Focus On This Podcast

107. 4 Tips for a Successful Quarterly Preview



A new quarter has begun, with all of its new deadlines and tasks, and you’re still furiously trying to tie up the last quarter. All of a sudden, you’re in reaction mode. You’re struggling to think strategically. How can you set yourself up for a win instead of drowning in busyness?

In this episode, Courtney and Blake discuss four tips for conducting a successful Quarterly Preview. They talk about how to pave the way for success, so you don’t end up overwhelmed, whiteknuckling your way through. A lot of people underestimate the power of a Quarterly Preview, but when you make the most of this process, you start the quarter off empowered and ready to meet the challenge of whatever may come.

In this episode, you’ll discover—

  • Why it’s essential to schedule time now for next year’s quarterly previews
  • The influence a new location can have in helping you make a mental shift
  • How reflecting deeply exposes recurring themes to address
  • The power of planning ahead to build confidence, energy, and excitement


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Episode Transcript

Blake: Courtney.

Courtney: Yes?

Blake: There’s something that happens in… In the second part of the year, it feels like this is more common for me, where you’re kind of just… It’s almost like it’s blur season. It’s summertime. Then you shift into fall. Then all of a sudden you’re looking ahead, and you’re like, “Wow! How is this year already almost done? I’m looking at the fourth quarter already.” You’re kind of hustling to chase the big goals you face. Have you ever been there and felt like, “Man! I’m feeling…” Maybe not burned out, but just a little overwhelmed, a little sense of “I just feel like I’m in all-out sprint mode.”

Courtney: Yeah. Totally. Sometimes I find myself almost white-knuckling the fourth quarter a little bit. You’re like, “Everything I had planned a year ago is now coming to fruition, but all of these other things have happened that haven’t been accounted for.” It’s like just trying to force the things together. It’s a kind of terrible feeling.

Blake: I will steal away sometimes and allow myself to sing a Christmas song, and I go, “It’s September. Why am I singing a Christmas song? That is absurd.” Now, marketers would love that I’m singing Christmas songs already. I think I’m doing it because my subconscious is like, “Oh, when Christmas gets here, then you can actually stop, pause, reflect on your life, and plan ahead for the new year.”

What we’re going to talk about today is a version of that you can do right now, where you can actually elevate above the overwhelm and the sprint and get out of reaction mode and get a grip on and confidence about your next quarter. We do that with a tool appropriately named the Quarterly Preview. So, today, that’s what we’re talking about. We’re going to give you some tips for a successful Quarterly Preview.

Welcome to another episode of Focus on This, the most productive podcast on the whole worldwide web. At least, that’s what they tell me. We’re here so you can banish distractions, get the right stuff done, and finally start loving Mondays. My name is Blake Stratton, and I am here with the wonderful Courtney Baker. Hello, Courtney.

Courtney: Hey, Blake. I feel like everybody after that intro is probably wondering what Christmas song…

Blake: “You’re not my real Verbs.” That’s what they’re actually saying. Verbs, unfortunately, is not here. Don’t turn that dial, ladies and gentlemen. Trust us. You’re going to want to hear this episode. Verbs will be back with us very soon. We miss him. Shout-out. What’s the Christmas song? Is that what you said?

Courtney: Yeah. What’s the Christmas song that you go off and…?

Blake: What’s my go-to little comfort Christmas song? What was it? I started singing it the other day to my daughter, and she was really excited. She was like, “It’s Christmas!” and I was like, “Well, almost. We’re almost there.” I don’t know. Maybe it is “The Christmas Song.” “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”

Courtney: Which I’ve never seen. I’ve never seen chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but, you know, whatever.

Blake: Oh, yeah. That’s part of my Quarterly Preview routine, actually. When you smell the chestnuts roasting on the open fire, you know it’s a new quarter in the Stratton household. That’s a ritual we have. No, that was my best attempt at connecting the dots here so we can be a productive podcast. We’re talking about the Quarterly Preview. Courtney, what do you like about the Quarterly Preview? What’s so great about it?

