A 12-Week Planning Approach for 2023

A 12-Week Planning Approach for 2023
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Make 2023 your best year so far with this new more action-focused and results-based approach.

When it comes to yearly planning for the next year, most probably we all share the same approach. It goes something like this:

  1. Reflect on the current year
  2. Find areas of improvement
  3. Figure out what to focus on
  4. Write your 2023 yearly goals based on that

This approach has worked fairly well for me in the past couple of years. However, like any other process, this deserved some reflection and iteration.

That’s why, before starting my 2023 planning, I did an introspection. I realized that there were a few consistent problems I have always been running into the past couple of years.

Most of these problems boil down to the following:

  • Make the goals “too broad” or “general” rather than specific and actionable
  • Always leave things for later in the year knowing that “the year is not over yet”
  • Falsely thinking that I have “many more months” left to get things done
  • Only look at results at the end of the year, rather than throughout
  • Most progress is made at the end of the year, rather than consistently throughout

That’s where the new approach comes in. This is the first year I will be trying it, so I cannot say with certainty that this will work. However, I would invite you to try this out too, if you suffer from some of the problems I mentioned above.

☁️ View From 10,000 Feet

The core concept of a “12 Week Planning Approach” is very simple:

Instead of planning the whole year, plan 12 weeks (or 1 quarter) at a time.

3 months (or 12 weeks) is somewhat of a Goldilocks Zone when it comes to getting work done. It is just enough time to see meaningful progress in most things you do.

Yet, it is short enough for you to reflect on your progress and pivot without wasting the whole year.

Based on how the current quarter is going, you can change your next quarter’s plan and make it even better!

Now that you know the basic idea, let me walk you through some advantages that I believe this approach has, over the more generic full-year planning.

Photo by Lukas Blazek on Unsplash

⏰ Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

According to Parkinson’s Law:

Work expands to fill the period of time available for its completion.

That means, if you give yourself 1 year to do something, most probably it will take you the whole year. Even if the task/project could be done in 3 months, it will expand to take the full year.

Instead, if you give something less time, you are more likely to finish it quicker. Of course, you will have to be realistic with estimations.

It’s best to break something down into smaller chunks, and then assign a short amount of time for completion to each chunk.

Tieing this concept with our 12-week planning approach, if you give yourself a quarter, rather than a year, most likely you will finish it quicker. Even if you don’t finish it, you will get some actionable feedback earlier rather than later.

Otherwise, you will just have to wait until the full year is done, and then reflect on why it took so long, or why you couldn’t finish it.

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

🧐 Avoid The Trap of Planning Fallacy

According to the concept of Planning Fallacy:

The planning fallacy describes our tendency to underestimate the amount of time it will take to complete a task, as well as the costs and risks associated with that task — even if it contradicts our experiences.

The more general and vague your plan is, the more likely you are to fall into the trap of planning fallacy.

Now, let’s see you a 12-week planning approach can help you get around this.

Let’s say one of your 2023 goals is to lose 60 pounds.

If you are using the old 12-month (or 1-year) planning approach, your plan will be “to lose 60 pounds over the next 12 months”.

You are not taking into account all the troughs and bumps you might hit throughout the year. To you, it just “feels like” 60 pounds in 12 months should be possible. Every month goes by, you look at the calendar, and regardless of the progress you have made, you chalk it as being possible because you still have X months remaining. It always seems possible.

With this approach, it’s very likely that at the end of the 12 months you will end up missing your goal by quite a bit.

Instead, let’s use the 12-week approach here.

With that, your goal should be to lose 15 pounds every 12 weeks. That means you have a shorter time horizon and a smaller target goal.

Your plan is more concrete this way. If you want, you could break it down into smaller projects — lose 1 pound every week.

At the end of the 12 weeks, you can do a retrospective to see where you stand. If you haven’t reached your goal at the end of the quarter, you can either come up with a more aggressive plan for the next 12 weeks or tune the overall goal to be more realistic.

With shorter planning cycles, you are more likely to create concrete plans with actionable tasks. In doing so, you are more likely to not suffer from the planning fallacy.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

💨 Shorter Feedback Cycle

The secret recipe for improvement is feedback.

The more feedback you incorporate, the faster you get better.

If you are planning for the whole year, most likely you won’t see any results until the year is done. That means, a much longer feedback cycle, not only for your goals but also for the habits and systems of your life.

With a 12-week planning cycle, at the latest, you are getting feedback in the next 3 months. With that, you can either change your goals or optimize the systems in your life to reach your goals faster next quarter.

By the end of the year, you will have gone through 4 planning cycles, which means 4 times the feedback you would have received otherwise.

The regular check-ins also keep you honest and realistic with your goals and ambitions.

🪓 Bias Towards Actionable Projects

12 weeks is a much shorter amount of time than 52 weeks.

The projects you come up with through a 12-week approach are more likely to be actionable and result-focused than ones you come up with through a 52-week approach.

A year-long project is more likely to be vague and open-ended. It won’t be focused enough.

Shorter projects are more likely to be objective and actionable. You are more likely to complete them. Giving yourself one whole year, as mentioned before, makes you an easier target for Parkinson’s Law and Planning Fallacy.

Photo by Yulia Matvienko on Unsplash

🦸‍♀️ You Won’t Need to Become a Superhero

We all put too much faith in our future selves. That’s the whole reason we procrastinate.

We think, for whatever reason, what our current self cannot do right now, will be taken care of by our future self. We think our future selves have superpowers that we don’t have right now.

This plays perfectly into the hands of a 52-week planning approach.

With such a long time horizon in mind, we will keep deferring what we have to do today, with the hopes that our future self will figure it out closer to the end of the year.

If you use a 12-week approach, however, you are less likely to procrastinate, and more likely to get things done today. Your future self will look less like a superhero if the future you are looking at is only a few weeks from now.

I hope you found this a valuable read and have some takeaways that you can go ahead and implement in your wonderful lives.

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