We had just hit the 2-hour mark on our 3-hour drive to the coast for the weekend.
I looked at my friend’s feet and realised she wasn’t wearing shoes.
‘Oh yeah, I didn’t know I was coming! Cat picked me up from work and I left my boots in the locker room because they stink like chicken guts.’ she said when I questioned her.
My mate worked at Kingsley’s Chicken, a chain of takeaway shops that employed at least half of my friendship group and boasted the best, crispiest chips in town.
I tried to be cool but I couldn’t help myself. ‘So… you didn’t pack anything???’
She had only her handbag which housed her wallet, phone and lip gloss. It wasn’t even a handbag – it was more like an oversized wallet. She was wearing her uniform and no shoes. We were going away for 3 days.
And it was totally fine. She simply didn’t wear shoes the entire weekend, borrowed a slip dress from one of our mates and bought a cheap bikini to wear to the beach. She also didn’t shower the whole time because ‘the ocean is her shower!’.
Her whole existence was (and remains) entirely foreign to me. I’d been fully packed 2 days earlier, purposefully avoiding wearing the outfits I wanted to take so they’d be clean in my suitcase awaiting my departure. I packed several pairs of shoes – for exercise, hiking, nice shoes in case we went out for dinner.
Planning is in my blood. I love knowing what’s going to happen and I feel very calm when my calendar and to-do list is organized. Planning 6-months, 12-months and even years into the future is my Beyonce. Even if the plans change, I really like knowing what I’m heading towards.
Needless to say, COVID-19 has fucked that up royally. It’s my birthday at the end of September and I have no idea if I will be spending it in lockdown, with a tiny gathering of 5 people at my house, or (mercifully) at my parent’s place if the borders open before then. Normally I would have had my full birthday season planned out with restaurant bookings, parties planned and special dates with my partner. This year I can’t even think about it because I have no idea what’s going to happen. The rising of Lucifer perhaps? Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds breaking up? At this point, I’m prepared for almost anything.
It’s times like this I wish I was more like my friend who went to the coast barefoot and without packing a single thing. I haven’t spoken to her in years but I imagine she’d be coping well with the lockdown. When I think about what she might be doing I imagine her spontaneously moving in with a guy she just met and having a steamy, intense lockdown love affair. Or she’d just grab her tent and go bush for a few months. Or commit that time to learning how to ride a unicycle or something wild like that.
Me? I’m clinging to my routines for dear life – exercise, early bedtimes, fasting 16:8 every day – and just putting one foot in front of the other. That’s how I’m coping. Everyone is coping in their own way. Some people are hibernating, literally. Others are really leaning in and having Zoom dates and drive-by parties and completing full-scale spontaneous home renovations. I’ve seen a few people using the lockdown to do amazing things like stop drinking alcohol or quit gambling. What utter champions.
No matter what your coping mechanism is, there is room for hope and planning. And learning how to plan better when everything feels quite awful. There’s also room for lots of Netflix and snacks, obvs.
Whether you’re the type of person who loves a plan or you’re a free spirit or a healthy mix of both (what balanced little banana you are!), I’ve discovered a new way of forward planning that works for uncertain times as well as uncertain people. None of us can do much planning at the moment but it might just help to focus on shorter periods of time, rather 5-year-plans when a killer virus and a global economic collapse are doing their collective best to thwart us.
It’s called The 12 Week Year.
The 12 week year is a time management system created by Brian P. Moran. In a nutshell, he says “Stop thinking in terms of a year; instead, focus on shorter time frames.”
So it’s more of a sprint than a marathon. There are 4 x 12 Week Years in a regular year and they’re 3 months long. Short enough so you don’t get bored but long enough to get some serious shit done.
And a perfect amount of time to focus on in 2020 the year that has been so catastrophically awful, it’s borderline comical.
The first of September 2020 will mark the beginning of the last 12 Week Year of this year. Shall we (try) to use it wisely? I think so.
Caveat: I’m writing this on a day when don’t feel entirely despondent and like there’s no point in doing anything. Yesterday, I would have written something totally different. If you’re feeling like rubbish today, don’t read this. You don’t need this today. You need to walk away from screens (if you can) and drink tea, cuddle (or call) people you love, and go gently. And if you need to do that until the pandemic is over (and beyond) that’s totally cool. If you feel like you want to kick things up a notch, keep reading.
