It’s far too easy for goals to dissolve into daydreams.
If we don’t take the initiative to plan out our month, our week, and our day, then all we had hoped to accomplish can simply slip out of our fingers. We can keep dreaming about what we want to do or thinking about what it would be great to have, but if we fail to take any real action how can we ever get there?
I get asked a lot about how to plan quarterly goals. I’m a fairly organized person, but I also believe that organizational skills are something very few of us are born with. I don’t think you ever stop learning how to better plan your life (or even your day). It is a constant process of evolution and growth. I like to think that all I’m doing is trying to outsmart the alternate part of me. You know, the part of me that is sinfully lackadaisical.
One of my biggest fears is inaction.
I am terrified of having ideas, but never doing anything to accomplish them. I don’t even really mind if I fail. I just want the chance to really try, to give my goals a fair go. One way that I have learned to focus my goals into actionable steps is through quarterly planning.
Quarterly meaning four times a year, as outlined below:
Q1: January 1 – March 31
Q2: April 1 – June 30
Q3: July 1 – September 30
Q4: October 1 – December 31
Hint: you can start planning quarters for the first time in whatever month we’re in. The key is just to start. Don’t let these dates act as roadblocks. Just start! Then move forward from there according to the regularly scheduled quarters.
Why quarterly instead of yearly or monthly?
I hate lofty goals. They can be a great guideline for your smaller goals throughout the year, but too often people let even the idea of these larger goals get in the way of ever actually accomplishing them. Then, at the end of the year when you realize you didn’t accomplish that lofty goal, you don’t exactly feel great about yourself, your productivity, or your potential.
I don’t mind monthly goals nearly as much. In fact, you’ll see they are a part of my quarterly planning. However, if you are only planning ahead in four week segments one of two things can happen. One, you can forget to tie your smaller goals into any larger ones, bigger goals that lead to more success. In doing so, you fail to define the bigger picture. Two, you can get so caught up in planning unconnected goals every four weeks (that’s more work than you think it will be, trust me) that you spend more time organizing than actually doing.
Quarterly, in my experience, is the best way to accomplish goals both big and small, check in with your progress while doing so, and feel guided on the path you’ve carved out for yourself. Quarterly goals are the best way to determine how you’ll get from point A to point B and–yes–actually arrive there.
In this post on how to plan quarterly goals I am going to show you my planning method. This is the exact way I sit down before every quarter to outline my months, weeks, and ultimately my days to accomplish more goals in twelve weeks than most people do in twelve months.
Ready to dive in? Cool. Me too.
PHASE 1: THE BIG GOALS
Grab a piece of paper (loose or in a journal, it’s up to you). Got it? Great. Now fold it in half so you have two tall columns.
On the left side write “Professional,” on the right side write, “Personal.”
This phase of the planning process is like a mind release exercise. All you need to do is think about what you want to accomplish and can accomplish in the next three months. As you think of goals quickly write them down in the appropriate column.
Get it out and get it on paper.
Do not stress about the order, do not stress about how it looks right now, do not worry about how you’re going to accomplish these goals, just think about what you’re going to accomplish. You can set a timer or do this free-form. The only thing you need to worry about at this point is getting your ideas out and written down so you can deep dive into them later.
Some people will only want to plan for their professional life OR their personal life. I’ll grant you it’s important for each of these areas to have separation and definition. However, you do have to find a way to coexist with these two perspectives. I ponder them both simultaneously when I’m doing quarterly planning, but outline them separately. It’s important to know which priority lies where and why. You can’t live your life for three months solely professionally or solely personally. They have to coincide. I hope you’ll follow suit as you go through this exercise. I truly believe it helps bring balance to both areas and connect the dots between the two.
Once you have your goals written down, move on to phase two.
PHASE 2: FUNDAMENTALS
The list you’ve made in phase one is what we’re going to consider your “big goals.” Now we’re going to go through those goals one by one and break them down into what I call “fundamental goals.” Fundamental goals are the components that turn a what into a how.
Flip the page in your notebook or grab another few sheets of paper. Here’s the format:
- BIG GOAL
- THE HOW
Go through your list goal by goal. I like to start with the professional column, then, once all of that is done, move on to the personal column.
On the BIG GOAL bullet line copy a goal from your Phase One worksheet.
Next, take a few minutes to “mind release” once again on what you need to do to accomplish that goal. Break it down into actionable activities that will get you from beginning to end.
Next, ask yourself how time sensitive this goal is for your planning.
