Quarterly Planning using the HB90 Method

Quarter 1 of 2024 is coming to a close, which means it's time to start delving into quarterly planning. I want to share my process with you because this system of planning has been so incredibly helpful to me. 

HB90

For quarterly planning, I use a modified version of the HB90 planning system pioneered by Sarra Cannon of Heart Breathings. The system is designed to help you take a realistic look at your time so that you can create more achievable goals and stop getting stuck in a cycle of over-planning, failing your plan, and getting demotivated. 

If you want to know more, start with this youtube video. It's an older upload, but the core system hasn't changed, and you can follow up with the full playlist here to see how the system has evolved.




You can also get Sarra's planner which explains the system in depth here

Step 0. Define the Ideal

In order to plan, you have to know what you're planning for. What are you trying to get to? What's the end goal? What's this all for? Take the time to define what success means for you and what an "ideal life" looks like. Get detailed here. You can't know whether your goals and actions are working unless you can recognize whether they've moved you closer or further from that ideal. 

 Step 1. Braindump

After I've done that journaling, I list all the things that are taking up space in my brain. Coulds, shoulds, wants, and existing commitments. This even includes things I want to do eventually but don't know if I'm going to get to them this quarter. This can include big things and little, individual tasks, long-term projects, or more nebulous ideas. Anything that's on my mind. 



Step 2. Prioritize

Once I've got everything down on paper, it's time to prioritize. For each item on my braindump, I ask two questions: Would spending time on this thing move me toward my ideal life? Does this item have a short term impact on my life? Depending on my answers to those, I can sort everything into one of four buckets.

 

HIGH short-term impact

LOW short-term impact

Moves me toward my ideal   

     1.      Sweet Spot

Top priorities this quarter

     2.      Important

Long-term priorities, essential for success

Does not move me toward my ideal

     3.      Danger Zone

Do only if there’s a short-term need

     4.      Unimportant

Cut, delegate, automate, or delete


I use four colors of highlighter to sort things out (or three colors, really, because I hardly ever put anything onto the list that falls into bucket #4). 


Step 3. Goals

Then I write out two or three goals that ideally touch on several of the items from my prioritized list. Importantly, though, I write out a bunch of different options until I land on a wording that feels both motivating and flexible. 



Step 4. Projects

After goals come projects, which are multi-step milestones that definitely move you closer to achieving your goal. First, just brainstorm all the projects you could do that support each goal. These might be items from the priority list or they might be more granular. For me, if my goal is to establish an author platform, I had "blog" on my priority list, but my projects might be "Post 2-3 blog entries per month," "monetize blog," and "market my blog." Each of these would have multiple steps (tasks) to complete them. 


This is the point at which I diverge from Sarra's method. Her next step is to take a realistic look at your available time. This is the actual time you have in your actual life. Actually, truly, in reality. Are you trying to cram 90 days of work into a quarter because it says 90 damn days on the calendar? But then you realistically can only work one hour a day on your goals? Well! That's why you're not getting all your goals done. You physically can't. So, do an intense and conservative estimate of how long each of those projects is going to take you, compare that to your conservative estimate of how much time you truly have available this quarter, and then you have a reasonable estimate of which of those projects you can fit into your actual time available this quarter. (Sarra's videos goes way more into depth on how to do this, so check out the youtube playlist linked above for more information.)

My problem here is that thinking about time this way makes me feel paralyzed. It's the same problem I have with "don't break the chain" style trackers and motivation systems -- the first time I fail, the whole plan is ruined, and that is so, so demotivational to me. The first chain I break is the end of the chain. And as soon as I fall off of my estimated projects in the HB90 system, no matter how many buffer days I built in, I feel like I've broken the chain. Any system where I'm "supposed" to be doing certain things by a certain time only work until that first day that I don't stay on track. That's a 'me' problem, not the system's fault, but it is something I've had to find a workaround for. 

So, instead of deciding in advance all of my projects and all of my tasks for the whole quarter, I use a sort of "just-in-time" method. As the manufacturing industry term implies, I'm only planning out projects and tasks as I need them. Basically, I treat that list of projects above as a list of things I can work on next based on what I'm feeling motivated to do. It's not a list of things I plan to do this quarter, or even a list of things I plan to do for sure at all, but it is a list of things I know will move me forward toward my goal. 

This also allows me to be more flexible as I progress through each project. About 11 times out of 10, by the end of the first month of the quarter, I know more about my goals and my projects, and have a clearer idea of what's even going to be relevant. Sometimes, all that stuff I wrote down in my brainstorming pages winds up not being a valuable way to achieve that goal, and if I need to pivot, well hey, at least I didn't waste a bunch of time making a detailed task list for the whole quarter. 

Step 5. Tasks

For some, simpler projects, the above list is all I need. Like I don't need a big bird's-eye-view of that "mastodon migration" project. The mastodon server I'm on announced that it's shutting down and that we need to migrate our accounts to new servers. It's, like, a three-step process and I just need to do it. But for bigger projects, like the blog or my next developmental edit, I'll create a project page that lists out all the tasks or phases of the project. Again, I'm just focusing my attention on planning the tasks for the project or step that's coming next. 
I don't have to know everything in order to get started.


As you can see, this project page has been in use for a while and I'll just add to it as I go. I've got a blank page next, just waiting for me to add all of the tasks for querying, future edits, and (hopefully) publishing tasks.

The above picture is a page from my Quarterly Project Planner. Check out the full version here or the version that only contains the project planner templates here

Step 6. Weekly & Daily Planning

When it comes time to actually get to work, I put together my weekly plan using these project pages. Sometimes I get even more granular. For example, on the weekly, instead of "Edit Act 1," I'll break it down into individual chapters or types of work. (If you had asked me what the granular-level tasks would be for this project back at the beginning of the quarter, I would have just stared at you like a deer in the headlights.)


Right now I'm using a Sprouted Planner, but this system works anywhere! You can use Sarra's planner, a bullet journal, or anything else. It even works with the kanban board. Just sit down and make your tasks or sticky notes bit by bit as you gain clarity on them instead of all at once at the beginning. 

I do recommend grabbing Sarra's undated planner or her goal planner (which is all the same stuff but doesn't have the weekly/daily pages). Sarra also offers a quarterly bootcamp where she really drills down into how to use this planning system and boy, is there a lot of content. 

I mainly wanted to highlight what I do differently from Sarra--modifying HB90 is a core part of HB90! I know many others struggle with the time component and if there are any other neurodivergent people out there that just cannot handle thinking about what tasks you might be working on three months from now, maybe this just-in-time method will help! 

Let me know what you think or if you've used a different way to manage your HB90 time.

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