The completion and measurement of these tactics are the crux of the program and what really matters.
For example, if you lost 2 pounds last week in service of your goal of losing weight, but didn’t DO all of the tactics you said you were going to do (i.e. you worked out Sunday, Wednesday and Friday AND went for a run on Saturday, BUT you ate refined sugar on Wednesday and Thursday instead of just on Wednesday), that week was not successful. You should see that week as somewhat of a failure. Try again.
When a deadline is urgent, our superpowers kick in. Why not make our most important life goals as urgent as possible?
This focus on implementation was a game-changer for me. Instead of setting lofty goals and pressuring myself to use ever-wavering willpower every second of the day to stick with them (which definitely does not work btw) I could focus on a handful of important actions that would take me to the finish line.
One of the best lines from the book is:
Act on commitments, not feelings.
And though I am a deeply feeling person, and respect and tend to my emotions frequently, I found this to be extremely helpful in actually completing these tactics, and doing what I said I was going to do. It’s made me a better person with more integrity. It holds me to my word, and makes my word, or the commitments and promises I make to myself and others, that much more precious and intentional.
Application to this blog
The power of vision
My first goal is about health and fitness, and I go into it a bit more later on in this post. But my second goal is one you’re actively participating in by putting your eyeballs on this blog post. It’s to obtain 15 subscribers on Little Miss Minimalist.
This was not my plan at the outset, but the beauty of The 12-Week Year is its emphasis on vision. The authors require you to start with a vision of your most “aspirational life,” and then chunk it back to what would be “great” in 3 years’ time.
I read this part about vision in the book Glennon Doyle’s Untamed was still fresh in my mind. Doyle and the authors of The 12-Week Year both focus on vision, but in very different ways. Whereas Moran and Lennington’s vision is plenty focused on the soul, but still in the context of business and productivity, Doyle’s vision takes us deeper, to the realm of our inner child and her relationship with society. Doyle asks us to imagine what “the most true and beautiful version” of our lives are, a vision of the world we always dreamed of when we were children. The world that we don’t see in our surroundings. The world that is beautiful, breathtakingly so, but also true, to both who we are and what we value.
“We look at the world once, in childhood. The rest is memory.” – Louise Gluck
When I charted the course of the most “true and beautiful” version of my life, my vision, in concert with the authors’ prompts and Doyle’s whispers of encouragement, I came to meet my 12-year-old self. (The numerologists in the room may have just perked up.) She wrote obsessively, created constantly, and had very big dreams of writing for a living. Informed by her ideas and my own, I realized that in an ideal world, I would be a writer, an author, a speaker, and ultimately a guide to help others choose A Different Way of living. One that felt true to them, without any holds barred or consideration of flimsy but often powerful societal norms.
“What is it you want to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver
Once I admitted to myself fully that writing was what I wanted, had always wanted, to do, I knew that in order to find purpose and fulfillment in my life, I had to write not about characters and story but about my own lived experience- it’s where I mine the most potent perspectives. I considered what kind of nonfiction-y, self-help-y things I could write about that others may find valuable, and realized that I was often explaining digital minimalism to others more frequently than I was finding kindred spirits in the practice. The blog format always made sense to me, and I knew I could design a killer website in a weekend…
Et voila. Aqui somos. Here we are.
Following along with the book’s instructions, I considered how much time and energy I could actually commit to a project given what was already on my plate. The tactics I completed each week, the new habits I was forming, needed to generate real progress in my goal, but also be manageable enough to fit into the schedule I already had. Here’s what I came up with:
Goal: Obtain 15 subscribers on the Little Miss Minimalist blog.
Tactics week 1:
- Design a simple brand board and website.
- Craft one-page opt-in.
- Send email to existing subscribers to let them know about new blog.
- Write and publish first blog post.
Tactics weeks 2-12:
- Write 1 hour every Monday.
- Write 1 hour every Wednesday.
- Write 1 hour every Saturday OR Sunday.
- Publish 1 new article every Monday.
- Email subscribers about this article.
- Post on LinkedIn about this article.
True to form, I went a bit off the rails and pimped the first week out way more than I needed to. “Design a simple brand board and website” swiftly turned into writing and designing an about page and pop-up, purchasing a new domain, and cleaning up my LinkedIn. “Craft one-page opt-in” looked like writing and designing a 12-page value-packed PDF on digital minimalism and a companion 30-day digital minimalist challenge, mining my own journals and backtracking to my early minimalist days for inspiration. “Send email to existing subscribers” meant reconfiguring MailChimp and writing/designing/hooking up an email marketing automation for when a user opted in and downloaded the guide.
