The 3 Month Year: Get More Done by Shortening Your Execution Cycle

April 18, 2021

Yearly plans often fail.

It’s objectively hard to predict exactly where you’ll be in a year.

You can evolve as a person, gain new skills, meet new people, undergo a spiritual transformation, build a new business or sell an existing one and what not.

Why yearly plans fail

  • New developments in your life could lead to a change in priorities that send you down a different path.
  • Laziness, complacency, loss of motivation in between this long duration.
  • You might simply forget why you were doing something in the first place.
  • When planning long-term, we tend to think very idealistically (because it’s a long-time frame). We either underestimate or overestimate what we can do.

The solution is to shorten the timeframe.

I’m making a case for treating 3 months like a year.

Why treat 3 months like a year?

  • your goals are more likely to remain the same in a 3 month timespan than a year.
  • you can get a lot done in 3 months, at the same time it’s not too long a timespan where you can slack off for too many days.
  • The shorter execution cycle and feedback loop will keep you going.

Why not just call it Quarterly Planning?

We are trying to frame this time period in our mind like a year. When you plan a quarter, you are mentally planning for a year and dividing it into four milestones.

Here, we are mentally planning for a year. Only, the definition and time period of the year has been shortened to a fourth.

How to plan your 3 Month Year

Instead of giving you an elaborate framework with a dozen steps, I’ll trace the exact steps I followed in a way that you can follow along.

But before you get into actual planning, you need to set your directional goals.

Setting directional goals

When thinking in the long-term (5 years+), I believe people should think in terms of which direction they want to be taking, rather than specific action points.

Perhaps the direction you want to take is:

  • build your own software business, or
  • become a fitness instructor on YouTube, or
  • grow a large following on Twitter around a topic

Whatever the case, having an overarching direction is necessary to know which way you need to be facing at any given point.

But when it comes to planning what action you will take to move in that direction, one should plan in a shorter time frame.

My directional goals

I’ll talk about 3 of my directional goals.

  1. Health
  2. DelightChat
  3. Blog/Personal projects

Health

The reason I placed health above DelightChat in the list - I always tend to sacrifice health for work. It’s a tendency that I know I have, and that I have to willingly apply effort in order to avoid neglecting health for work.

Goal - Become the fittest version of myself and feel great with my body and mind.

DelightChat

DelightChat is an obvious entry in the list, it’s my biggest experiment and venture building attempt so far in my life. This direction in my life includes learning any hard or soft skills in order to improve the odds of DelightChat becoming a success.

Goal - Build a profitable SaaS with a team that’s happy to work together and one that enables a great lifestyle for all.

Blog/personal projects

This goal refers to everything else I do outside of maintaining health and work. You may call it hobbies, it’s the same. I’ve explained before how if I was a painter, this blog is my canvas and my keyboard, the paintbrush.

Goal - I have hundreds of ideas. Instead of sitting on all of them, I use my blog and side projects to realise some of those ideas as a form of creative release. No outcome necessary.

Create specific plans

Once your directional goals are decided, it is time to focus on setting milestones and a plan of action to achieve those milestones for your individual goals.

These were what I had set for myself in the beginning of 2021. One 3 month year later, here is the progress report:

Health

Milestone

  • Drop to 74 kg bodyweight
  • Bring mindfulness back to daily life

Plan

  • Exercise 4-5 times/week
  • Reduce carb intake during meals
  • Eat a small meal for dinner
  • Reduce junking
  • Journal in the mornings

Progress

I only managed to make partial progress on this goal in this 3 month year. I got into a regular exercise routine, which I slipped up on in the 2nd half of March when there was an increased workload.

However, despite exercising regularly, my bodyweight did not drop at all.

  • Exercising helps improve body composition, but it does not lead to weight loss. Eating less calories than you burn leads to weight loss.
  • Unfortunately, as I exercised, my appetite expanded and I ate more. In fact, I ate the exact extra amount needed for my bodyweight to remain constant (amazing how the body knows how to do that).

In the mindfulness department, I tried journaling and meditation both. Unfortunately after not maintaining the meditation practice for a few months, I found it hard to get back to it.

What did work was journaling. At first, I was doing it daily, but then it became an intermittent thing. I didn’t have tons to write every day.

Plan for next 3 month year?

  • Keep exercise stable, but apply more focus and energy towards what and how much I eat.
  • Eating a smaller dinner was most effective and easy to follow. Double down on that.
  • Keep that journaling habit intact - try adopting bullet journal to make daily journaling happen.

