This post may contain affiliate links. I may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. If you want to support my website and blogging efforts, you can do so at no additional cost to you. For more information, you can read my full disclosure page here.
I’ve always been a natural planner. I love having a planner, to-do lists, random lists, and more that can keep me organized and keep my brain from feeling bogged down. However, for most of my life, I felt like I had to plan daily or yearly. It’s just what people naturally do, right? We set goals on January 1st every year, and tell ourselves that we will get everything on our list done by December 31st. Then, we fill our days with little to-do lists that don’t really get us anywhere. Sure, they help us get things done, but are they really propelling us forward to reach our goals?
In 2018, a light bulb came on in my head. Why was I continuously planning for a whole year, when my life was so fluid that I didn’t even know what the year would bring? Plus, because I was planning big audacious goals every year, it was exhausting trying to keep up with all of them. So I figured there had to be an easier way to plan, execute, and accomplish my goals, aspirations, and resolutions. That’s when I found the book The 12 Week Year. And it changed my life.
So now, instead of planning for a whole year, I’ve started quarterly planning for both my business and my personal life. And it has made a HUGE difference in my productivity, accomplishments, and more while keeping me from feeling overwhelmed. If you’ve always been a planner, but can never seem to accomplish what you want, this method may be the perfect fit for you.
Why Does Quarterly Planning Work?
However you look at it, quarterly planning is essentially planning out your goals for 12 weeks, 90 days, or 3 months at a time. It’s like having four years instead of one. For example, many businesses think in terms of quarters, so they have Q1, Q2, Q3, and Q4. In each quarter, they break down the tasks that need to be completed within that time frame so that they can boost sales, market, take care of their customers, and more. Once that quarter is over and done with, that’s it. There’s no going back.
This method works so well for businesses because they become laser-focused on their goals for those 12 weeks. They have no other choice. There are deadlines to be met, revenue that needs to be made, and people to pay. If they aren’t focused, they can’t grow.
The same works for us as small business owners, solopreneurs, and mothers. If we think annually, we will typically start to push our goals further and further away until it’s December and we’ve only checked off a few items on our list. If we planned our goals more like a business instead of “I’ll try to get it done before the end of the year”, we are more likely to achieve those goals.
Quarterly planning works well because it offers you a tangible deadline that is close enough, but not too close that you feel like you can’t achieve it in the allotted time frame. In other words, quarterly plans tend to succeed because you focus on your goals hardcore for 12 weeks to accomplish them.
How To Start Quarterly Planning
Analyze Your Yearly Goals
Okay, remember how I said that yearly planning isn’t the smartest thing to do? I sort of take that back. To start quarterly planning, you have to see the big picture first. And that all starts with yearly goals. Your yearly goals can be whatever you want them to be, but I typically break mine up into these categories: Finances, Social, Romance, Career, Personal Development, Spirituality, Fun, Giving, and Health.
In each category, I’ll list anywhere from 5-10 yearly goals that I want to reach. So for finances, I might put that I want to save $10,000 that year in my family’s emergency fund. For romance, I might put that I want to have a few more quickies with my husband every month (hey, we’re all adults here.) For career, I may put that I want to earn more passive income with my business. Whatever it is that I want to accomplish in the year I’m in, I write down as a yearly goal. Then I move on to the next step.
Focus On 3-5 Goals Each Quarter
Once I’ve written down my yearly goals, I take 3-5 and put them down for each quarter. So let’s use the examples that I said earlier. It would look something like this:
- Save $2,500 in an emergency fund (so it will add up to $10k if I save that much each quarter.)
- Have more quickies with my husband.
- Earn $5,000 in passive income.
This helps me work on accomplishing all of my goals for the year, without having to focus on ALL of them at once. This cuts down on overwhelm, planning, and implementing. By focusing on just 3-5 goals, I can put my energy into making them come true, instead of trying to do “all the things” and not really accomplish anything.
As a side note, your quarterly goals should be a bit of a stretch for you. Don’t set a goal that you know you can achieve easily, but also, don’t set a goal that will hinder you, your mindset, and your progress if you don’t reach it. You want something that is just a tad bit out of reach, so you can celebrate if you get close or achieve it. For example, if you typically make $10,000 every quarter, it doesn’t make sense to set a goal to earn $30,000 the next. Instead, set your quarterly goal to reach $15,000 the next quarter. It’s a stretch from your typical earnings, but not too far that you’ll get discouraged and completely give up if it doesn’t work out.
Another side note, do NOT plan quarters in advance. Instead, focus on the quarter you’re in. If you’re planning for Q1 (January to March), you should not be focusing on anything past March. This causes confusion and will get you sidetracked. Focus on the next 12 weeks. That’s it.
