Do you often set goals but have trouble achieving them? Do you feel like your life is unorganized, but the mere thought of trying to get everything on track leaves you with so much anxiety you’re practically paralyzed?
We all have areas in our lives we’d like to improve. Stories we wish we were telling differently. We also know that setting a goal, and seeing it through to the end, is an essential part of building a life we love.
Often, though, we’re overwhelmed by our goals. We struggle to find the time to keep chipping away at them, day after day after day. We struggle to make them a priority over the countless demands on our time. We struggle to figure out what small step we should take next in order to accomplish a big goal.
It’s no wonder most of us struggle to achieve our goals. It isn’t that our intentions aren’t good. It isn’t even that we aren’t willing to put in the effort. No, the trouble with traditional goal setting is that it doesn’t address the one key factor for success: how to quarterly plan in order to achieve big goals faster.
Why traditional goal setting practices don’t work for big goals
Let’s walk through an example. Say you have a large goal: you want to organize your entire house. Maybe you moved in with the intention to get it organized, but life and kids and work got in the way.
Now, it’s just a big old mess, and you don’t have any idea how to clean it up. You still want it organized, but every time you try you end up so overwhelmed with anxiety you don’t know how you’ll ever get it all done.
With typical goal setting, you would sit down and write out your goal. If you’re familiar with S.M.A.R.T. goals, you might define your goal in specific and measurable terms (“I will organize the entire house and the garage so that everything has a place”) and set a deadline (“I will do one room a month, so I’ll have the entire project finished in ten months”). Maybe you would even decide on a reward system for completing each room (“I will invite friends and family over for a ‘second housewarming’ party so they can see how nice everything looks”).
You would then begin working on your goal. At first, you’d get a lot done. Running on pure excitement, you might tackle an entire room in a week or even a few days. Even when not actively organizing, you’d be thinking of ways to organize throughout the day. Maybe you’d get your family involved, too. For a while, it would be great.
When one thing goes wrong, everything does
Then, inevitably, something would happen. Maybe you’d get the flu or a big project would come up at work. You’d miss one of your planned deadlines. Then two.
You’d think, at first, that this goal was going to take more time than you thought. After a while, you’d start to wonder if you could even pull it off. Eventually, you’d give up entirely. Maybe you’d tell yourself that you’ll start again in a few months, once things have settled down and you have more time.
This is how goals die. Not with a bang, but a whimper. One tiny hiccup throws off your entire plan and then the whole thing just sort of… fades away. You started out feeling energized and confident in your ability to achieve your goal, but you’re left feeling like you failed because you didn’t pull it off.
It isn’t your fault, though. You never learned how to quarterly plan.
Why quarterly planning is the key
When I first launched my writing business, I knew I was in it for the long haul. I knew it could be years before my business was profitable, and that it would take steady, consistent work to make that happen.
I started by writing out my biggest goals, where I wanted my business to be in five years. Then, I broke that down into what I would need to do in the first year to make that happen.
From there I could’ve started tackling those goals as best I could, one bit at a time. But they were still big goals. Like organizing an entire house, my goals were too big to rush into without a plan. I knew I’d burn out in no time if I took that approach.
It seemed arbitrary to break my goals down into monthly steps, though. How do you take a large goal, and break it into twelve equal units? How do you ensure that you can accomplish each of those units? I don’t know about you, but some months are busier for me than others. I couldn’t reasonably put in the same amount of effort month after month for an entire year.
It was then I taught myself how to quarterly plan. To break a yearly goal into four equal units, one for each quarter of the year, really isn’t that hard. Then, you have three months to achieve each goal. You can break tasks down further into monthly, weekly, or even daily tasks, but you have more flexibility built into your plan now. If you have a crazy week or month, you can simply slide any missed tasks to the next month or week.
If you know that the last quarter of the month will be hectic with holiday activities, a vacation, or family visiting from out of town, you can frontload your tasks into the second and third quarters to accommodate those busier times.
Looking at the big picture allows you to plan for contingencies. No one thing can come along and ruin your opportunity to achieve your goal, because you’ve already built in extra time to tackle those hurdles.
Another thing I love about quarterly planning is that I can see my progress throughout the course of the year. Even if I don’t accomplish every step of every goal, I’m much more productive with quarterly planning over the long term than I would be without it.
How to Quarterly Plan
As I mentioned above, quarterly planning is pretty simple. Let’s return to the example of home organization we talked about before. When quarterly planning, you still sit down and write out your goal. This time, though, you plan for each quarter.
In the first quarter, maybe you’d choose to focus on the least trafficked areas of the house, like the home office, utility or storage room, guest bedroom, etc. Then, in the second quarter, you remember that you will be super busy at work, so you only plan to address one big space, like the kitchen, for the whole quarter. In quarter three you know you’ll have more time, and maybe your partner will be available to help as that is their slow season at work, so you plan to tackle all the common areas and your bedroom. In quarter four you plan to take on the kids’ rooms and the garage.
Once you have your quarterly plan in place, you can break it down further into monthly or weekly tasks. Perhaps you can even set aside a specific time each week to work on those tasks. You should also make a place in your schedule for what I call ‘catch up time.’ If something comes along to knock you off schedule, you can use this time to catch up so you don’t miss your deadline.
Hold a quarterly meeting – with yourself
The effectiveness of quarterly planning lies in its flexibility, so the most important part is to check in each quarter and realign yourself with your goal. This step is where quarterly planning makes all the difference.
As with standard goal setting, there may be times when you accomplish even more than you planned for. Then, there may be other times when you don’t quite reach your quarterly goals. The quarterly meeting gives you a chance to adjust your sails to ensure you reach your final destination on time.
It doesn’t have to take long. Take a few minutes to look over your annual plan and take stock of where you are. Did you achieve all of your tasks this quarter? If not, what held you back, and what can you change going forward to set yourself up for success?
If you need to roll some tasks into the next quarter, be sure to schedule that extra time into your new plan. Consider asking others for help, and don’t forget to use your catch up time when necessary.
Once you’ve taken stock of where you are, look again at where you’re headed. What tasks do you need to accomplish in the next quarter? When are you going to get them done? What are you going to do when life hands you a roadblock?
Once you’ve refreshed your quarterly plan, you’ll be ready to dive back into your larger goal with a sense of focus.
Try quarterly planning for yourself
We all know what it feels like to set out with a goal and the best of intentions, only to get sidetracked, never quite achieving what we wanted to.
Once you learn how to quarterly plan, you’ll find staying on track much easier. By breaking your large goals into smaller quarterly chunks, planning for contingencies, and holding a check-in meeting with yourself, you’re more likely to achieve everything you set out to.
The next time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with a massive goal, try quarterly planning and see how much more productive you can be.
If you’re serious about achieving your big goals, I designed a Quarterly Planner to help!
Designed to help you ditch the overwhelm and follow through with your goals to the end, this four page pdf walks you through each step of the quarterly planning process. Sign up below to get yours, and get started crushing your goals today!