Courtney: I think there are a lot of things that are great about it. I actually suspect, other than the Index and Rolling Quarters, this might be the most underutilized part of the planner.

Blake: Really? You think people don’t do a Quarterly Preview?

Courtney: I suspect they don’t. I mean, I would love…

Blake: It’s all tucked away in the back.

Courtney: We should do a poll in the Full Focus Community, and y’all let us know. I think it is so important. We talk a lot on this podcast about how, really, the Full Focus System is built from four building blocks. It’s your goals, it’s your Quarterly Preview, your Weekly Preview, and your Daily Big 3. I think, a lot of times, you have to be intentional about setting aside the time to do your Quarterly Preview. It’s a little harder to habitualize that, because, again, you only do it four times a year.

Blake: That’s a good point.

Courtney: So, I suspect that maybe people don’t leverage this as much as they should. I’m hopeful that today’s tips energize you to try this out, because it is really, really powerful.

Blake: I agree. So, let’s dive in. We have 47 tips for you today. No, I’m just kidding. We have four tips. That’s manageable. It’s manageable on your Monday, ladies and gentlemen. Happy Monday, by the way. So, we have four tips for you today to help you leverage the Quarterly Preview, but I’m going to give you a little mini bonus tip before we get into the real four tips. How about that?

Courtney: Yeah.

Blake: I know most of the listeners… One of the most common things we hear is, “We don’t hear enough of Blake’s voice throughout the week in various forms. How can we listen to Blake talk even more?” Right? You get messages and DMs all the time about that.

Courtney: All the time.

Blake: Well, maybe that’s not the case, but I do have something for you, ladies and gentlemen. I sat down with Nick a week ago or so, and we recorded a guided Quarterly Preview. If you’ve never done a Quarterly Preview, or maybe you’ve done one and you’d like a refresher to get the most out of it, you can actually get access to a recording where I walk you through the process, and you can actually do the preview as we go.

Now here’s the deal. You have to be an annual subscriber to the Full Focus Planner, which, let’s be real, you’ve been putting off anyway. If you’re not already an annual subscriber, it’s time. Now is the time, if for no other reason than to listen to me guide you through a successful Quarterly Preview. So, that’s my bonus tip, self-promotion thrown in there too.

Courtney: Before you move on, I want to say, people have raved about your guided Weekly Preview, which is also available to subscribers.

Blake: Oh, they have.

Courtney: I’m being for real. I know you think I’m joking. I mean, people in the Full Focus Community have just… I’m serious. People have loved it. It has given a lot of helpful tips as they are doing something they do weekly. I mean, if you think about just making it a little bit better each week, that’s really powerful. So I’m excited to do this myself, Blake.

Blake: You know, I didn’t expect as much positive feedback, because I did the whole thing in an R&B vocal style so Nick could put a soundtrack behind it. I didn’t expect that much feedback, but I have gotten some calls from record labels that are interested in a productive… It’s R&B, so it’s a productive seductive type of vibe type thing.

Courtney: Our producer is probably going to cut that.

Blake: We should probably edit that. We’re going to cut that out. Anyway…

Courtney: I kind of hope he leaves it in.

Blake: Okay. Let’s give people four tips to maximize a Quarterly Preview. What’s the first tip?

Courtney: The first tip is to create space. There are really two parts of this. The first is just space on your schedule. In a lot of ways, it’s the most important. Honestly, don’t just schedule the upcoming quarter. Go ahead and schedule for next year. I find that if you wait up until, like, “Oh, I need to do this in two weeks,” it’s kind of already too late. Our culture plans more and more farther out, so go ahead and claim that space for your Quarterly Preview. I think you’ll be really grateful you did.

Some questions you may want to think through are… How much time is enough time? I think that’s a really individual question. You may have to experiment with that a little bit. It’s different for most people. Actually, Blake, how long, normally, is your Quarterly Preview process?

Blake: Normally, I take a half day. In fact, I just scheduled it… I should have done it earlier, but I did find a time on the calendar. My wife and I do the process together. We like to give ourselves elbow room, because when you’re taking that much time to elevate… We have a process to go through in the planner, but we’ll make it our own and cover some other ground we may want to think about. I’ve also done it in the past, honestly, a whole day. We’ll get childcare and just step away.

