Tag Archives: entrepreneur

Essential books for entrepreneurs: The 12 Week Year

As someone who implemented David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology back in 2009, I’m no stranger to the review process. The weekly review is the element that keeps the system running. Over the years, I moved from just a weekly review to also implementing monthly and quarterly reviews. To top it off, an end of year review and goal setting day seemed to be a significant amount of personal time given to strategic thinking and planning.

Yet somehow, I still didn’t always achieve my most important goals.

The 12 Week Year by Brian P. Moran is an interesting take on how to achieve greater success and results, rather than being purely a productivity system.

Near the beginning of the book, Moran offers up this truth: there are always more ideas than you can effectively implement. Any entrepreneur or freelancer trying to build a business will have experienced this. It is more often than not the source of that subtle source of procrastination – with so much you could do, where do you start?

“The number one problem is a lack of execution”

Moran’s answer is to begin by getting rid of the annual goal setting process. His underlying reasons for this actually make a lot of sense. With a whole year ahead, it is easy to overestimate what you will do and fill your plan with projects that will never come to fruition. Twelve months feels like a long time, whereas twelve weeks is in the foreseeable future. You can complete a major project in twelve weeks, but you are less likely to attempt three or four that then linger with the faint whiff of failure associated to them.

Instead, the twelve week year is designed to give you a tactical framework to shift your mindset. It is a system that creates accountability, deadlines and focus on key opportunities.

By working only on activities that focus you on the main goals for that twelve week sprint, rather than a longer term vision, he argues that you will achieve as much – if not more – than you would with a set of yearly goals that continually get deferred until the final quarter.

The 12 Week Year does not dismiss vision and longer term strategy entirely. It is essential to have some higher level overview to determine which projects are the vital ones for the next twelve weeks.  The subtle shift is changing the emphasis so that a failure in the current twelve week cycle can’t be ‘made up’ later on in the end of the year. Instead, daily habits and actions build momentum to achieve the ‘end of year’ success in a quarter of the time. To make sure the days are planned with tasks that are actionable and measurable, rather than drifting through towards some vague goal, is essential to staying on track. It becomes about clarity and adding value, rather than simply completing a task list.

My one major criticism of the book is that it doesn’t give enough emphasis to the potential dangers of burnout. Renewal is hugely important, especially when you are working for yourself and there is no forced cut off time at 5pm where you forget about the day. As an entrepreneur it is more likely that your projects feel more like passions, which in turn means you are more likely to push on to the point of exhaustion.

This book encourages the reader towards working frequent cycles of high intensity activity, but doesn’t address the dangers of this in a balanced way. Working consistently on a project at a high level requires more than giving yourself  ‘a weekend off’ at the end of the twelve weeks to recover.

However, I’ve used The 12 Week Year to complete a significant number of projects that have been hanging around on my yearly goals list for a while now. The techniques have been proven to produce results. For anyone starting out who needs to take charge of their own career, or for those who want to finally achieve things they’ve been dreaming of for years, I would thoroughly recommend this book.

Moleskine Weekly Planner vs Hobonichi Techo – 2017 review

This year needs to be a very big year for me in terms of personal productivity. I will transition from full-time employment to being entirely self-employed within the next few weeks. I’ve always found it easy to be productive in the daily 9-5 job, but being entirely accountable for my own goals and planning is a new challenge. One that I knew my setup in 2016 simply wouldn’t be able to handle.

Last year, one of the problems I encountered with my productivity was a surfeit of notebooks. That’s really the best way to describe it. I used the Hobonichi Techo to record my daily events but not my daily tasks. They were instead recorded in a Field Notes book using a modified Bullet Journal method. I never actually adhered to the full Bullet Journal system because several features, such as calendared events, simply do not work for me.

hobonichi techo

Hobonichi Techo: great paper but no overview

In a larger A5 size notebook, such as a Moleskine or a Paperblanks, I wrote my daily gratitude journals and morning pages. On the road, this felt more like a burden than a productivity asset as it was always a minimum of three daily notebooks.

As much as  I loved using the Hobonichi, I realised this was less about the layout and much more about the paper. As a huge fountain pen fan it was great knowing it could take literally any pen and ink combo that was thrown at it. I enjoyed the variety that different form factors provide. But pleasure aside, it just wasn’t practical. I was doing less, not more, and friction in the system became a problem in itself.

As part of my 2016 yearly review, I decided to very consciously choose a planner that would suit my changing circumstances. After considering all the options, I settled on an A5 Moleskine 12 Month Weekly Planner.  I’ve been using it consistently for 8 weeks, so now I’ve got enough information to provide a fair review of how this is working.

Key Features

Of course, it starts with the obligatory information page. I have no idea why these are included anymore, as no one ever fills them out surely? In the age of widespread fraud, the Field Notes approach of email address and reward waiting checkbox is all you need.

Moleskine Weekly Planner

Passport and credit card numbers? No thanks!

The planner style is more than just a ‘space per day’ diary. On the left hand page there is a daily spread, but on the right hand side there is a lined page. This allows free space each week to make notes or, in my case, to plan out additional goals. If you need to record lots of meetings and appointments, then this might not work for you.

Moleskine 12 month weekly planner

Daily and Weekly planning combo – ideal for modified Bullet Journal

There is also a monthly spread at the beginning. This is quite similar in size to the one I used last year in the Hobonichi, so it allows for bigger picture planning. Unlike the Hobonichi, there is more space at the bottom of each page for additional notes, taking advantage of the larger A5 size.