A goal without a plan is just a dream. And a dream without tactics is soon derailed.
I spent hours weeknights and on the weekend putting the final touches on the website and opt-in to create something a) valuable and b) gorgeous, flexing my web design and digital marketing muscles in the process. Though it was hard work and I gave up some family and friend time, I can confidently say that I did more in one week last week than I would have ever had the courage to do in a year! And if you’re anything like me, you can relate to how satisfying it is to check off all the boxes on your to-do list, which I did, with pride, at the end of the week.
Insights from week 1
A return to flow state
This whole digital creation thing brushed the dust off of an old feeling for me- flow. The idea of the flow state was conceived by Mihaly Robert Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian-American psychologst, in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is a state of complete and utter absorption by, and deep satisfaction in, one’s work. Notice that word, work- it’s not about watching TV or scrolling through social platforms, it’s about actively participating in an activity, with a goal in mind, stretching the limits of your brain and/or body. The real tell of flow state is the loss of one’s perception of time. So engrossed are you in your activity or pursuit of your goal through active work that you don’t even feel time passing- this is the hallmark of the flow state.
Where you lose track of time is where you find your Self.
I sat down at 9:30pm on Sunday to just tweak a few website things, la la la, and then proceeded to not move a muscle until 3:30 Monday morning. My neck cramped. My mouth was dry. I probably didn’t smell great. But I was so goal-oriented, so excited, so into it that an elephant could have walked across my backyard and I would still be chewing my bottom lip, moving the damn purple box 3 pixels to the left on some design.
Image from incidentalcomics.com.
In my job now as a software project manager, I field emails and hedge human- and software-based problems. It’s a very distractible position in an open-office layout, where distraction from a conversation across the floor from two coworkers is as common as a pesky email from a disgruntled client. Big, deeply personal projects like designing a website or crafting a valuable opt-in- these things were on my mind the whole day, I buzzed with ideas until I fell asleep and even then woke up with more blog or design ideas that I couldn’t put down. The flow state was strongest when I was in front of the computer but permeated into other parts of my day, catching me in my daydreams or while eating or in the shower. This was a pleasant nagging rather than the worrisome state I can get in with my day job. When I was working on the blog, it was the only thing I could focus on, and that sense of deep work is rejuvenating in today’s distraction-riddled world.
The end is always in sight
The 12WY’s focus on completion of tactics and measurement of tangible progress has been GREAT for me because I’m an expert self-negotiator. Maybe you can relate. For my health and fitness goal, for example, I’m only eating foods with refined or added sugar on Sundays, which means no bread, chocolate, or even tortilla chips (sobbing) 6 days of the week. This is fine except for the fact that my weekly date night with my boyfriend, Connor, is on Thursdays, and we LOVE to eat.
Last week we went to this delicioso Italian restaurant and, sure enough, some white bread and oil made its way onto the table. Okay, I started in my head, so this is tough. Thursdays are my date night with Connor, but I’m only eating refined sugar on Sundays. Maybe I should change it to Thursdays instead of Sundays. Or I can do Thursdays AND Sundays. Two days of refined sugar? Would that work?
If at first you don’t succeed, it’s because you let your inner negotiator win.
Under any normal circumstances, I would have (happily) conceded this negotiator and dived into the bread basket with the force of a Doberman barreling towards a steak. But having an end date in mind continues to quash the tactics of my ever-nimble inner negotiator. After 12 weeks, I told myself, taking a sip of water, you can re-negotiate. For the next 12 weeks, though you only eat refined sugar on Sundays. And that has become the truth.
“We are whatever we consistently choose to be.” -Shan Boodram
Before, these micro-negotiations seemed so reasonable, one itty bitty change, and a handful of “reasonable points” would derail me from my progress. Now, because there’s an end in sight, there’s no negotiation. I just have to do the damn thing. I like to think of it like I’m collecting reference data, seeing what works. Maybe adding on another day to enjoy refined sugar does make more sense in the grand scheme of things- but I’ll reassess and recourse after a “year” is through. Not a second before.
Let me clear my throat (🎵)
A great point that a few people have shared with me in reaction to my blog: Isn’t it hypocritical, or at least a bit ironic, that I’m asking people to put their phones away and burn their social sites to the ground, but published a blog on a website and shared it on LinkedIn?
Digital minimalism, or any minimalism, is about intention and conscious behavior.
This is a common misconception about digital minimalism. Think of it this way- do you really need a daily email from Target about their latest specials? No, and it probably doesn’t align with or advance any of your goals. Do you really need that weekly newsletter from your favorite business thought leader? No, but it aligns with your values and your goals of being a better business person, so keep it.
