TECHNIQUES: The Q Method [Or, How to Plan Your Time]
Updated: Apr 2, 2019
For the self-employed (and anxiety-prone) among us, the question of how best to organise your working life can take up almost as much mental energy as figuring out what to do with it. When pondered for too long, this deliberation can even escalate to a borderline existential crisis – so seemingly endless are the variables of routine, location, and methodology that might apply to creative work or entrepreneurship.
As we seek inspiration on how to anchor our unstable professional lives in a wider world also defined by uncertainty, it’s easy to become obsessed with the daily working lives of others via the dozens of websites, books, and podcasts that offer glimpses of them. I confess to frequently indulging in this kind of voyeurism on how people get things done (most frequently while I am procrastinating on doing things myself): I find strange relief in accounts of ingrained daily habits. There's also a comfort in finding evidence that my neuroses are shared by others - even seemingly serene Japanese novelists like Haruki Murakami.
In What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Murakami writes:
"Most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running every day. These are practical, physical lessons. How much can I push myself? How much rest is appropriate—and how much is too much? How far can I take something and still keep it decent and consistent? When does it become narrow-minded and inflexible? How much should I be aware of the world outside, and how much should I focus on my inner world? To what extent should I be confident in my abilities, and when should I start doubting myself? I know that if I hadn’t become a long-distance runner when I became a novelist, my work would have been vastly different. How different? Hard to say. But something would definitely have been different."
This existential grappling captures, in part, why there are so many titles on time management in the career book ether, and why deciding on the length of your lunch break can spiral into an internal debate about your life’s purpose: The quandary of how to use one’s finite amount of time on this earth - and especially of how much of that time one should devote to thinking about work - is really one of a much bigger set of questions about meaning and mortality.
In the meantime, most of us have real work to get done, and we must find a way to do it. Where Murakami has turned to his running practice in search of tangible lessons, I have looked to the seasons – which in turn, provide the basis of business quarters: One of the few protocols of the corporate world that I think are not only relevant, but also very useful, when applied to to the rhythms of creative life.
If you should, on this first day of a new month and new business quarter, be looking for some new ideas on how to organise your own working life, here are some ideas I’ve established in my own. Let’s call it The Q Method, in reference to the planner I created specifically to execute this method, should you wish to. I hope it helps.
THE Q METHOD
As you no doubt already know, the business year is divided into four quarters: Q1 (January / February / March), Q2 (April / May / June), Q3 (July / August / September) and Q4 (October / November / December).
To my mind, this structure provides the perfect basis for goal-setting - both personal and professionally -for two reasons:
1. The quarters broadly reflect the seasons which they span, meaning that you can adjust the kind of work you want to get done in accordance with the rhythms of your own life (e.g. Q1 is essentially hibernation season and therefore a great time to plan focused creative work. Q3 - peak summer - a little less so). 2. Three months is the perfect length of time in which to break down ambitious career plans into do-able chunks, without getting overwhelmed by the bigger picture.
The method itself is fairly simple:
Once a Year you sit down to set your big, annual goals (restrict yourself to 2-3 max).
At the start of each quarter, make a list of five to-do's that will move you towards the bigger goal(s) at hand. Also, outline a general mood or focus to 'set the tone' for the quarter, and note down some personal experiences you'd like to incorporate into your planning (visiting a specific beach; seeing a certain exhibition etc.)
At the start of each month, list all the things you want to get done - both personal and professional - so you have an easy reference tool when you wake up in a "WTF am I doing?" mood (happens to the best of us).
On a daily basis, identify the single Most Important Thing you want to achieve that day, and then break down the steps on an hourly basis. I also try to write down three good things that happened at the end of the day, as well as a sentence summing it all up, for posterity.
At the end of each quarter, review the work you did, the money you made, and stuff you enjoyed, then make notes on areas where there is room for improvement in the next Q.
The Q Planner, The WW Club Buy
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami Read
How I Get It Done, The Cut Read