Moleskine Weekly Planner

Monthly overview – ideal for larger project planning

By far the biggest downside is the number of lined pages for additional notes at the back. With just 4, I already only have 2 lined sides left. Given that this book is narrower than a standard Moleskine A5 ruled book, this is not due to a thickness issue. Cost saving? Quite possibly, given that the usual address book pullout section wasn’t included this year either. I’ve spoken to other people who have Moleskine diaries in other formats and they didn’t have one either. So it is slightly disappointing if they are doing that, given they don’t exactly sell these as inexpensive items and they’re certainly not reinvesting the saving into better quality paper.

Moleskine Notebook

Seriously, no more pages left and February isn’t even over!

So far, with the caveats mentioned above, I have found this system to be working absolutely perfectly for my needs. Though the paper is nowhere near as good quality as the Hobonichi (understatement of the year) I have found that by sticking to a fine nib and a relatively dry ink I can still use some fountain pens with this. But on reflection, I’m approaching this year with functionality over fun and beauty.

So, to recap, the pros and cons of the Moleskine Weekly Planner…

Pros

  • Good layout for weekly goal setting
  • Monthly view for high level planning
  • General sleek and professional form factor you would expect from Moleskine

Cons

  • Paper quality (I’ve heard Leuchtturm1917 do a similar style, so this may be a better choice if paper really matters – if anyone has tried this then please let me know in the comments as I’ll consider alternatives for 2018)
  • Not enough lined pages at the back for additional notes
  • No address book section

The layout has been the winner for me. Without masses of daily appointments and meetings to keep track of, I can use a modified Bullet Journal system within the planner itself and feel like I’m keeping all my work plans and goals on track. But I’m not blind to some fairly significant weaknesses in the product.

4 reasons why it’s not too late to start a profitable side project

Some people love having side projects. Other people love the idea of having side projects. The dream that one day, you’ll find the magic bullet that will let you escape the 9-5 grind.

With the internet’s ability to peer into the carefully curated lives of others, we get a false sense of what success is and how young you need to be to achieve it. There is a sense that if you haven’t changed the world by the time you are twenty-five, you probably never will.

Which is, for the record, bullshit.

Billion dollar tech startups created in some fourteen year old whizz kid’s bedroom are always going to make you feel inferior. Yet most people don’t really make something of themselves until their late thirties or forties. You don’t really know who you are when you are a teenager. You may have some technical skills, advanced ones at that, but you haven’t lived yet.

You don’t have a multitude of people and experiences to shape you. These come later in life. Much of the dissatisfaction we experience is because we’re expected to set a course in our mid-teens and then stay on that hard earned (and often still paying for with student loans) trajectory.

man-coffee-cup-pen

So let’s bust some myths about why it’s not too late. These are all from my personal experience too, so I’m not just spinning someone else’s yarn here.

1. It won’t take as long as you think

It will probably feel like it, but it won’t. For most entrepreneurs, the skills that make them successful and competitive are not ones they learned through formal education. Yet for most people who think about changing income sources, the education route is the only way they know. It takes a lot of cash and time to retrain when you have existing responsibilities, like a job, a family and a mortgage. For most people, that scenario feels impossible.

But the three years of expensive qualifications and then on the job training won’t be the route for many successful side projects.

2. You can use the Pareto Principle to speed things up

The Pareto Principle is broadly that 80% of the results come from 20% of the tasks/effort. Once you can establish this as a defining life principle, you can really make things move. In life, work and all the grey areas in between, we see it in action all of the time.

Let’s apply the Pareto Principle to the time/cost retraining fear above. 80% is a high enough level of competency to succeed at most things. If our three year degree course teaches us 80% of the skills during just 20% of the time, then by working out what those key skills are and ignoring the rest, then three years quickly becomes less than one.

If we can find out what those things are, we probably won’t even need to pay for the course anyway.

There are obviously exceptions of course, but I’m assuming your side project isn’t to become an astronaut or a brain surgeon.

3. If you’re reading this, you probably already have the skills you need

Again, see the caveats about brain surgeons and astronauts. If you’re poking around in my skull then I expect you to have more than an ability to use google effectively. For anyone else, then if you’ve found me, you’re already on the right track. Even if your side projects have nothing to do with the internet, in our current world, you’ll still need to master it in order to sell your products and services. Side projects can become businesses very quickly. They might not become ‘jobs’ in the traditional sense, but they can if you want them to.

Everything you need to know these days is buried on the internet somewhere. You just have to find it, learn it, be brave enough to do it. Which brings us to…

4. Consistency is more important over the next year than where you are now

This is actually the hardest step. When you’re starting out, the rewards are non-existent at worst, infrequent at best. There is nothing so dispiriting as a first iteration flop, whether it’s a book, product or YouTube video. Casey Neistat makes it look so easy, right?

You burn bright with enthusiasm at first, but then it all fizzles out. The excuses come thick and fast. Before you know it, a month has rolled by before you remember your side project and dust it off.

The lesson here is that you don’t just pick up where you left off. The clock resets to zero, or close enough. You’re rusty. Those three strangers who actually found your new YouTube channel have moved on, forgotten about you. Frustration and overwhelm sets in.

The good news? If you can be consistent and you have something of value, in a year you can experience exponential change. It can take as little as six months to grow your idea into a sustainable, life changing source of income. Not a billion dollar startup, but enough to quit the 9-5 and focus on it full time.

pexels-photo-297755

Your side project can work for you at home or secretly inside your laptop, even if you are on a sun-drenched beach in Bali or walking around the streets of New York. It can do it if you are turning 30, or 40, or 50.

Location independence matters to me. So does having the time to prioritise my health. So does having time to spend with my friends and family. If you’re reading this, then I suspect they might matter to you too.

So stop reading. Start doing.

Now.