With the financial news full of third-quarter estimates these days, it’s hard to escape the realization that—wow—the year is three-quarters over. In a matter of weeks, we’ll be looking back at the year.
On the professional side, people will be attempting to quantify their accomplishments for annual performance reviews. On the personal side, millions of folks will ponder what to say in that wretched genre of literature known as the family holiday letter.
What did we do this year? We had 8,760 hours (24 less than the 8,784 comprising 2012). What did we do with them?
For me, the start of the fourth quarter always inspires a bit of introspection on these matters, partly because I find that Q3 is so hard to use well. It includes August—that month when no one is around—and those schedule changes that the new school year always brings. Many years, when I think back and ask what progress I’ve made on my various projects since July 1, the answer is "not much."
But the start of Q4 is no reason to be melancholy, because a quarter of a year is still a substantial chunk of time. There are still three long months before the end of the year. Rather than just coast through that space, I find it’s more productive to use the start of Q4 to ask what I’d still like to get out of 2013—and 2014, too.
If you agree, then you might take a few minutes this week to look back at your New Year’s resolutions or the professional goals you set for yourself at the start of the year (here’s mine). As you look at the list on the cusp of Q4, one of four things will happen.
First, you may remember that you’ve done something you set out to do. You wanted to land two new clients this year and you did. Keeping track of these accomplishments lets you celebrate and construct the narrative you’ll use with your boss (or whoever gets your Christmas cards, in the case of personal goals).
You may also look at a goal and discover you’re getting close. Perhaps you set a goal to write a novel, and you’ve got the bulk of a draft, but you let it linger over the summer. If you use the start of Q4 to remind yourself of that goal, you can block out five hours per week over the next 10 weeks to write. Or you could participate in National Novel Writing Month in November and pull all-nighters as you compete with other writing masochists to see who can crank out the most words per day. Your choice!
Maybe, after your Q4 reflection, you’ll decide to modify a goal. You set a New Year’s resolution to lose 30 pounds, but heading into October, you weigh exactly same as you did at the start of the year. It probably isn’t safe (or feasible) to lose 30 pounds in three months, but even if goals can’t happen in their entirety, the start of Q4 gives you an opportunity to create a strategy that would get you closer than you otherwise would be. You could certainly be five to 10 pounds lighter by the end of the year, if you met with a nutritionist who could help you plan healthier meals, and if you blocked in 45 minutes of brisk walking into your calendar five days per week. Eight pounds isn’t 30, but it’s eight pounds in the right direction.
And finally, maybe you’ll decide that a goal isn’t for you. You put it on the "someday" list, but months later you’ve made no progress and you don’t care. That’s good to know. Understanding what isn’t a priority in your life is often as valuable as understanding what is. You can use the start of Q4 to begin thinking about next year’s goals. Knowing what you did and didn’t choose to do in 2013, what would you like to accomplish by the end of 2014?
If you set aside time over the next few months to ponder this question and make a short list of ideas that really matter to you, this fourth quarter can get the New Year off to a rousing start. Talk about great Q4 results.
[Image: Flickr user Anthony Albright]