We have clients who will come to us… They lead their business, and they’re always working in their business. They use the quarterly time when they come for a group intensive as their Quarterly Preview time as well, so they’ll take a full additional day to do that. You don’t have to be intimidated, especially if it’s your first time, if all you can muster is 90 minutes or 2 hours. That’s still going to be really valuable. But, for me, I like to give myself plenty of space with a half day.

Courtney: That’s perfect. The other side of this… Obviously, space on your schedule, but then there’s also the place that you’re going to conduct it, the physical space. “Where should I do it?” This is where you can get a little creative, kind of have some fun. “Where would be a really enjoyable place for me to do this? Where would get me in the right head space?”

For example, if I sit at my island in my kitchen to try to do this, it’s never going to happen, because there’s going to be a dirty dish I spot, and then I’m going to think, “You know what? I should just go ahead and put in a load of laundry and have that going while I’m working on this.” Things are going to come up, so it’s not a good physical space for me to do my Quarterly Preview.

For me, I love to pair things up with this to make it almost like a little self-care day. In a lot of ways, I feel like a Quarterly Preview is self-care for your future self this quarter. So, I like to go to a spa, determine where I’m going to do lunch at… I usually have my assistant come and meet me for a certain portion of it. That’s my favorite way I’ve experimented with so far. Blake, do you have a personal favorite location?

Blake: You know, that’s a great question. I want to think more about that for this next Quarterly Preview. Usually we’ve just done it in our house, but there was one time we went away to an office kind of thing, like, you rent the place, or whatever, and I think that was a lot better, because getting out of a context where there are things to do or that remind you of the day-to-day is a lot easier.

So, if you can create or reserve a place you don’t normally go to… This kind of leads us to our second tip. Being in a different physical space… There’s a mental shift that’s easier to tap into to go, “Oh, I’m going to be thinking different kinds of thoughts than I normally do.” So, don’t do it in your office. Don’t do it at your house if you can avoid it. I think that would trigger something better.

Courtney: I’ll even say, if you pair it with somewhere you’re excited to go, you’re less likely to just not do it, you know, if you’re like, “Oh, I’m just going to skip that.”

Blake: That’s a good point. Cool. So, I’m doing my Quarterly Preview at Cabo this year.

Courtney: Okay. Awesome. I love it. That’s perfect.

Nick: This is where I hop in and tell a story I’ve told you before, but I had to cut, which was the first time I did this, where I said, “Hey, I’m going to go out. I’m going to set aside a morning to do my Quarterly Preview. I’ve got my pencils. I’ve got my eraser. I’ve got…whatever.” I sat down at a Starbucks. (Of course, this was the before times when we could do that.)

Directly behind me, this woman was sitting, and then her, presumably, husband showed up, and they proceeded to have an epic fight. It was not like bickering that you might see… I mean, he had moved out. It was so insane. They’re right behind me, and I’m trying to plan my life. It was so intense.

Courtney: Here’s my question. Did that impact your After-Action Review for the next quarter? You’re like, “You know what? I’m going to replace a goal with a relational goal.”

Nick: Yeah. Focusing on my relationship with my wife. It was so intense. You know, you don’t think you can just leave. I was like, “They’ll be done soon,” and then they weren’t done, and then an hour passed. I guess my tip would be: Just leave, everybody. If that happens to you, just do it in your car. You’d be better off.

Blake: All right. Let’s move to the second tip. I’ll take this one, because you know I like to strap on the scuba [deer]… The scuba deer?

Courtney: This is your tip.

Blake: No. The scuba gear.

Courtney: Let’s trademark that.

Blake: If there was a scuba deer, it would be a quite poor swimmer.

Courtney: It’s like underwater hunting.

Blake: Okay.

Courtney: New activity maybe?

