As someone immersed in the personal development space, I hear about the value of regular reviews and their benefits: tracking the progress I made and seeing how else I could improve. Over the past few years, I’ve picked up a few different models for my systems:
I do an ad-hoc review of my bullet journal every other day or so. These help me figure out what I need to do in the moment and, at the most, the next day.
I do regular weekly reviews as Cal Newport and David Allen recommend. These help me manage my active projects and maintain my systems to make sure tasks for my most important projects don’t fall into the cracks.
These 3 reviews make sure I don’t miss deadlines, ensure that I know exactly what I’m working on, and give myself a general direction for where I’m going with my life.
But there’s a disconnect between my highest-level purpose and my day-to-day projects and tasks. I needed something that would bridge my cloud-level plans with the dirt-level tasks I do every day.
So I decided to look at my life in quarters. I decided to connect the clouds and the dirt with a quarterly review every three months.
For my quarterly review, I wanted something that gave me a high-enough overview of my life to make sure I was headed in the right direction. But I also needed it to help me decide on my objectives and - if needed - habit changes for the next 3 months. For my first quarterly review this September, I stole a few steps from Mike Schmitz’s personal retreat model. In particular, I focused on three steps in his process:
- The Wheel of Life. A way to see which areas of my life I’m most satisfied or dissatisfied with so I know what to work on.
- The OKRs. A goal-setting method to plan out how I’ll work on those areas.
- Tracking Habits and Making Trade-Off’s. The daily actions and decisions I make so that the results I want become inevitable.
Here’s how I did my first quarterly review.
Step 1: The Wheel of Life
As a personal development nerd, I find it ironic that I’ve always had a notoriously hard time prioritizing areas of my life. There is the constant struggle between the areas I know I have to prioritize (like school, work, and family) and the areas I want to prioritize (like ultimate frisbee and my blog).
Doing the Wheel of Life exercise helped me see what my weakest areas are, so I can work on those in the next 90 days.
First, I brain-dumped all the areas of my life that I could think of.
Then I grouped them into broader categories.
I decided that I wanted 8 or less categories. (Nothing über-scientific here. I just like 8 for dividing circular things… because that’s how a perfectly-cut pie looks to me.) I ended up with 7.
Then I rated each category from 1-10.
Since this was my first time doing the exercise, I didn’t have any previous data to base my ratings on. So I rated each category based on how I felt about each, taking any quantifiable factors into account. For example…
- Ultimate is an 8 because I had improved my game a lot this year and, according to my ultimate bible — a log I keep of every game and practice) — I have been scoring points more consistently than before.
- Financials is a 2 because I have less than $100 in my bank account right now (maybe it should be a 1). Simple.
- My most important relationships — friends and family — are 8’s because I’d been consciously investing and prioritizing them this year. I really like where I am here (plus, my parents no longer complain that I’m never home).
For some categories, I averaged out the ratings between two similar or interdependent sub-categories. For example, I lumped creative output (a 2) and personal growth (a 6) together for an average rating of 4.
I also averaged out ultimate (an 8) with my eating and training sub-category (a 4) for an overall rating of 6.
Finally, I took the two lowest-rated categories and decided to work on those for the next quarter-and-a-month. (I did this review in the first week of September, so I could get started on it before Q4 rolled around.)
While this exercise helped me see which areas I needed to focus on, it helped me see something more important: which areas I needed to reduce focus on. This means that I need to dial down my efforts on some areas like ultimate, and just keeping steady on others, like my relationships and my fitness. I hate to do this, but I need to.
Step 2: My Objectives and Key Results
From the Wheel of Life exercise, I learned that my two most-neglected areas were:
- My relationship with God
- My creative output
Using the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) goal-setting system — something I picked up from my time in tech — I picked two objectives, one for each area.
Real quick, some definitions:
- Objectives are clearly defined goals or initiatives that I want to hit
- Key results are measurable habits or actions that will make hitting the objective inevitable
(In Step 3, I come up with one more objective that helps drive the two. So that’s 3 objectives all in all.)Here are my OKRs for the next 3 months:
Objective 1: Know God better
Feel free to skip this section because this is very personal. (Personal, not in a I-don’t-want-to-talk-about-my-feelings way, but in a this-varies-from-person-to-person kinda way.) But if you want to know, here’s what “knowing God better” entails:If I prioritize spending time with God regularly (just like any relationship) and make everyday decisions based on what I know about Him and what He wants me to do, then I consider this objective hit. Right now I’m not spending a lot of time running things by Him and I’m kinda making decisions based on what I think works for me.
Like I said, very personal. Anyways, here are the quantifiable key results for this:
- Do my quiet and prayer time five days a week. I start with thanking God for the day and for my circumstances. I also have a list of people I pray for.