Is this something you need to do right away? If so, write down ASAP.
Is this something you can take your time with? If so, write down “Q.” Q stands for your desire to work on this goal throughout the current quarter.
Is this goal something you want to have down within six weeks? Eight weeks? Write down the month within the quarter you want to make sure this goal is completed within. For example, if it’s the second quarter you could write down “start in May, finish in June.”
BIG GOAL: Learn Italian
THE HOW: download Duolingo app, take three lessons five days a week (Monday-Friday), write down verb conjugations in bullet journal, listen to Italian music once a week
THE HOW section becomes a list in itself of “fundamental goals.” These fundamentals are the tasks you’re trying to achieve. It’s not the “big goals” you should be focusing your energy on, it’s the fundamentals. And the fundamentals will lead you to the big goals. See what I did there? A little Jedi mind trick from me to you. Focus on the how, not the what, as you prioritize and schedule your months, weeks, and days.
Do this for every single “big goal” on your original Phase One list. This is likely going to take you the most amount of time, but it also the most important. Dig your heels in and get to work.
PHASE 3: PRIORITIZE & SCHEDULE
Some goals on your list are going to be relatively simple. These goals are habitual rather than transformational. Habitual goals are something you’ll have to take a repeated action on daily or weekly.
However, some goals are more complex with more steps involved. For your larger, more transformative goals we need to prioritize and schedule them across the quarter.
Again, this step is for your larger goals. These goals are for something you are working to create and release to the world, or your boss, or your company. Transformative goals inherently require more thought and intention, rather than those with a focus on habit forming (such as learning a new skill). If you have transformational goals to plan (and I really hope you do!) then it’s time to grab a calendar.
I personally prefer to have a printed calendar for this exercise, but I am notoriously a paper person. It is, of course, up to you. However, it is very helpful during this process to see all the weeks available in your current quarter and how they are laid out with other events/deadlines you have going on in your life.
First things first, mark any big disturbances in your schedule.
This can be a loved one’s birthday you know you have to take time out for, a business trip, etc. Make sure you include these now. If you don’t, then it’s too easy for your mind to use them as roadblocks when come up down the road. It can really get you off track. Be honest about whatever those events may be and consider the amount of energy and time they will require of you. This exercise lets you know how much time you really have over the 12 weeks in your quarter and how to best outline them.
Looking at your calendar and THE HOW section from phase two, use your list of fundamental goals under your most ambitious projects. Look at the number of weeks you have within your timeline. Then, assign 1-2 of your fundamentals to each week. These will act as stepping stones to the completion of the larger project.
Now you no longer have to look at your big goal all by itself and be paralyzed with indecision and fear. Now you understand the path and have outlined how you’ll get from point A to point B. Plus, you’ve done it in approachable way by scheduling weekly fundamentals. Goodbye indecision.
You’ll start each week knowing exactly what you need to do in the next seven days. You can spend your energy focusing and succeeding in each piece of the puzzle, one step at a time. Before you know it you’ve reached the end and tadaa! Big goal accomplished.
PHASE 4: GUIDEPOST
The work you’ve created in phase one and phase two don’t just go away now that quarterly planning is over. These lists will act as a guidepost for you each and every week of the quarter. How?
Choose a day to make to-do-list for the following week. I personally prefer Sunday because I know what I’ve accomplished the week before and whether or not I need to migrate anything over to the next week instead.
When you sit down to make next week’s to do list use the lists you created in phase one and phase two, big goals and fundamentals, as a resource guide. Ask yourself:
What have I accomplished from my Big Goals?
What have I neglected?
Are there any timelines coming up that I should be aware of?
This is the perfect way to check in with your progress and stay on track. Feel free to cross out or check off the portions of your fundamentals you’ve already accomplished, especially for your bigger more transformative goals.
And that’s it!
My advice to you as you tackle quarterly planning is to really make an event of this. It will take time. Embrace that. Make it special. Light a nice candle, make yourself some tea, put on some focus music and hammer it out. Maybe you want to head out to the library or a coffeeshop to find peak productivity. No matter how you crack it, just acknowledge that you are spending time now that you can save time later.
I sincerely hope reading about my process has helped you try quarterly planning for the first time or has given you ideas to try for your next experienced planning session. I would love to hear your thoughts on this system in the comments section. Do drop me a line on what you think about big goals vs. small goals or yearly planning vs. quarterly planning. I love hearing from you!
Til next time,
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