Planning Series: How I Plan my Quarter

A snapshot of my fall 2018 plan

A snapshot of my fall 2018 plan

During my yearly planning process I outline when I’d like to achieve each of the goals that I set for the year. This gives me a rough timeline for the term, which makes planning pretty straightforward. My university is on the quarter system, so I have fall, winter, spring, and summer to plan for. I usually create my fall term plan a week or so before the term starts. Then, I’ll create my winter and spring plans during winter break. Because we don’t have a ton of time between winter and spring terms, it ends up being easier to plan everything right before winter term starts. Because I’m technically off contract during the summer, I make my plan once summer has started and I’ve given myself a little bit of a breather from the end of the school year.

At present, I use google sheets to plan out my term. I’ve been toying with working directly in google calendar for this process; however, I like being able to easily see everything laid out in front of me. For now, I'm sticking with my spreadsheet for this initial planning step.

Here are the steps that I take when planning out the term.

  1. Have my calendar & yearly goals available

  2. Open up google sheets (or excel)

  3. Create 5 separate tabs

    1. plan for the term (see the above image)

    2. goals for the year

    3. goals for the current term

    4. anything that might get put on hold

    5. past goals

Goals for the Year tab

Goals for the Year tab

4. In my goals for the year tab, I type up all of the goals I’ve set for the year so that I can easily refer to them when needed. I also include a rough timeline of when I’d like them to be completed.

Goals for the current term

Goals for the current term

5. In my goals for the current term tab, I take any yearly goals that I’m planning to work on during the current term and write them here.

  • For example, my research goals for fall term were as follows:

    1. Submit 2 papers

    2. Submit 1 funding application

    3. Work on systematic review each week

    4. Submit 2 R&Rs

      1. These were carryovers from the summer that were not originally included in my yearly goals (in hindsight, I probably should have included them). At the time that I did my planning for fall term, they were still under review from their initial submission. I knew revisions would probably come back in at some point during fall term, so I had these on here as a placeholder to remind myself.

  • If there’s anything that’s a bit vague, I’ll specify the goal here

    1. For example, “advise 30 students” from my yearly goals becomes “hold office hours at least once during each week of the term” and also “meet with advisees in two group sessions.” Or “serve on equity committee” becomes “attend 3 committee meetings.”

Goals that are on hold

Goals that are on hold

6. Anything that gets put on hold gets put in the on hold tab, along with a brief note about why it’s on hold.

Past goals

Past goals

7. I keep goals from previous years/terms In the past goals tab (organized by term and also by professional/personal). In addition to the goal, I add whether or not I met the goal. If I didn’t, I put a quick note as to why. As you can see from the picture above, there are a ton of goals that I don’t meet (and there are often things that aren’t reflected on here that come up that I do achieve). For me, it’s not necessarily about meeting each and every goal, but it’s about making progress along the way and continuing on (if the goal is truly something that is meeting your needs). Also, for most of my professional goals (esp. research), I’m working with at least one other person (if not more). Coordinating timelines can get tricky when we all have competing demands on our time, it’s helpful to be flexible and not get bent out of shape if things come up that shift your plans.

8. Now, the fun begins! In my plan for the term tab (see screenshot at the top of the page) I start outlining (you guessed it) a plan for the term!

  • It helps to freeze the first row and column so you can scroll in your document and still see the headings.

9. Starting in the first column, second cell from the top, I type in the dates for each week of the term (starting each week on Sunday) going down the column until I reach the last week of the term. Each cell in the first column contains 1 week.

10. In the first row, second cell, I type out each goal that I’m working on that term (the general topic area is fine), giving each goal its own cell.

11. I also add in an additional cell at the end for administrative work, things like planning for the week and term, and also trip planning for upcoming conferences.

12. If there are goals that have me do something a certain number of hours or times per week, I’ll lump these into one cell to save a bit of space.

  • For example, 30 minutes of course prep for human development each week, 1 hour of course prep for online research methods each week, and 1 hour of course prep for distance research methods would all go in the same cell.

13. I add in a final cell at the end for anything else that’s going on during that week.

  • In this column, I take a look at my calendar and add in any planned meetings, travel, birthdays, holidays, time off, finals, etc. into the cells that correspond with their respective weeks. This gives me a sense for how heavy or light a week might be.

14. Now that I have everything set up, it’s time to tentatively outline the steps needed to achieve each goal

  • Some goals are easy, like when I set goals to work on something each week of the term (e.g., 30 minutes of course prep each week). For each week of the term I just type in 30 minutes of course prep under that particular goal.

  • Other goals take a bit more planning and thought, especially if I haven’t done something similar before (like starting a blog)!

    1. On a scrap piece of paper or in a new “scrap” tab, I list out everything that will be involved in achieving this goal. For example, with the blog I knew I had to think of a name, draft initial posts and edit them, decide who to host the blog with, design the blog’s layout, etc. There were a lot of steps I didn’t know about or had questions about, so if I ever hit a stumbling block, I’d add that as one of my tasks for achieving this goal (e.g., figure out how to do X). These steps don’t have to be too too specific, but at least enough so that you know what you’re supposed to work on that week.

    2. Once I know what needs to get done (or at the very least I know what I need to figure out), I put each task into a week in my calendar (not my actual calendar yet, just the one I’ve created in the plan for the term tab). You’ll have to guesstimate how much time they’ll take, making sure to pad your schedule as everything always takes way more time than you think it will!

  • Don’t spend too much time trying to make this “perfect.” This is a living document, it will change! It's completely fine to come back and adjust. In fact, I’d encourage it!

  • Also, as you’re planning out each of these goals in greater detail - keep in mind all the other things that you’re planning for each week! If it’s your partner’s birthday, and you have 7 meetings, and you have a doctor’s appointment... is it realistic to think that you are also going to get substantial amounts of work done on a paper or funding application? Probably not... This exercise helps you plan accordingly!

15. I go through each and every goal, outlining each step needed to achieve that particular goal, and assigning each step to specific weeks of the term.

16. I do a final review once everything is done to see how things are stacked up and make sure my weeks are fairly balanced in terms of work.

I come back to this document throughout the term. It serves as my guide for what to do each week and saves me lots of mental energy when my weeks get chaotic. Before a new term starts, I redo this whole process. In the past, I’ve created a new document just by copying the old one and updating it for the upcoming term; however, you could easily keep everything in one document with a bunch of tabs. I also review my goals from the previous term and add them to the past goals tab, adding in information about whether or not they were achieved.

Although this process might feel tedious when you’re doing it, your future self will thank you when you’re in the thick of the term and can’t remember your own name!

Still to come… weekly and daily planning!

I’d love to hear how you plan out your quarters or semesters! Happy Planning!