Digital minimalism is NOT about burning everything to the ground (though that’s how it manifested for me). It’s about educating yourself on the costs and benefits of the digital experience, and making conscious choices aligned with your values in pursuit of your goals.
I use LinkedIn to publish my stuff and connect with other professionals, who publish their stuff. I scroll through LinkedIn about once a day, but ONLY after my work is finished. I’m strict with myself about how often I use it and why, and I avoid, as best as I can, any kind of boredom-triggered or stress-induced tilt towards numbness or hypnosis. I’m human, so of course that happens, but when it does, I disable my Safari and look up at my surroundings.
In the Minimalism documentary on Netflix (highly recommend!), The Minimalists are speaking on a panel at South by Southwest to a small group of stragglers. After the pair explains the concept of modern minimalism, an older woman raises her hand in the crowd and says, “I have hundreds of books. I love them all. Do I need to give them away?”
What do you think The Minimalists said?
The physical objects and digital experiences we truly love, that fill us with joy, are valuable enhancers to our daily life.
We’re not just spirits floating around the ether. We’re human beings on a physical planet, intended to make cool shit and engage with physical objects. And yes, digital objects too- so long as they hold value for us.
If you truly love your books, keep them. If you feel empowered and excited by every piece of clothing you own, keep every piece. If you adore your favorite author’s email list, stay on it. But please recognize that a) digital network tools are intended to hook you in a hypnotic state, and so b) snapping yourself out of hypnosis, putting your values in the forefront, and reassessing from there is the best thing you can do as we grow increasingly more techno. All I want is for you to be intentional and conscious about your relationship with technology, instead of a slave to its allure.
In my digital marketing years I felt a little weird finding flow state in web design. I wanted to build something with my hands, have something offline in physical space to point at and say, “I made that.” But at the same time, I recognize that the words “web design” and “creative writing” and “philosophy on life” can make some people’s eyes roll so far back in their head they pass out. It’s not not special that I’m using my gifts for good, even though they happen to be digital, just like it’s not not special that some people can stack one piece of wood on top of another until it’s a home.
Wherever you find your flow, it’s meaningful. Even if it’s digital.
I’m using digital tools to create something of value for myself and others, and I’m not getting sucked into The Allure. When I first published my blog on LinkedIn and sent it out on Facebook, my mind was racing, and my fingers itched to check first reactions on these platforms. I set a boundary: I won’t look at these sites until 1 full day after the post- 3:30pm on Tuesday. I disabled Safari on my phone. I stayed off my email. I didn’t give in to The Allure, and at 4:00 I finally checked in. I was able to be present with the day’s activities instead of anxiously scanning networks for positive feedback.
The power of making it real
One of my strengths is that I’ve always been scary good at incorporating a new identity, right away. I decided one day to be a person who works out every Monday, and now I am that person. I decided one day to not eat dairy for health reasons, and now I just… don’t. I decided one day to go for it and do The Big Scary Thing, publish my writing, and now you’re here, reading this, making it real.
To create something of value, both for ourselves and for humankind- that is the ultimate goal. It staves away any excuses and starves our smaller selves of instant gratification.
I have always been a go-getter with very big dreams, but I realized through this exercise that I was most comfortable keeping them in the realm of dreamery where nobody could touch or judge or poke at them. The ideal relationship, the ideal career, the ideal anything is always so sexy and wonderful in my head, perfect, that it’s more tempting than not to keep it there and never let it manifest into something smudged with the dark brush of reality. This blog is not perfect. I find myself worrying a lot of the time about it’s existence and my ability to nurture it. But it’s so cool to be figuring it out and writing and making something and PARTICIPATING that I often don’t even care if it sucks. It can suck so many eggs. At least it’s mine. And at least I published it.
Participate. Even if it sucks. Point to something and say, “I made that.”
The 12-week year is cool because I surprised myself with how much I got done and how much progress I made by framing my goals into a shorter timeline. It lit the fire under my ass to get things done and actually participate, and it gave me absolutely zero excuses not to do so. I am very pleased with how the first week has gone, largely because it’s brought me to you.
Here’s the thing- I don’t know if I’ll write this blog forever. It scares me to think of it failing, another unfinished project, just as much as it scares me to think of it taking off and succeeding. And the useless pressure I put on myself to make everything perfect can be annoying at best. But I do know this- for the next 12 weeks, I will write a blog post every week. I will publish it every Monday. And that will become the truth.