Welcome to August and this month’s PhD Book Club!

This month we are looking at ‘The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks Than Others Do in 12 Months’ by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington (Wiley: 2013).

This book is primarily aimed at the business market but I think there is much that is useful to PhD researchers as we look to make meaningful progress in our research.

The first section of the book challenges the conventional wisdom on planning and goal-setting.  The authors address the standard model of what they call “annualized thinking” (10) and the problems that it creates.  They offer instead a model of “periodization” which focuses on shorter time frames and levers the power of deadlines to encourage execution.  This is an interesting proposition in an academic culture that very much functions around annual reviews and long-term plans which can then become too unwieldy to manage effectively. Moran and Lennington suggest that annualised thinking can lull people into a false sense of security.  At the beginning of the year the months spread out in front of you and it can feel like there is plenty of time to get things done – you might overestimate the amount you can achieve or even get overwhelmed by trying to make actionable plans for your project.  Deadlines can come and go and then the end-of-year deadline seems to come up all of a sudden and cause considerable stress.

The 12 week model suggests a more consistent model of execution throughout the year.    The 12 week plan is objective based – encouraging you to take action on things that will move you forward – up to three key objectives – so for example, you might look to complete first draft of a  chapter within the 12 week block.  A significant element of this process is to write your plan with implementation in mind.  Very often we write big to-do lists and call them a plan but, without identifying what the authors call the “critical strategic activity”, it can be very difficult to take effective action (31).  The 12 Week Year encourages you to develop a clear game plan for each week.  I think this section is particularly useful for PhD researchers as so many people I talk to think they lack motivation when actually they lack clarity.  Time and again I see how focused objectives can really help to turbo-boost your working process.  The authors also stress the importance of being in the moment which is also a recurring theme for PhD researchers as so much time and energy can be spent on fear-casting into the future and regretting what has gone before.  Indeed, one of the great elements of the 12 week year is that it gives you four years in one and if one block of the year has not gone as you would have liked you get to reset and start again!

The second half of the book focuses on putting the theory into practice and developing your own actionable 12 week plan.   The authors discuss techniques such as time-blocking (a process I use in my own work-week) and the importance of keeping score so you have a clear sense of the progress you are making. They also encourage you not to ‘go it alone’ but to find community that can both support you and hold you accountable.

I asked last month whether you would like a live element to the book club and the answer was a resounding ‘YES’ so we going to meet online on 25th August at 8pm BST to explore these ideas further.   I would love to hear what you think about this way of working – perhaps you already use it or elements of it?  Or maybe you have an alternative planning model?  

You are very welcome to join us for the session.  You don’t need to have read the book and a replay will be available for those who can’t make it live. 

You can reserve your seat here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/388607474417

Hope to see you there!

Have a great month!!

Emma x