- Read a chapter from the book of Hebrews five days a week. The reading happens after I do my prayer time. I’ll be teaching a Sunday school at my church on it early next year, so this key result is a good way to prepare for that, too.
Notice that I only require myself to work on these habits five days a week. I like to give myself a break from new habits during weekends (plus, this gives me wiggle room if I miss a day).
Objective 2: Publish something weekly on the blog
I love writing. I write every day, whether that’s in my longform paper journal or in my digital writing apps (Evernote and Ulysses). I also enjoy documenting my life. I post (almost) everyday on my Instagram stories.
The problem is my journals and IG stories are just stream-of-consciousness scribblings. I don’t have to clarify my words because I know what I’m trying to say; I have context.
This means that the ideas I have are virtually unintelligible to an outside reader. Committing to blogging every week forces me to clarify my thinking and convey my ideas in words that other people can comprehend.
Plus, getting back into publishing regularly will let me eventually work up to adding my podcast workflow to my weekly output. (Podcast is currently on pause now since I just started a new job.)
- Daisy-chain my work. On a micro level, end my writing sessions when I still know what comes next. On a macro level, start on the next article as soon as I hit publish on an article.
- Consume something that interests me for at least 30 minutes every weekday. This could mean listening to an audiobook or podcast episode in the car, reading a book (non-fiction or fiction), or watching a YouTube video.
- Document my day every day, whether it’s updating my work log, writing in my morning journal, or posting on IG stories.
Most of the key results are things I want to do in the morning before I leave for work (I’m just too tired in the evenings). This means I need to wake up 1-2 hours earlier, which means I need to go to sleep earlier too. This leads me to a third OKR to drive the previous two:
Objective 3: Wake up at 6:00 a.m. from Monday to Friday.
There’s only one key result for this:
Be under the covers by 10:00 p.m.
Simple to write. Hard to do.
Step 3: Tracking Habits and Making Trade-Off’s
“One ought every day at least to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.” — Goethe (H/T to Austin Kleon)
Now that I know what my objectives and key results are, I need to schedule time in my daily schedule to get those habits done. Fortunately, the only new commitment/habit in my list is the first one. Consuming content and documenting my life are already embedded in my routine.
- I usually have an audiobook and podcasts downloaded on my phone to listen to when I drive.
- I always carry around a non-fiction book and have my Kindle with fiction books in it on my bedside table.
- I log tasks, events, and thoughts in my bullet journal — another item I always have with me.
- I document my day every day with at least one post on my IG stories. I try to actually convey a story in my posts so it’s not just random food photos. (I also like how IG automatically archives my posts by date, so it’s a more visual, in-the-moment version of my written journals.)
The more challenging key results are finding time to…
- Read my Bible, pray, and meditate for 30-min to 1 hour.
- Post a coherent piece of writing every week.
If I want to be under the covers by 10, I need to get home and get ready for bed by 9:00 p.m. This means leaving venues on or before 8:30 p.m.
This means saying no to a game of ultimate if it starts past 8:00 p.m., or cutting short a night out with friends. :( I don’t want to make these sacrifices. I love ultimate. And I enjoy spending time with friends (especially if there’s food involved). But because I know why I’m temporarily giving those things up, those sacrifices don’t go to waste. Plus, I can always re-prioritize these areas next quarter.
Finally, I need a way to quantify these key results so I can assess my performance in my next quarterly review. I set up a monthly page in my bullet journal to track my progress.
The first 4 columns track the Bible reading/prayer habit. The “J” column tracks my bullet, longform, and digital journaling (I just have to do one of those). “R” is for reading and the conscious consumption habit. The final “C” column is for putting out daily content, whether it’s IG stories or publishing a post.That’s it. After setting all this up, I’m ready to execute on my goals without worrying whether I’m working on the right things or not.
My First Quarterly Review: The Bird’s Eye View to the Worm’s Eye View
There you have it! My quarterly review took me from the highest-level assessment of my life (the wheel of life) all the way down to the nitty-gritty details of how I’ll achieve those goals (my schedule and habits).
Without the Wheel of Life, I’d just pick up shiny, new morning routines/habits without knowing what purpose they have or problem they solve in my life.
Without my OKRs, I wouldn’t know how to connect the areas in my life I want to improve, with my day-to-day tasks.
Without changes to my daily schedule and habits, I’d still be in the exact same place three months into the future.
In the next few weeks, I’ll publish update posts on how I’m doing, what I’m learning, and how I’m using feedback to recalibrate my approach!
If you want to go deeper into quarterly reviews or if you’re just curious to know how I’ve developed my thinking on this topic, you can sign up for my newsletter below to get the list of 14 books, videos, and articles that I’ve drawn from to write this post. (Or if you just want the list and don’t want the newsletter, here’s a link to the Google doc.)