Here’s how to plan better with The 12 Week Year
1. Figure out your why
What’s your aim with these 12 weeks? Do you want to switch to a plant-based diet? Do you want to launch a business? Write an album? A play? A book? Make daily exercise a part of your life? Get a new job? Start studying? Overhaul your finances? Clean out your house? Choose the area you most want to concentrate on and make that the theme for the next 12 weeks. That’s all you have to do.
2. Turn your ‘why’ into a goal
I want to exercise more = I will go for a half an hour walk 5 x per week
I want to write a book = I will write for 45 mins every day
I want to get a new job = I will apply for 10 x jobs every week
3. Plan to succeed
Choose ONE thing to focus on and make that your top priority. It’s 12 weeks. Knuckle down, commit to that one thing. Almost everything else is on hold, so that removes a lot of potential barriers.
4. Review after 6 weeks
If you’ve given your goal 6 weeks (and I mean 6 proper weeks – like you’ve really given it a red hot go) and you really freaking hate it, ditch it or tweak it. Or set a new goal entirely. There’s no point slogging it out for something that’s not serving you. Hot tip: redirecting is not the same as giving up. Giving up is when you stop doing something because it’s too hard. Re-directing is when you choose to stop doing something because it’s no longer serving you.
How To Plan Better: Essential Elements
Mindset – Get your focus on. Without committing to and prioritizing your goal, it won’t happen.
Planning – Yes! Good ol’ planning. Figure out what you want to do and what will happen every day for you to achieve that goal. It could be as simple and choosing your dinners for the next few weeks or as grand as hashing out a full house cleanout over the next few months. You can choose your own adventure!
Equipment – Don’t go nuts but if there’s a tangible thing you need to achieve your goal, buy it or borrow it. Be careful not to fall into the trap of spending a lot of money though. Just get what you need like a cheap set of body weights instead of buying a whole home gym. Get the basics, get yourself sorted out, and don’t let a lack of equipment stop you from doing what you need to do.
Progress management – Track your progress! There’s A LOT of research that shows that tracking your progress majorly increases your chances of success. You can use the Jerry Seinfeld Don’t Break The Chain Method or download the app Streaks for a simple way to visualize your progress.
Time – It’s imperative to set aside time to achieve your goals. Literally put it in your diary. If you don’t have a diary, get one. Here are some great ones.
Accountability – Get an accountability buddy, make your goal public, create a consequence that occurs when you don’t commit to your goal. If there’s nothing lost by you slacking off on your goal, it’s likely you’ll just give up.
Reward – Make sure you know what your reward is when you achieve your goal. It could something big like purchasing an expensive item you’ve been wanting for a while. It might be paying for fancy personal training sessions or buying an amazing pair of sneakers you’ve had your eye on. If financial rewards don’t work for you maybe it might be a weekend away to read books and relax. A trip to see someone you love (when and if you can travel of course). Rewards are big business when it comes to goal setting – it’s the classic stick and carrot. A combination of punishment and reward is a long-standing recipe for habit building success.
How to Plan Better: Potential Problems
It’s 12 weeks, so keep that in mind. You also need to live your life and you don’t want your habit building to make you miserable. Choose one goal, make it realistic. Set the bar super low. Do 10 minutes of whatever action you’re doing to build your goal. Do it 3 days a week instead of 7. Make it really, really small. This is about progress, there’s no rush especially in 2020. We’re literally not going anywhere.
Going too hard too soon
Start slow – I cannot stress this enough. If you haven’t exercised in months, jumping straight into 7 days a week 2-hour session is not going to end well. Neither is midnight album or book writing sessions. Or cutting out 100% of your entertainment budget overnight. Small steps young Padawan. Take your time.
When you can’t see your progress, you’re bound to get disheartened. Make tracking your progress an integral part of your day.
Having said all that if you just CBF, don’t bother setting any goals right now. If it’s going to stress you out, shelve it. If you WANT to set some goals, then go for it. I hope this 12-week sprint works out for you!