I recently finished my first 12 Week Year and wanted to review how it went to see if I could learn some lessons from the experience. If you’ve not read it, The 12 Week Year by Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington proposes by working to a 12 week plan, you can get more done in those 12 weeks than some people manage in 12 months. I initially “read” the audiobook version, found it quite inspiring, and knowing I was likely to be out of work over the Winter, decided to try it.
I started out with seven goals:
- 120000 first draft words written towards Fallen World and the third book in the Fallen Warriors trilogy
- 31 Days of Prayer finished, edited and published
- 100 Crazy Ideas to Fix the Economy finished, edited and published
- Declutter the garage
- Decorate our bedroom
- To use this 12 weeks as a benchmark, a learning experience. (I don’t know if I can achieve all of these goals, but to have made progress will be wonderful.)
- Train and upskill (Power BI, SSIS, etc)
While editing and publishing 31 Days of Prayer I decided to drop goal 3 and replace with a new one:
8. Write, edit and publish the sequel to 31DoP: The Commands of Jesus
Goal 6 was included to take pressure off myself. I know I can get totally obsessed with achieving a goal, and I needed to ensure I put my family first. I tried to be realistic with all the goals, to consider beforehand whether they were achievable in the time available, and to structure how I spent my time to avoid overdoing it.
In January 2021 we were in Lockdown here in Scotland. Not allowed to travel outside of our local area, not allowed to visit other people, restricted in leaving our house. My daughter was home schooling and my son is studying towards his university degree from home as well. Unlike during the first Lockdown last Spring when we could at least sit in the garden to get some relief, January and February were likely to be tough months, trapped inside.
I allowed myself a lot of leeway with my schedule. Determined I wasn’t going to beat myself up if circumstances changed, or I was needed to focus on my family. I aimed for a fairly low 6 hour a day schedule during the week. Every evening and weekend off from my goals. Even then, at that point, I thought the goals were achievable.
Looking back, my initial thoughts on the 12 Week Year experiment were:
- I feel that I allowed time to be wasted.
- I was insufficiently disciplined with using my time.
- I burned out after the second month and should have taken rest breaks.
- I wasn’t able to measure some of the work I had to do like plotting the book.
- I completely failed to track my time in the last week. I was mentally quite exhausted.
I saw this time wasting especially in the third block of four weeks. It may have been in part because I had not allowed any additional days off during the 12 weeks and burnt myself out. I found myself procrastinating in the mornings, starting later and later, then struggling to get going in the afternoons.
I also noticed I was spending a lot of time on my phone. Scrolling through Twitter, looking for something interesting, or searching my favourite websites for new articles to read. Again, possibly a form of procrastination.
While I made fairly good progress with writing in the first two four week blocks, I reached a point where the complex plot of Fallen World made me uncertain whether some of the characters could experience events in this book, and how that would impact their reactions to other events. I realised I needed to better understand the implications of the unfolding events which took time away from writing. But I struggled then as hours seemed to slip away and I felt I was making very slow progress. Writers put themselves into two groups: Plotters and Pantsers. Those who write a detailed plot before starting to write, and those who write by the seat of their pants! I tend to be one of the latter, though with Fallen Warriors and Fallen World I have ended up also writing detailed plots once I’ve reached a certain point in the story. And I had outlined stories for each character before I began the main work on Fallen World.
I felt so bad about how things were going that I even stopped tracking what I was spending time on in the last of the 12 weeks. I kept meaning to go back and work it out, but it never happened.
Goal 1: 120,000 first draft words written towards Fallen World and the third book in the Fallen Warriors trilogy
I wrote 69,654 new words during the 12 weeks, slightly greater than half the target wordcount. 58% in fact. This measure did not take into account the time spent working on plot, which took up a fair bit of time in the third block of four weeks.
As you can see from above, I didn’t record any new words written in the last four week block.
Goal 2: 31 Days of Prayer finished, edited and published
I did not properly review how much time it took to do this – I had not included the work spent over the autumn and winter. So this meant I underestimated how much work would be needed for a follow up. However, this was a success and I’m so glad I set this target. I found the process of writing and editing 31 Days of Prayer deeply moving and a personal blessing. Also, by choosing to give this book away through Bookfunnel (you can download here), I’ve been able to add a hundred subscribers to my mailing list as a result!
Goal 3: 100 Crazy ideas to fix the economy finished, edited and published
My original intention was to complete this book once I’d finished 31 Days of Prayer, however as I worked on 31 Days of Prayer I found myself noting down over a dozen potential follow up prayer guides. I decided I would rather change the goal to focus on writing a sequel: The Commands of Jesus. I dropped this as a goal and did then make some progress on that follow up prayer guide which I’ll write up separately.
Goal 4: Declutter the garage
My intention was to tackle this on evenings and weekends. It was too cold and dark most evenings and we ended up working on this over about five weekends, spending on average two hours each weekend. While there is still work to do, it is now possible to find what we need in the garage. We’ll need to set time aside later in the year to finish the job.
Goal 5: Decorate our bedroom
I knew this was going to be disruptive and in the end I postponed this until week 13. I had hoped we might finish this in a week and then have a week off, but that was unrealistic. Even a slightly more realistic estimate had the work finishing on the Tuesday of the following week. We didn’t have a proper break in the end which does concern me looking forward to the next quarter. However, I did stop work early enough to take a break in the evenings most days and was able to enjoy some movies, rest up. We went on a lovely cycle ride that Friday (Easter Friday) I ended up doing tidy up bits over the rest of the second week. We’re now using the bedroom. there are four unfinished tasks still needing done and I’ve added them as “to dos” for this quarter.
Goal 6: To use this 12 weeks as a benchmark, a learning experience.
I feel quite positive about how the 12 weeks have gone. I’m unsure about how to fit holidays into this plan. I need to be careful to avoid burnout. I’ve not been closely following the advice in the book and need to review the book again to see if I can understand the method better.
Goal 7: Train and upskill (Power BI, SSIS, etc)
While I did start watching and practicing training videos, I stopped after the first week. I need to find a way to integrate such training into being beneficial for my writing or create a project that I really want to see finished as that would give me extra motivation to persevere. It is different when I’m working, but again, unless I have a reason to use a skill, I struggle to motivate myself to take time to learn it. I tend to learn by doing, and learn new skills normally because there is something I need to do that I don’t have the skill for. Time is so precious though that I struggle to trick myself into committing to something that I know is not currently important.
Some final thoughts…
I wasted a lot of time on social media, or as I’m starting to think of it – unsocial media. I don’t seem to handle social media very well. Originally I started using Facebook as a forum to share, but that ended up being all about me, and that didn’t seem healthy. Then I used it as a forum to discuss, and that was okay, though quite draining, and I’m not at all sure it was of any use to anyone. Then for the last couple of years I’ve used Facebook and Twitter as a forum to argue. And that has not been healthy at all.
So what do I do? I think I need to focus on my goals. To cease spending time on things that do not add value.
A friend said he was starting to pray through his Facebook friends list. That seemed like a positive thing to do.
I should be quite encouraged by the successes over this quarter. One book published, a substantial amount of words written. Valuable time spent working on a plot. Important family projects progressed. I’ve restarted my mailing list and grown it by 100 subscribers. To date, over 130 people have downloaded the first 31 Days of Prayer.
Looking ahead to what might be possible in a year… If I could write full time, it should be possible to write a minimum of 280,000 words in a year – that is first drafts of two novels! Also to possibly write and publish one short book each quarter, or at least publish two longer works and write and publish two shorter ones. That would be wonderful.