How Often You Should Set Goals (It’s Not Yearly)

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Do you remember how your last New Year’s Resolutions went? Did you give up sooner than you thought? The new year is a good time to take advantage of a fresh start. But when it comes to deciding how often you should set goals, once a year is not enough.

For maximum efficiency and constant motivation year-round, you should set new goals every 13 weeks, or once a quarter. You should not set goals yearly because it’s much harder to tackle goals on that large of a timeline and it’s too easy to get overwhelmed, lose motivation, and give up too early.

You don’t give up on your New Year’s goals because you don’t want them enough. It’s hard to stick with them because the traditional advice to set yearly goals just doesn’t work. What you need is a better system, and quarterly goals will give you that.

Why Quarterly Goals Work

“We mistakenly believe that there is a lot of time left in the year, and we act accordingly. We lack a sense of urgency, not realizing that every week is important, every day is important, every moment is important. Ultimately, effective execution happens daily and weekly!” ― Brian P. Moran

Let’s consider two scenarios that teach how often you should set goals. 

In the first case, you set goals only once a year—in late December. This gives you 12 months to work on your goal. Not only is that a daunting amount of time, it’s also extremely difficult for your brain to comprehend accurately. 

Because you can’t visualize success very easily, it’s really tough to maintain the motivation necessary to keep going when that initial excitement wears off. Add overwhelm to the mix and it’s pretty easy to see why most people give up on their goals early in the year.

For all these reasons, your yearly goal starts to fizzle out much earlier than you had hoped it would. You might stick it out until mid-February at the latest. 

Before you know it, July has come and your mind is on summer vacation, so you say you’ll start again in the fall. But October hits and you think “I’ll just wait until the new year.” And the cycle begins all over again.

Imagine a second scenario in which you set goals four times every year. You only have to imagine 13 weeks instead of 52. That’s three months rather than 12, and just 91 days and not 365. 

That’s much easier to wrap your head around. It’s far less overwhelming, too. 

What’s even better, 91 days is short enough that you can actually challenge yourself to see how much you can do with it. Trying to do something every day for an entire year is far too much.

With quarterly goals, you get a reset every three months. That’s four “new year new you” moments every year. Each of these four is a chance for you to start your goals fresh. 

When it gets hard in mid to late January, it’s easier to imagine going just a few more weeks. The motivation stays, you stick to your goals, and actually start reaching your dreams.

How to Set Quarterly Goals

“Most impossible goals can be met simply by breaking them down into bite-size chunks, writing them down, believing them and going full speed ahead as if they were routine.” — Don Lancaster

The “why” of quarterly goals is obvious. And the “how” is pretty simple. Just set new goals every 13 weeks. Work hard on your goals for just 12 weeks. Then, for the last one, take a week off from your goals to reflect on how you did and what goals you want to set next.

That means you’ll start a new set of goals in January, April, July, and October. You’ll take breaks and set new goals at the end of March, June, September, and December.

Here are three of the best tools to help you take full advantage of quarterly goals:

  1. Challenge yourself. Set five critical tasks, one for each area of your life, and commit to doing every one of them for 84 days (12 weeks) straight. 
  2. Track your goals. Use a journal, spreadsheet, pen and paper, or an app to mark your progress. Set daily action steps and weekly outcomes. Record whether or not you completed your action steps and reached your outcomes.
  3. Review your goals every week. At the end of each week sit down and review your progress. If you didn’t do your action steps or aren’t seeing results, find out why and make a change if necessary. Check in with yourself to make sure you still want the outcomes you set. Don’t be afraid to change them if your heart isn’t in it anymore.

If you find yourself needing a break mid-quarter, go for it! You’ll still have time to keep going on your goals as long as you recommit afterward. 

Make sure that you take advantage of the week between quarters as well. During this time, don’t work on your goals but take 30-60 minutes every day to review your goals from the last quarter. Here’s how to determine the next steps with each:

  • Continue your goal if you are on track to succeed but aren’t finished yet.
  • Update your goal to meet new realities if external conditions have made it unobtainable on your timeline.
  • Start a new goal if you feel like you’ve completed your previous ones or built your desired habits successfully. 
  • Stop your goal if you’ve determined that it’s not worth it to continue.

Repeat the process every quarter and you’ll find that reaching your dreams is a lot more attainable than ever before.

Wrap Up

I’ve been setting quarterly goals since I discovered it a couple of years ago. For the first time in my 15+ years of goal-setting experience, I’ve seen all of my goals through to completion for two or three years in a row. 

The simple reason that I know you should set new goals four times a year is that I know that it works from personal experience. It beats overwhelm, keeps motivation up, and lets you maintain the excitement for your goals all year long. 

Reset your goals every 13 weeks and you’ll start to see a significant improvement in your ability to stick to your goals.