The downside of intense focus, and other lessons learned in Week 6

At the end of 2022, like every year, I had some major goals in mind regarding fitness and writing. This time, instead of creating New Year’s resolutions that were vague (I want to be more fit! I want to write more!), I decided to gather the insights of all of the nerdy habit-building books I’ve ever read and really go for it, the right way- with an accountability system and the wisdom of the experts.

Combining some Atomic Habits, some Getting Things Done, some You Are a Badass and some 12-Week Year, I am pleased to say I’ve been able to make significant progress on these goals in 2023 by framing them in the 12-week year model. (More details on that in my original 12-week year blog post here.)

What’s fun about the 12-week year is that every 3 weeks, not every 3 months, constitutes a quarter of your year. This presents an opportunity for “quarterly reflection” every 21 days, and I LOVE reflection, so I’m happy to oblige.

Six weeks, then, is the mid-point point for the follower of the 12-week year. My goal with this blog was to obtain 15 subscribers. I also had a fitness goal. I am pleased to say I hit the fitness goal within these 6 weeks already, and I have obtained 14 out of 15 subscribers. YAHOO!

I have not only achieved these hard numbers, but now know what the achievement of these numbers really means. As a chronic “Oooo shiny goal! Let’s wing it!” kind of person who usually flies by the seat of her pants, I found the systematization of goal setting to be extremely effective in keeping me on track. I’ve also unearthed a few key lessons that I’m still learning and unpacking. Here’s what I found:

Tradeoff between relationships and intense focus

Motivation is slippery, and sometimes inspiration is nowhere to be found. There are plenty of days when I don’t “feel like” completing a task in pursuit of my goal, but the 12 Week Year encourages you to “Act on commitments, not feelings.” This singular idea has made me far more productive, responsible, and in integrity with my word.

It has also made me tired af.

Since burning out in college trying to do All the Things I’m proud to say I’ve cut the fat quite a bit on my lifestyle. I’m a homebody with 2 besties and a maximum curfew of 10:30. I stay away from crowds and enjoy quiet time in my room by my window, curled up with a book watching the stars shimmer. I’m very picky about what I say yes to, and when I do say yes, I keep a tight eye on my schedule to avoid overbooking and burning out.

Ostensibly, I’m well-versed in keeping my social commitments to a minimum and installing buffer time to just do my thing. But work commitments? It surprised me how much I allowed myself to put on my plate while balancing a demanding full-time position, and I often find myself working out or working on my blog every day on top of private client work for my side hustle. Read: I’m pushing myself to work each day, without allowing time to pull back.

Additionally, in the times that I have scheduled these goal-oriented commitments, I often insist on keeping my phone and other distractions far far away. This is excellent for my deep focus muscle and means I am much more productive than I’ve ever been, but I’m not sure if it’s worth what I miss. In my effort to focus I’m routinely missing FaceTime calls from my parents on vacation, or opportunities to make spontaneous plans with friends, or sweet texts from my boyfriend, and that just plain sucks.

My family is accustomed to me being holed up in the office, clackity clacking away on some personal or professional project, but my relationship with my boyfriend often suffers in my efforts to stay disciplined. In an attempt to get everything done and close out the week properly, I was 30 minutes late to his family dinner a few Fridays ago and cried the whole way there. I hated the thought of breaking my word to him and to them. My word is important. I was 30 minutes late to a friend gathering last Friday too, for similar reasons. (Maybe I should just stay home on Fridays?) My efforts to “close all the loops” in my brain are often conflicting with the quality time I wish to spend with my boyfriend, my family, my friends, and even myself. This is something that I believe every successful person has been through, but the balance between work and play is something I’m still figuring out.

Of course, when you’re making a life change or installing a new habit, some shoes need to drop, and I can give myself grace for that. Those who love me can and will be patient and understanding on my road to rockstardom. But while I insist on this productive-focused lifestyle for the next 6 weeks to complete the year, I look forward to scaling way back and keeping my focus tight on 3 work commitments maximum so that I can spend more time with the people I love. I also look forward to putting a kibosh on any computer-related activities or workouts on Saturdays- that has to be my day to just relax.

You are only as successful as you are accountable

Thanks to the business software company I work for, I have learned a lot about accounting. Whereas I used to hear accounting and think “how unimaginably boring,” I am now fascinating by the workings of this robust and highly intricate system. What I love the most about accounting, specifically double-entry, is that each action has an equal and opposite reaction, which is downright thrilling for a black-and-white thinker like me. Every debit needs a credit. When value is increased in one account, it must be decreased in another, and vice versa. The ping ponging of value is always traceable and the numbers are clear and categorical, and even the accounts you debit or credit in each journal entry can help tell the whole story of where the money moved in real life!!! (I’m great at parties.)

