“2020 is MY year! New decade, new me!” A version of these words was uttered by millions of freelancers around this time last January.

Then, about 70 days later, everything came to a screeching halt. I don’t know about you, but about three weeks into quarantine I threw out my roadmap for how 2020 was going to go. Many writers’ careers and/or businesses changed completely over the course of just a few weeks. Some of us moved ten steps back, others moved ten steps forward, and all of us became more aware that our time on this earth is precious and we deserve to pursue our passions now.

2020 showed us that a lot can change in a year, and just about everyone is ready for a fresh start. But if you’re setting goals for yourself as a freelancer, consultant, or creator, only setting annual goals or resolutions might be shooting yourself in the foot.

Related: Download the author’s free toolkit of 9 article templates right here.

So What Should You Do Instead?

Instead of setting new year’s resolutions for your writing or business, create quarterly projects instead. These 90-day chunks are focused, digestible, and productive.

  • Quarterly projects allow you to concentrate on and clear 2–3 “big rocks” at at time and actually take yourself to the next level
  • Quarterly projects are small enough that the end is always in sight, but large enough to make a real difference in your business or lifestyle
  • Quarterly projects are re-established every quarter, so if the world dramatically changes in the next couple of months (again) you won’t have wasted tons of time on planning

I’m an ideas person, which means my Achilles heel is that I often have too many ideas and get paralyzed. You might experience this as well. To keep yourself focused, have a maximum of three projects — especially if you’re a one-person show.

For example, here were my three projects for Q4 of 2020:

  1. Rebrand my courses and make them available year-round on my site.
  2. Learn and migrate over to a new software platform.
  3. Convert my business’ tax classification, effectively putting myself on my own payroll for 2021. (Adulting alert!)

These projects look small, but they had steep learning curves and lots of little steps. They took me the whole quarter to execute. Looking back, I feel productive about Q4 not because I worked more or harder, but because the work I did moved me closer to the lifestyle I’m going for.

To set up quarterly projects that are actually worth it, you’ll want to ask yourself four questions. Get out a pen and paper or your favorite notes app and let’s go through them together.

Question 1: “What’s my overall vision?”

I know, I know — I just said not to plan too far in advance and now I’m saying to do the opposite. Quarterly projects are a good time interval for execution, but you want to ensure you have clarity around what direction you want to go in the first place. Income goals get a lot of attention, but I would argue that defining your preferred lifestyle is more valuable.

  • Do you want to be working 100 hours a week to rake in the cash?
  • Does a 25-hour week that yields modest pay sound more enticing?
  • Do you want to coach clients to do the work themselves, or do the work for them?

Or maybe you don’t want to do any work… that option usually takes years, but if you were to build something big and profitable that delivers a service without you, it’s kosher to take the profit and ride off into the sunset.

“Take a moment to ensure the projects you’re taking on will move you in the right direction.”

Question 2: “What will have happened for me to be at this goal?”

Now let’s put on our detective hat with these lifestyle preferences and make them a little more concrete. If you’re a best-selling author… you need a book, yes? And it needs to have sold a lot of copies.

  • What are you writing, and what have you written?
  • Do you have an audience of followers, readers, or listeners?
  • Do you have employees or contractors that help you or do work for you?

This sounds basic, but what we’re doing here is cementing the assets that you have in place when you’ve reached this end goal. Many writers skip this step, and experience a chronic disconnect between their goals and how to get them happen — leapfrogging this step is the root of the problem.

“Do you really want to be working 100 hours a week to rake in the cash? Or does a 25-hour week that yields modest pay sound more enticing?”

Question 3: “What ‘big rocks’ lie in my way?”

A peer of mine is an online personal trainer. In chatting with him and also taking one of his courses, he turned me on to the idea of “big rocks”. Big rocks are obstacles in your path that, once removed, make moving forward way easier. Big rocks for his clients are tips you’ve heard before:

  • Getting enough sleep,
  • Lifting weights correctly,
  • Eating balanced, nutritious meals, and
  • Being consistent.

As he points out, there’s no reason to get granular about doing the perfect bicep curl when you’re eating pizza every night for dinner. The energy you’re spending on moving around lots of little rocks could instead be spent on moving a big rock that will make a bigger difference.

Think about what big rocks stand between you and these end goals. Then make a list of them. You might have several big rocks to overcome for a particular goal, and that’s okay. For a best-selling book, for example, your rocks may include

  • Writing a book proposal,
  • Getting a book deal,
  • Writing the actual book,
  • Editing the book, and
  • Creating promotional strategies pre- and post-publication.

Each of those rocks can become quarterly projects. When you have clarity around why you’re going after this quarterly goal now and not later, doing the work becomes more inspiring and exciting.

“Big rocks are obstacles that, once removed, will give you a really big bang for your buck.”

Question 4: “Which big rocks can I tackle in the next 90 days?”

Choose 1–3 big rocks that you want to tackle in a given quarter. Now let’s break the rocks down into smaller steps.

Here’s the good news: You can repeat the process you just used from question #2 to define monthly benchmarks and week-to-week progress. This is where quarterly projects come to life.

  • What do progress benchmarks look like for month 1, 2, and 3 of this project? Write them down.
  • What will I need to accomplish each week to hit these benchmarks?
  • When during the week will I work on this project action step? (Block it off in your calendar now.)

Once your plan is in place, and you’ve put your action steps in your calendar, you’ll be fired up. Remember: Organization creates excitement.

Final Thoughts

When you can fully see the path upon which you can get from point A to point B, it’s easier to get pumped about what you want to change in the coming year. Define the direction you want to go, identify your big rocks, and use quarterly projects to remove them; as the annual resolutions of your peers start to fade, you’ll instead be gaining momentum and getting results.

Thanks for reading. 🙏🏼

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