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How To Take Stock And Plan For A Breakout Quarter

I love to hike. There is something deeply satisfying in loading a few provisions into a backpack and heading off into the hills. I have had the good fortune of hiking in the Colorado Rockies as well as the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee.

Silhouette of backpacker looking over trees
Licensed iStockPhoto

Hiking is both an exhausting and exhilarating activity. The pack is heavy and rarely comfortable. The trail is often steep, the terrain rocky. There are times when each step is a slog. You make progress by keeping your head down and putting one foot in front of the other again and again. You find your stride.

Eventually, it’s time for a break. You reach a vista where you loosen your pack and refresh yourself with water. And then you look up. The view is amazing. Looking back, it’s hard to believe how far you’ve traveled. Looking ahead, you see the path clearly in front of you. You catch your breath, revel in your progress, affirm your course, and don the pack for another march.

The rhythm of productivity follows a similar path. Once a quarter it is good to loosen your pack — set it down if you need to — and take stock. Where are you now? How far have you come? Are you still headed in the right direction? Where do you want to go from here?

Will you join me?

It’s time for a break — a ‘vista check,’ if you will — a quarterly review. Such breaks are an integral part of managing a successful career.

The quarterly review is a two-part activity. The first half is spent looking back; the second half is spent looking forward. You can do the exercises in a single day, but it works best spread over two partial days. Personally, I have already blocked two half-days in the first week of January for my own review.

Will you join me in setting aside some time over the holidays to take stock? Take the time to plot a deliberate course for yourself and your team for months ahead.

Looking Back: Are you moving in the right direction? 

Here are some sample questions to consider as you look back. Make them your own. Don’t limit yourself to these.

  1. What have I accomplished in the last quarter?
  2. Where am I today compared with where I was three months ago?
  3. Am I happy with where I am? What would I like to change?
  4. How well am I keeping up with all my duties and obligations?
  5. Is everything I’m doing contributing to my advancement toward my goals? What can I do about the stuff that isn’t?
  6. What went right over the past quarter? How can I make sure more of that happens?
  7. What went sideways over the past quarter? What lessons can I learn from that?

Looking Ahead: Planning for a breakout year

Here are questions to help you look ahead.

  1. Who do I want to be?
  2. What are my goals for the next week? Month? Quarter?
  3. Where would I like to be in three months? What would I like accomplish in the coming three months?
  4. Given where I would like to be in three months, how will I get there? What steps / actions will I take?
  5. What kind of help do I need?
  6. What is coming up that I need to be prepared for?
  7. What new projects would I like to get started in the next quarter?
  8. How do I want to present myself to the world this quarter? What energy, attitudes and behaviors do I want to project?

Next Steps

  • Set aside some time over the holidays to do your review. A few hours may be enough. Block some time on consecutive days if you can.
  • Find a space conducive to thinking and planning. You might want to go somewhere not associated with work.
  • Download the Quarterly Review Guide from the Free Downloads page. It contains all of the questions above, along with some general guidelines for conducting the review sessions. Add or subtract questions as necessary for you.
  • Dream big! Have fun!

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  1. […] quarter is the perfect period of time to make more specific plans. Breaking your bigger goals down into three month blocks will make it possible for you to realize […]

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