I always think about accounting when I hear the word “accountable.” Just as bookkeepers account for daily transactions, and accountants then analyze these transactions to deliver meaning to their clients, I keep tabs on the efforts I make towards my goal in the form of daily check-ins, and account for them/analyze them “big picture” every week. I do this through a cute lil’ worksheet that I fill out before bed to mark my progress for that day- how many ounces of water did I drink, how many minutes did I walk or write, that kind of thing. Then, at week’s end, I transfer the notes from my worksheet into an Excel spreadsheet where I can “crunch the numbers” (accounting!), add text reflection for each data point, and review my progress at a higher level.

At first, all of the paperwork associated with the 12 Week Year felt like a pain in the ass. I have to write my blog, then write about writing my blog? But now, I get anxious if I don’t fill out my little worksheet. I look forward to reviewing my progress, analyzing, and deriving meaning and pride from the hard work I put in every day to keep myself on track. It’s like I’m both the teacher giving a gold star and the shiny-eyed student receiving it. Coming from a former teacher’s pet, this is kind of a big deal.

Before, when I would attempt my goals without accountability or a system in place, I found myself letting one slip up take me off the hook completely. Oh well, ate a piece of birthday cake, I can eat all the sugar I want now! Ah, rats, I slept in yesterday instead of working out. Alarm snoozed for the rest of the week!

Now, even when I do slip up, I account for it, reflect on what motivated me to slip up if it was not premeditated/excused, and continue my pace. I don’t course correct, because I made a promise to myself to fulfill a commitment, and I intend to keep it that way. If I say I’m going to work out on Saturday, I can’t move it to Sunday without breaking my word to myself. This is powerful and keeps me 100% accountable, as I’ve been prone in the past to “move something” to a different day and then, um, never actually do it.

I’ve noticed, as I mentioned in the previous section, that I don’t really have a day off. Instead of catering to this uncomfortable feeling and moving my dates and times around to give myself a day off, I’ve decided that I can be uncomfortable in the pursuit of my goals within the framework of the 12 weeks. This is something I can tolerate for 6 more weeks in honor of my commitment. I made a promise to myself and I take ownership of that. This makes me feel like a responsible human adult capable of fulfilling many more promises to herself, and helps me understand the power of saying yes to a goal- and everything that it requires…

Commitments are projects with tasks and deadlines

Staying so accountable to myself and my commitments has made me understand how deep my “yes” really goes, and how rare it should be.

In one of my favorite books, Getting Things Done, the author David Allen presents a “lifestyle management system” that I (more or less) follow. You write down all of your to-dos to capture them, then you either delegate the task, do it immediately right then and there, or schedule time onto your calendar to complete the task. This means no errant thought or “Oh, I really need to clean the basement” is left unaccounted for, and in turn frees up your mind to be a hub of mental clarity and presence instead of a holding spot for your to-dos.

A part of this book that has stuck with me is the idea that everything in your life is a project, with tasks, and action items that need to be accomplished to do them. As a project manager myself, this makes so much sense. Cleaning the kitchen is a project with subtasks like wiping the counters and doing the dishes. Grabbing dinner with your friends is a project with subtasks like scheduling a date and picking a restaurant.

How many tasks can come out of just a simple project like dinner with work friends or signing on a new client is astonishing, especially when I am already so driven in and dedicated to my other projects. Having these subtasks from commitments I make outside of the commitments I’ve already made hanging out on my calendar puts more pressure on me to perform, turn off my phone for an hour, and be Productive Amanda.

While these projects are in service of a well-balanced life and my goals of personal and professional enjoyment, they are also work. It’s made me truly reconsider what I commit to in the future, and ask myself what I’m comfortable giving up in order to progress. Am I willing to say yes to another private client at the expense of time with my friends? Am I willing to say yes to dinner with my family at the expense of a moved deadline? The 12-week year has made it crystal-clear just how many choices we make in a day, and how those choices reflect our values.

At first, I wasn’t sure if I could make it a full 6 weeks with this program. But I’m overall satisfied with the results and excited to continue making it my own. If you haven’t yet, definitely give The 12 Week Year a read, and I also highly recommend Getting Things Done by David Allen. These 2 books together have helped me become more get-er-done instead of dream-on-sucker, and for that, I am truly grateful.


Amanda Popovski

Hi, I write about digital minimalism, mindfulness, wellness, productivity, and habit-building.

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