If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you’ve been instructed to create annual goals and then break them down into quarters.
And, if you’re like most entrepreneurs, this isn’t working for you AT ALL.
Are you just terrible at keeping your promises to yourself?
Is there something wrong with you?
I’m not sure who’s reading this, so I can’t REALLY answer those questions for you (sorry), but I can tell you one thing: it’s not your fault if annual goal setting isn’t working for you.
It’s an outdated system that just doesn’t fit most entrepreneurial business.
I learned this the hard way in A Squared. Last year, I created annual goals and then set up this fancy spreadsheet to break that down into quarters and then months.
But as my business pivoted and my priorities shifted, that plan became less and less relevant.
All it managed to do is make me feel deeply behind on things that weren’t really even relevant anymore.
And I didn’t have any space to chase new, innovative ideas along the way.
Enter the six-week planning cycle. We’ve been trying it out this year, and it’s the perfect fit for us.
Six weeks is a magical time period.
Long enough to keep shiny object syndrome at bay.
Short enough to let you adapt, learn, and pivot.
And it’s pretty simple! All you have to do is sit down, pick a few things you want to do over the next six weeks, post them somewhere you can see them, and then dive in. After six weeks has gone by, you get two weeks to decompress and plan until you start the next one, leading to six cycles over the course of one year.
I’m about to start a new six-week cycle, so I thought I’d give you a window into how this works at A Squared (with steps you can follow too).
Step 1: Write down everything you might possibly want to do over the next six weeks
Start by writing down the projects and tasks you’d like to accomplish over the next six weeks.
You can skip any ongoing client work or recurring administrative stuff. “Check emails” doesn’t need to be on this list. “Clear out inbox” might be, though, if that’s been bugging you for a while.
Chances are good, it’s going to be too long. Once you’re using this system regularly, you’ll have a running list of every idea you ever had (which is great, because then they’re not bouncing around in your head all the time).
Step 2: Pick 1-2 larger projects and 4-8 smaller projects to complete
Now it’s time to evaluate your list. Consider your availability, your priorities, and your targets for the year. What do you want to commit to doing over the next six weeks?
Write down your list and put it somewhere you can see it.
Step 3: (Optional) Break down your tasks into smaller chunks by week
Some projects on your list might be relatively well-defined and granular, and you can act on them easily. Others, though, will be way too overwhelming for you to sink your teeth into or know if you’re on track.
For example, “website redesign” is on our list for the next six weeks. That’s a massive undertaking. I could break it up like this:
Week 1: Finalize brand and initial structure; send to designer
Week 2: Home page copy
Week 3: About page copy
Week 4: Rest of site copy
Week 5: Design phase
Week 6: Begin review
This helps me see that I probably won’t be 100% done with the website by the end of the cycle, so I can set fair expectations - but it will also help me keep moving forward efficiently.
Step 4: If you have a team, let them know what the priorities are for the next six weeks and get their help
Your team wants to know what they should be prioritizing in the business. Sharing your plan with them will help them all work in the same direction, and over time you can give more and more ownership to them.
In my example above, two entire projects belong to my team. I’m here to support, but they are in the driver’s seat. It’s amazing.
Step 5: Focus for the next six weeks
Now it’s time to execute on your plan.
Your biggest enemies will be new shiny objects and ideas, but this structure gives you the tools to handle them. When you join a webinar, or see a post from an entrepreneur you admire, or have a brilliant idea at 4:00 in the morning, write down your biggest takeaways.
Add those new ideas to your running list of projects. Then, get back to the projects you’ve already committed to.
When it’s time to plan your next six-week cycle, you can evaluate that idea objectively to see if it should make the cut. You have the flexibility to pursue it if you want, but you’ll also have just enough distance from the idea to truly know if it fits into your goals for the year.
Anything you leave to bounce around in your head will keep launching itself into your attention with a due date of “now.” You’ll constantly feel like there are a million things you should be doing. When that idea has a place outside your head to live instead, you can trust that it’s captured and will get its moment in the sun, and you can safely forget about it until the right time.
Step 6: Review your previous six-week cycle
Once your six weeks has run out, you now have two weeks before your next cycle begins. You can use that time to pursue a fun side project, think about what you want to do for the next six weeks, and debrief the work you just completed.
To debrief my projects, I just ask myself a few questions:
For the projects I finished, what was the outcome?
What projects used the most energy or gave me the most resistance? Why?
For the projects I didn’t finish, was it a conscious and wise choice based on changing priorities? Or did I procrastinate?
What did I learn?
This only takes a few minutes and helps me strategically identify my next set of projects.
Then, I rinse and repeat.
And that’s it! Give it a try and let me know what you think. I hope it helps you as much as it’s helped me.
(Want to hear from the original mind behind this idea? Here’s an article from Basecamp about how they use this process)