The First Six Weeks of the year can have a profound impact on how your year turns out. Most people start a new year with the best of intentions. They set ambitious goals and make grand plans.
They want to make more money, lose weight, etc. At the end of the year, they often look back and realize they didn’t accomplish most of their goals.
The Start of A New Year
At the beginning of the year, your desire to accomplish your goals and change your behavior is usually at an all-time high. When the excitement of starting something new fades, your motivation will decline.
The key to avoiding this is harnessing that motivation and understanding that the first 6 weeks could determine how your year turns out.
Why It’s More Beneficial to Plan the First Six Weeks than the Entire Year
A lot of people spend the last few weeks of December reflecting on the previous year and planning for the next one. This is definitely valuable. But, planning out your entire year is counterproductive to accomplishing your goals.
This is something I see in entrepreneurs, creatives, and anybody who wants to accomplish big hairy audacious goals. They focus too much on the end result of a project or idea. And they don’t focus enough on the work they need to make that idea happen.
You can’t go the extra mile until you first traverse the essential mile, right? So if you want to travel 100 miles (ca. 161 km), you still have to traverse the first mile. You still have to walk the first block. So I don’t see the idea of starting small as something that is mutually exclusive with going big.
In fact, I see it the other way around. The people who get stuck in life are not the people who start small. The people who get stuck in life are the people who don’t start at all because they’re too busy now condemning themselves for not being able to do the ideal version on day one.
The first six weeks of the year are the essential mile you have to traverse before you can accomplish something ambitious or extraordinary.
Why The First Six Weeks Matter So Much
According to Dan Pink’s book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing:
The first day of the year is what social scientists call a “temporal landmark.” Just as human beings rely so much on landmarks to navigate space (“To get to my house, turn left at the Shell station”), we use landmarks to navigate time. Certain dates function like that Shell station. They stand out from the ceaseless and forgettable march of other days, and prominence helps us find our way.
And according to Pink, there are two reasons for this:
First, they allow people to open new “mental accounts” in the same way a business closes the books at the end of one fiscal year and opens a fresh ledger for the new year. This new period offers a chance to start again by relegating our old selves to the past. It disconnects us from the past self’s mistakes and imperfections and leaves us confident about our superior selves.
The second purpose of these time markers is to shake us out of the tree, so we can glimpse the forest. “Temporal landmarks interrupt attention to the day-to-day minutiae, causing people to take a big picture view of their lives and thus focus on achieving their goals.”
The first six weeks are a temporary landmark. And you don’t want to let that go to waste.
1. What’s Important Now?
Your actions today will determine your results tomorrow. Focusing on what’s important right now lets you leverage the profound power of consistency and build momentum.
The first three hours of your day are arguably the most valuable time you have each day. Your willpower and attention span are usually at their peak first thing in the morning. A lot of people wake up in the morning, reach for their phone, and check their email. But nobody ever changed the world by checking and responding to emails.
To get the most out of the first three hours of your day, start by figuring out what’s important now.
For example, I knew I wanted to publish this article in the first week of January. What’s most important right now is writing the first draft. What’s not important now is editing, formatting, adding pictures, etc.
I read the books of every person I interview. So, the most important thing I can do the week of or even the week before is to read their books. What’s not important is to announce the interview on social media or compile a list of links about them.
Forget the 10,000-Hour Rule and Adopt the 1-Hour Rule
In our recent interview with Seth Godin, he encouraged us to forget the 10,000-hour rule and consider this viable alternative.
Forget 10,000 hours or 365 days. Ask yourself what you might be able to accomplish with one focused hour a day of uninterrupted concentration. Do something today you’ll be glad you did if you want to be happy with your progress a year from now.
2. What’s Important This Week?
Every Sunday, I sit down with my bullet journal. I make a list of the most important things I want to finish in the upcoming week. By planning out the week ahead, there’s no confusion about what I should be working on each day.
Until you’re capable of consistently finishing what you start, I recommend you limit the number of items on your to-do list.
If you have 5 tasks a day on your list, you’ll complete 25 of them at the end of the week. But if you start the day with 15 tasks on your list, you’ll get to the end of the week and complete fewer of them. Paradoxically, the fewer tasks you have on your to-do list each day, the more you’ll get done each week.
3. What’s Important This Month?
Your days will determine your weeks and your weeks will determine your month. In any month, you can classify your tasks into the following 4 categories:
Consider the relationship between the time they take and the value they add to your life. Something like deep work would go in the upper left quadrant of the graph. An hour a day on Facebook would go in a high time/low-value quadrant.
Momentum is the lifeblood of any startup or creative endeavor. If you gain momentum towards your goals in the first six weeks, you’re likely to maintain it throughout the year. But when you lose your momentum, it’s hard to get it back.
According to the Pareto Principle, we’ll complete a task in the time we’ve allotted for it. By condensing timelines, we not only develop a stronger bias towards action but we also become more realistic about what we can accomplish.
And you’d be surprised by what you can accomplish in six weeks.
Basecamp is an incredibly successful company. In their book, It Doesn’t have to Be Crazy at Work, Jason Fried says the following: “We work on projects for 6 weeks at a time, then we take 2 weeks off from work schedule to roam and decompress.”
People are terrible at estimating how long things will take. They overestimate how long some things will take and underestimate how long others will.
Break Big Goals Down into Small Sprints
Six-week timelines allow you to break ambitious goals into sprints. As Ryder Carroll writes in The Bullet Journal Method:
Breaking down goals into the sprints mitigates the risk of being overwhelmed and fatigued. Sprints are independent self-contained projects—thus the outcome is, let’s hope, a source of satisfaction, information, and motivation to keep going (or as happened with my stop-motion animation project, a helpful cue to let this particular goal go).
For example, one of my recent sprints was for optimizing conversion on our website. As you’ll see in the table below, I spent about a month working on small tasks that I could complete every day.
By the time I was done, I’d:
- created a free course on how to take better book notes as a lead magnet for one of our articles
- setup opt-in forms with custom lead magnets based on the topic of our articles
- created lead magnets for our podcast episodes based on topic
Breaking your goals down into sprints also leads to visible progress, which in turn, leads to momentum.
People will often say reach for the stars. But often that leads to a lot more dreaming than doing. Most people make New Year’s resolutions and set ambitious goals. By the following year, they’re drowning their sorrows in champagne on New Year’s Eve the next year.
Instead of reaching for the stars, touch the ceiling first. After you do that, aim a little higher. The irony is that when you reach for the ceiling first, you’ll be much more likely to touch the stars.
Forget about the year ahead. Focus on the week ahead and the month ahead. Focus on the first six weeks because they could determine how your year turns out.
Need Help Getting Started?
I’ve created a free 6-week sprint Notion template to help you get the most from the first 6 weeks of the year. Just click here and enter your email address to get access to the template.