DelightChat

Milestone

  • 10 brands using the beta daily
  • Discover all the technical and product problems with DelightChat
  • Discover the direction for the future

Plan

  • Reach out to email waitlist. Get introductions to Indian D2C brands via network. Allow brands to sign-up and book a demo from the website.
  • Create a tight feedback loop with beta users using WhatsApp groups or Slack Connect.

Progress

11 brands are using DelightChat daily. 9 from India, 1 from South Africa and 1 from Mexico. Our objective with the beta was to discover the technical issues in our product, discover missing features and also to find our direction for the path ahead.

Things have been bumpy, but we have managed to make progress on all fronts.

  • The product had a ton of bugs, majority of which are fixed. The few remaining are problems stemming from poor technical architecture on our frontend, which we are rewriting in parts to permanently resolve the problems.
  • We built a ton of smaller functionality that comprise the regular functioning of a help desk. Still more to go.
  • We discovered a few possible directions DelightChat can take. It’s equally important to choose what not to do, and so we closed the door on some possible directions.

Plan for next 3 month year?

  • Discover a unique selling point, or if not unique, a strong selling point that our target audience finds to be a compelling to pay for and onboard to DelightChat.
  • Acquire our first 10 paying customers (not counting beta users converting to paid).
  • Discover the marketing + sales path that will lead us to our first 100 paying customers.

Blog/personal projects

Milestone

  • Launch a monetisation experiment

Plan

  • Try creating a course
  • Try building a simple app

Progress

I’m pleased to say that personal projects turned out great during the previous 3 month year. Not only did I manage to launch an online course, it made over $10,000 in 2 months since its launch.

Both Sankalp and I wanted since forever to build our own habit tracker app, and I’m really happy that we did. It’s extremely minimal, but it’s mine!

Plan for next 3 month year?

  • Launch a Programmatic SEO-based content website w/ Sankalp.
  • Launch v2 of the Programmatic SEO course, turn the website project into a massive case study.
  • Discover the path for DailyHabits to make $$$ MRR.

Do midpoint check-ins

Even in a 3 month year, you shouldn’t let the entire duration run without checking in with yourself.

The purpose of this check-in is:

  • To know whether you’re headed in the right direction, or if something is turning out to be a huge blocker.
  • If there are blockers, the midpoint check-in is the perfect place to come up with a plan to tackle them.

Get started today

It wouldn’t take you more than an hour of uninterrupted time to

  1. think about your directional goals,
  2. break them down into milestones, and
  3. come up with a plan of action to achieve those milestones.

The purpose of planning systems like 3 month year isn’t just to write fancy plans, it’s to set deliberate goals and measure over a time period on whether you are achieving them.

You don’t have to achieve all your goals, but the simple act of writing them down and thinking about them alone will make a difference to your life.

If you aren’t already following a planning system, I highly recommend that you do. It doesn’t have to be this one, it only has to be one that works for you.


——

Bonus section: The origin of The 3 Month Year

This is how I had originally started writing this post, before changing direction and writing it the way you just read. Sharing it below, including the original inspiration for the 3 month year framework.

I first came across Brian Morgan’s planning framework The 12 Week Year in 2017. I never actually read the book, but I completely absorbed the core philosophy through watching a YouTube video and reading a few book summaries about it.

The 12 Week Year Summary

Put simply, Brain’s book says that you should treat the time span of 12 weeks as if it were an entire year. And the reason for that is, 1 year is too long a timeframe to see your plans come through.

You might forget about them by then. You might get complacent, or lazy, or a new development in life might change your priorities and send you down a different path.

The solution is to shorten the time frame.

By switching to 12 weeks, you give yourself a realistic time window that is close enough that you don’t forget what you were doing by the time it’s over, while at the same time 12 weeks is a long enough window to make serious progress towards almost any goal you might have.

I personally think that having a shorter window instills a sense of urgency into your goals, because you can’t slack for too long, you don’t have the whole year to waste on it!

Why I turned 12 weeks to 3 months

I love the organic process of discovering an idea, applying it into your own life, deriving new conclusions from the experience and combining it with experiences in other aspects of your life, and then coming up with your own idea.

In this case, I swapped 12 weeks for 3 months. I did this because it’s hard to imagine where I want myself to be on week 27 of 2021. But it’s instantly possible to visualise myself at the end of March.

We humans are used to working day-to-day, living week-to-week, and planning in months or years. By following the convention we are accustomed to, I found my planning system better off for it.

The other benefit is that I can now split up the calendar year into 4 x 3 month years. And each 3 month year has its own goals and systems.

For example, my big goal for the first 3 month year of 2021 is to make working out part of my daily morning routine.

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