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First Quarter: Q1 2016

Today marks the end of the first quarter of 2016. Yes, I'm probably the only person in academia who notices things like that. But I've been reading books on onboarding for the "First Quarter"(insights for new grads on taking a good start in the workforce) part of my blog, and the business focus in The First 90 Days has convinced me to try planning my goals in terms of quarters. I like the concept because 3 months is long enough that you can have concrete, meaningful achievements, but short enough that you - hopefully - see a clear path to get there from the beginning. Fear not, this is not going to be a post where I drag you through my to-do list and give myself public kudos for how many items I've crossed off (although I was tempted - it's been a very good Q1!). But if you haven't tried planning your year in quarters, you might want to try. Then you can break your big quarterly goals into smaller monthly mini-goals, and even smaller weekly micro-goals, and maybe even daily nano-goals. The quarterly goal might be something not directly in your control, such as get promoted, but the daily and weekly goals should be things you can control. The quarterly horizon allows you to stay focused on a goal that is both meaningful and achievable.

Because so many (all?) universities have their fiscal year start July 1, the end of Q1 also means there is only one quarter to go before the end of the year in higher ed, and while just about every media outlet will talk about New Year resolutions when January 1 approaches, I haven't seen anything about New Academic Year resolutions. Why would you want to have July 1 resolutions if you're not in academia, you might ask? Because (1) late November and December are usually so full of family drama or celebrations (your pick) that many people don't have the energy required on January 1 to start tackling high-impact change projects and (2) people usually take some time off over the summer too, so they might be better able to take a head start on tackling their resolutions. And if you've just graduated and only starting work in the fall, this might be the longest vacation you'll have in many years to come. Make it count. 

If you're in academia, then it makes sense to have New Academic Year resolutions because you're probably starting a new year of employment with your university and a new year on your clock to promotion, tenure or reappointment - if you started work during the summer like most faculty - and because your students (especially the doctoral students on your research team) also count their seniority in terms of academic years, so your plan would be aligned with their development. 

While you can never plan your life according to a rigid timeline (unless your work doesn't involve you interacting with other people in any way...), reviewing quarterly and yearly goals helps you remember what you want to achieve instead of getting distracted by low-value daily commitments. It is easy to get sidetracked and hard to get back on track.

The best part of making monthly, quarterly and yearly goals, I think, is to keep all those lists together and review them periodically to see what you have accomplished and how your objectives evolve over time. I have sometimes carried to-do items over from a monthly list to the next several times in a row, and when I just can't manage to get something done, there is usually more to it than a simple time management problem. So it is worth also using the lists to take a step back and wonder if you see a pattern in the things that you just never get around to getting done. 

Finally, I'll end this post, since it is part of my First Quarter series, by mentioning the David Allen bestselling book Getting Things Done. Often the time management systems students have developed in college aren't enough to handle the variety of projects and tasks they have to tackle in the workforce, and it might be worthwhile thinking about better systems to put in place before you start. Getting Things Done will prove full of excellent ideas in that regard.

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