What is quarterly planning and why should you be doing it? Image of quarterly wall calendar on a wall behind a desk

When we start thinking about planning our year, it's easy to look at the big picture and get carried away with all the amazing things that we are going to achieve. Twelve months stretches ahead of us like an amazing unlimited sea of opportunity and it's easy for us to fill it up with all the plans for all the things.

We tend to think of our goals in terms of what can get done in a year. We take some time in January to figure it all out, and we are off... but usually by the time spring rolls around (hello sunshine, welcome back, how we have missed you) we're already way off track. And then as the year goes on, the dream and the reality can get so far apart that they don't even seem related. We end the year feeling deflated, wondering what on earth happened... Then we pick ourselves up, get excited for the new start and fresh promise that January brings, order a new planner and calendar and then do it all over again. 

Life gets in the way of our plans, pretty much all the time. Some people have more going on, more things which derail them and more disruption than others, but life has a tendency to throw all of us off-road every now and then, no matter how good our intentions. 

The key is to try and make plans that are ambitious, but also realistic. Plans that can be flexible enough to accommodate at least some of the obstacles that life puts in the way, without getting completely abandoned. There's an art to this kind of planning, but even the most flexible plans can go completely out the window when massive change occurs. 

If the last couple of years taught us anything, it really shouted at us over and over again that life can change when you least expect it, and all of the systems you rely on (ahem children in school for 5 reliable days a week) can suddenly disappear with no idea when or if they might ever return. Remember when we thought in the first wave of the pandemic that everyone would be home for a couple of weeks, maybe a month or two at the absolute very most? Hmm, yes, well, here we are two years later, still wondering and waiting for that magical day when things go back to "normal", however that normal might look. 

One of the ways that you can life-proof your plans a bit and stop them from derailing so dramatically is by switching from annual planning and goal setting to quarterly planning. Quarterly planning is much more flexible than annual planning; you can really focus on what is right in front of you and make changes and course-corrections in real time so you never look back at your plans for the whole year wondering WTF just happened. 

Quarterly planning is essentially planning one quarter at a time. A quarter is 3 months, or 90 days (ish) or 12 weeks (well 13 really). It's a manageable block of time that is long enough to get some real stuff done, but not so long that you have time to get complacent or get off track. 

Some people set their annual goals and then divide the tasks and projects needed to achieve those goals in the space of a year in to four equal timeframes. Personally, I am a fan of seeing all quarters as working towards the bigger goal, but thinking of them as separate entities. So my quarterly planning ideally takes place at the end of one quarter, just before the next one starts. Realistically though, it's not always as neat and tidy as that - again life often gets in the way and I might miss the official switch from one quarter to the next. However, while it is satisfying to work with the actual quarters of the year, as defined by the calendar, really quarterly planning - planning for the next 90 days - works with any start date.

With quarterly planning you can focus your attention to really get stuff done, because you're not falling in to the trap of annual thinking where we tend to say, oh I've got 8 more months to work on this, there's no hurry... By bringing up the deadline to only 3 months away, or an even shorter-sounding 90 days time, there is a much greater sense of urgency. Your stuff either gets done or it doesn't, but you're much more aware of how it's going because at the very minimum you will be checking in on your plans and progress every 90 days.

At the end of the quarter you can look back and review what worked and what did not, and with that information you can plan the next quarter, course-correcting if necessary. In the next blog post I'm going to break down in more detail how to actually quarterly plan.

If you're looking for a printed calendar to help you map out your next quarterly plan, there are both dated quarterly wall calendars and undated quarterly wall calendars in the shop. 


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