Break Down Each Goal Into Daily, Weekly, And Monthly Tasks
Okay, now you’ve got your yearly goals written down and your first quarterly goals set. Now it’s time to break it on down some more. Going back to my quarterly goals, I know I want to:
- Save $2,500 in emergency fund.
- Have more quickies with my husband.
- Earn $5,000 in passive income.
To accomplish those, there are going to be things I need to do daily, weekly, and monthly to achieve those goals in the next 12 weeks. So here’s a rough draft of what I would do monthly:
My monthly planning is so I can add to-do’s that would only occur once a month, like saving leftover money and buying lingerie.
Then I break the monthly to-do’s into weekly to-do’s. Most months only have four weeks, so I create four weeks on the weekly tab of my google sheet. So weekly my plans look like this:
See how it all works to achieve my quarterly goals, but breaks it down into bite-size and easy to digest pieces? If I tried to earn $5,000 passive income in just one week, I’d most likely fail at this point in my business. But I CAN set daily and weekly goals to reach that in three months.
(If you want access to my workbook and fancier Google Sheets planning system, click here to grab your own copy.)
Set Due Dates
As you saw on the screenshots, setting due dates is important when quarterly planning. You don’t want to overwork yourself, but you do want to set due dates so you know what has to be done and when to accomplish your goals. You can’t just say “I’m going to work out three days a week!” and not know when. I guarantee you, when you do that, you’ll continue to say “I’ll just do it tomorrow” until the week is over. And then, you’ll say “I’ll start again next week”. Want to know how I know? Because I do the same thing when I don’t set due dates.
So, to keep yourself accountable, set due dates. Check on your weekly list EVERY SINGLE DAY. What needs to be done? Once you’ve checked that list, move those to-do’s to your daily planner, a digital task management system, or just write it down on a piece of paper. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you know when you need to do it.
You may have also noticed that my charts include a “score” in them as well. This is something that The 12-Week Year book goes into depth with. But essentially, you’re more likely to stick with your goals and plans if you know you’ll be graded on them. This isn’t a traditional grade, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve failed if you don’t get 100% every single week. However, it’s just an additional way to hold yourself accountable and keep yourself on the right track to achieve your quarterly goals.
So it works like this. Say you have a task that needs to be done Monday through Friday. That means you need to complete that tasks five days out of the week. If you only completed the task three days out of the week, your score would be 60% (100% divided by 5 is 20%. So each day is worth 20%). While 60% isn’t bad, you know you could do better. So in week two, you go hard and finish your task every day. You then get 100% for that week and feel like a magical unicorn. See how that works?
Rating yourself isn’t telling yourself that you suck. It will either a.) motivate you to do better or b.) show you that you can do it if you really put your mind and actions to work. It’s a win-win for you and your goals. I rate myself every week and every month until the end of the quarter, and then I’ll add it all together and see what my final score is. If I can get my quarterly goals to 80% or above, I’m a happy camper.
Evaluate & Start Again
At the end of every quarter, you should know what you’ve accomplished and what you plan on doing in the next quarter. Your quarterly evaluation is essential, so don’t skip it! While quarterly planning makes it easier for you to stay focused and achieve more in less time, you still need to see if there are ways you can improve and goals that you need to reevaluate. You won’t be 100% all of the time, even with quarterly planning. That’s life. But what you can do is reset expectations, learn from any mistakes you made, and clean your slate to start over.
(My quarterly planning workbook and Google Sheets include a quarterly evaluation. Get yours by clicking here.)
What Do You Need For Quarterly Planning?
Here’s the greatest thing about quarterly planning… you don’t really need much besides a piece of paper and a pen. Sure, you can get fancy with it, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to. When I first started planning my goals every quarter, I wrote down the goals, chose the goals I was ready to work on, and drew lines in my paper to signify each day. Then, I would checkmark when I completed my daily, weekly, and monthly goals.
But for me, I didn’t like wasting the paper, and I wanted something that I could keep long-term to look back on if I needed it. That’s why I created my own version of the 12-week year planning system for Google Sheets. Now, I have records for the last year, and I can access them at any time and see how far I’ve come just in the last four quarters! It’s pretty awesome, and a lot less clutter to deal with.
(If you want to get fancy with your planning, click here to get access to my workbook and Google Sheets planning system. Now, go rock the hell out of your goals.)
Is Quarterly Planning For You?
Not every planning system will work for everyone. For you, you may be great a planning yearly and achieving your goals (and if you are, you rock.) But for some people like me, who want to see the fruits of their labor and get more done in less time, quarterly planning is the ultimate productivity tool and resource. So, it all depends on you. Quarterly planning could be just what you need to kickstart your motivation so you can achieve your goals. I would say it’s at least worth a try!