Blake: You know me. I’m a big outdoorsman, hunting, man’s man, so this is a topic I’m comfortable discussing. Okay. The second tip is reflect deeply. Here’s the thing about a Quarterly Preview. This is your opportunity to go deep on the stuff you typically don’t have the time to go deep on. Usually, you’re caught up in the day-to-day, just getting through stuff, in doing mode, execution mode, trying to get through it all, but the Quarterly Preview…

You’ll notice, if you look at it, it’s the same After-Action Review steps as the Weekly Preview, but we give it more real estate on the page. The reason we do that is we don’t want you to blow through the “What’s working? What’s not working? What do you want to keep doing?” The idea here is to allow yourself to pause and reflect. For me, I’ll do things like go back through the calendar and allow what was in my calendar to trigger memories of “Oh, this was what was happening. That was what was happening. How did that feel?”

I’ll go back through journal entries. I’ll go back through my planner itself to see what was on my agenda, what I was doing. I use that information… Like I said, I’ll do a Quarterly Preview with my wife, so I’ll ask her as well. This is an opportunity to take the After-Action Review and allow it to sink in a little bit more than you normally would, to get a broader scope, a deeper scope, on what has been going on and do a deeper-dive evaluation on it.

Courtney: I would add to that… One thing that is helpful for me… Sometimes it takes more work for me to access, to get into that deep zone. If you’re doing a good job with your Weekly Previews, going back and looking at those After-Action Reviews, you can at least prompt some of your thinking. Sometimes that’s helpful for me to look at those as well.

Blake: Sure. Also, listening to some moody singer-songwriter music is helpful too.

Courtney: Good call.

Blake: You can put that on and just let yourself have feelings, Courtney. It’s okay.

Courtney: Okay, okay. I’ll get some recommendations from you, since I don’t listen to music.

Blake: For those of you who are like, “Okay. That sounds like… I don’t know. Reflect deeply…” The win here for you is this is where you tend to get some “aha” moments or some realizations. I can remember a Quarterly Preview where I was going through what worked, what didn’t work, and there was… What you start to see is themes. You start to see these big themes that were recurring again and again and again.

For me, it was “Wait a second. I need to…” We had a Quarterly Preview, and it was, “Whoa! I let my friendships, my community, really go by the wayside because I was so busy.” I mean, we’ve had a pandemic, so that’s obviously a thing that can create friction there, but still, I was like, “Man! I am needing more friendship, more intentional connection.”

I didn’t plan to have a goal in my next quarter in that life domain, but because I spent time going deep in that part of the Quarterly Preview, I realized, “This is a bigger deal than I ever would have thought if I was just kind of doing week by week.” Going deeper allowed me to realize, “You know what? There are themes of this thing coming again and again.” So, yeah, you may have some of those yourself.

Courtney: Then you started a new goal, which was to text Verbs and Courtney and Nick more often, because you love us.

Blake: You’ve noticed. See? You’ve noticed. I’m a little bit more responsive in texts.

Courtney: I did get one text from Blake. It was really exciting, guys.

Blake: I know. And it was like, “Okay.” It was like, “Sure.”

Courtney: I think there might have been a GIF too. Was there a GIF in there?

Blake: Yeah, it was just an animated GIF. I didn’t even go through the trouble of writing a sentence, and it was like a week after you sent me the text. But I’m working on it. Okay? It’s a goal. Don’t shame me.

Courtney: It’s a goal. That’s right. We have to measure the gain, not the gap.

Blake: Exactly.

Courtney: Okay. The third tip is right up my alley. If the last one was Blake’s tip, this one is mine. It is to plan practically. All of the aspirations remain aspirations without a plan. Part of your Quarterly Preview is to take a look at where you want to go and calibrate your life around those goals.

At the beginning of this episode, I talked about when the plans for the year… You get into Q3 and Q4, and it’s trying to white-knuckle the things you had intended for the year, but you’ve had these new things, and trying to make those work together. This really takes care of that. It’s this reevaluation that allows you to figure out things like, “Hey, what do my goals need to look like? What resources do I need to accomplish those, and how am I going to utilize my time?”

Blake: I have such a hard time sometimes with this step, Courtney, because I don’t want to take the time to plan. I just want to have the goal in mind, and then I’m like, “Cool. Let’s go. Let’s riff.” But I have to be honest that when I have taken the time to do this… I think I had the best experience of it… We do Quarterly Previews as a company. We’ll take a full day and break out in our teams and do this review and move forward together as a team.

When we actually plan and have enough time so it’s not just go, go, but we can actually think through all the stuff you just mentioned… I have to be honest. It feels so empowering. I feel so confident that first Monday of the new quarter, that first week of the new quarter. Plans change, obviously, but plans really build confidence and empower you, and there’s energy and excitement that come on the other side of some really practical planning.

Courtney: Yeah. Absolutely.

Blake: The fourth tip is build momentum. This is just about revving up into the new quarter. One of the simplest, most practical ways you can build momentum is to start filling out your next planner. The last part of the Quarterly Preview is to prepare yourself to start doing the stuff, start executing the work you’ve just planned. So, break out your new planner. Fill out the Goal Detail pages. Take the time to go through those and reconnect with your “why” about your goal, and all that good stuff.

Copy over your Ideal Week. This is the time to make changes to the Ideal Week. You can make those tweaks and put them in the new planner, as well as your rituals. I always like to tweak the rituals every quarter. Rituals are about that result, the feeling you have on the other side of the ritual, the checklist you’ve accomplished on the other side of the ritual. Those things may have changed, or you just get bored, honestly.

Sometimes that happens with me, where I’m like, “I need to do a different type of exercise in the morning” or “I need a different type of reading,” or something like that. So, put that in your new planner as well. Don’t overwhelm yourself with this, but think through, “Okay. How can I rev up in terms of…” Almost like that first day of school when you were a kid and you got all your stuff ready. You got your backpack and your Five Star notebooks. I felt great when I had the Five Star brand notebooks.

Courtney: Oh, you mean your Trapper Keeper.

Blake: Oh yeah!

Courtney: Come on now.

Blake: Oh yeah. I had a Trapper Keeper. So, this building momentum… Take the time to really prep your stuff, and maybe get a Trapper Keeper. Those still could be useful for you.

Courtney: Totally.

Blake: You’ll feel a lot better. Those small practical things will cue you up for success.

Nick: Full Focus Trapper Keeper.

Courtney: Oh yes!

Blake: Come on! Get Joel Miller on the phone.

Courtney: We hope these four steps will help you have a really effective Quarterly Preview. Again, the first step is create space, step two is reflect deeply, step three is plan practically, and step four is build momentum. You don’t have to start the quarter feeling disoriented or overwhelmed or like you’re trying to white-knuckle the fourth quarter. You really can set yourself up for success next quarter by creating the space and doing these four steps. Any final thoughts, Blake?

Blake: My final thought would be…don’t underestimate how empowering a Quarterly Preview is. It may feel like, “I can’t stop this train, because then I’ll fall behind; I couldn’t possibly make a whole day for this” or “That’s just not that interesting to me,” or whatever. Don’t underestimate that, because when you take a step to not just flow in the busyness of your life but instead take time to design your life, it is so, so empowering. So, if you haven’t, look at the calendar before the end of the day today and block out time for your next Quarterly Preview.

Courtney: And don’t forget, if you are an annual subscriber, Blake can help you do that Quarterly Preview. So, make sure to check that out too.

Blake: And it was a joke about the R&B thing. It’s just normal talking.

Courtney: If they did not catch that that was a joke, they have not been listening to this podcast very long. I encourage you to keep listening.

Blake: All right, everybody. Thank you.

Courtney: Yeah. Thanks, everybody.

Blake: Hey, you!

Courtney: All you.

Blake: Yes! Turn around. Yes. No, not you…you. Yes, everybody. Okay. Thank you for listening to Focus on This. Nick has told me it is, in fact, the most productive podcast on the Internet, so it’s verified. Share it with your friends, and see us on Facebook. Go to the Full Focus Planner Community.

Courtney: We’ll be back here next week for another happy Monday. Until then…

Both: Stay focused!