Best Laid Plans

Episode #36: Planning in Quarters or Quintiles

March 29, 2021

This episode is all about thinking of your year in quarters, quintiles, or Seasons. It’s currently the end of the first quarter (or perhaps quintile, if you use my system!), so it seemed like a timely topic.

Confession: Unlike with my weeks / months / days, I do not have a clear and ritualized system in dealing with quintiles. That said, I definitely use the demarkations to divide my year into seasons of sorts.

Quarters/Quintiles to me are more about general themes. The episode goes into more detail, but here’s a summary . . .

Q1 – NEW YEAR quintile

the Fresh Start quintile!  New year. During this quintile, I have a focus on setting up the new year. I create the year’s reading list, have global thoughts about travel during the year, and I make sure I understand school calendars etc.

Q2 – Academic wrap-up & spring quintile

For me, this quintile includes Spring Break to the end of school!  During this period, I look forward to more social events, celebrations, plus there is often also often testing type stuff, assessing how things have gone academically, reflecting on what the ‘activity balance’ looked like at school.

At work, I actually handle a lot of parallel things — formal program evaluation committee meetings & writeups, plus prepping for new residents/academic year, etc.

This quintile also contains my birthday, Mother’s Day, and I often try to do “mommy days” with kids in this quintile

During Q2 my PLANNNG focus is – activities for rest of spring + planning out summer – camps, trips etc


During this quintile, I try to maximize outdoor activity when possible — lots of pool, beach time. Usually have at least one big family trip to look forward to.

I also often do a more ‘fun & frivolous’ reading list. Novels, beach reads, etc!


Honestly for me, Quintile 4 is essentially why quintiles are preferable to traditional quarters. Otherwise, there’s no fanfare when school starts mid Aug and if you have kids – THERE SHOULD BE.

(Will I abolish the quintile system once kids out of school? Maybe!)

During this quintile, I get kids set up in activities (most don’t start until a bit after school is underway, which is a good thing.)

Focus on routine

Planning focus: In Q4, we solidify any thoughts around holiday plans & travel

Q5 – Reflection Season

Time to focus on yearly goals and long range planning

Set up new planner 🙂

Fam trip, focus on family + enjoyment 

Read more self-development and “wintry” books



  • look at next quarter’s call schedule/travel
  • do a financial reconciliation with Josh
  • set goals – personal, work, family, blog/pod – though definitely don’t always reach them 🙂

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  • Reply The Evely Pack March 29, 2021 at 8:19 am

    have you decided your layout for the W222 quarterly pages? i finally decided to just use them for like a rough draft pre-plan type section – in pencil so i can roughly figure out which projects/activities/quarterly goals fit in between the rest of the hard structure of the months. i like my monthly pages in pen and just a basic overview of work/appts i can’t move, and it helps to see a few months at a time to help give context and “pace myself” with the bigger vs smaller projects. i’m not terribly satisfied with this use of those pages – it seems like they are so awesome i’d rather do something more inspired and creative, but at least it’s functional and does help serve a purpose in planning.

    side note: it’s so weird to me that so many people i know have found it hard to make goals for the year or come up with things to plan. i just can’t fathom it… not that i am able to plan vacations or travel, but my goodness the projects on my list are like to no end, and definitely won’t fit into this year. maybe i’m just behind in the planning game and am playing catch up now that my youngest is exiting toddlerhood at 3.25 yrs old but wow, my list of things to do/tackle is just well, it was overwhelming until your strategies / techniques have REALLY helped me break it down!! with your nested goals i’ve been able to look at the big picture and also manage to accomplish things in real time and gosh that’s been refreshing!!! so thanks for that girl!! thanks for your podcast and i really don’t know how you maintain such a cheerful spirit with all the different things you do/roles you fill!!! that’s what i love the most about listening to you, you bring such joy to your endeavors it’s so refreshing and inspiring and makes it all seem like not a chore, but something to look forward to! i don’t know how you do it! but i love it!!

  • Reply Ashley March 29, 2021 at 9:57 am

    I remember the first time I heard about your quintile system, and it was like a lightbulb moment for me. That’s how our lives naturally flow with school-age kids, and I think I’d intuitively planned that way, but never really had a name or structure for it. The end of the academic year is usually such a flurry of activity. It’s less so now, than it would’ve been in 2019, but thankfully more spirited than 2020 was! My oldest kiddo is in his last year of elementary school, so this particular quintile feels a little bittersweet. I am hoping to do a few things to make it feel special since school is happening in person (thank goodness) but he’s missing out on field trips and other fifth grade milestones.

  • Reply Sarah S. March 29, 2021 at 3:22 pm

    The quintile system was also a lightbulb moment for me. I never did quarterly planning because I’m a professor so my schedule and my kid’s schedules are all on the academic calendar. Quarters also don’t match up with the seasons in New England at all. October and December are the same quarter but the possible activities are completely different. Your quintile system, on the other hand, matches the academic year and seasons beautifully, and really helps me form lists of things I would like to do with my kids or accomplish professionally. Each quintile is a good amount of time that’s not as intimidating as a full year but lets me get a little more ambitious than a week or month. Thanks for the idea!

  • Reply Kersti March 29, 2021 at 6:54 pm

    I think I’m in the minority on this one, but I do not like monthly, quarterly, or yearly planning for my goals. The time pressure stresses me out! Instead, I have goals I’d like to attain within the next 2-3 years. Out of that, I create a list of current projects that I can realistically handle simulatneously. Then, from that I create a weekly schedule. In that schedule is dedicated time to work on each project/interest/habit, etc. I’m pretty good at following my schedule. Once a project is done, I check it off my list and add a new project. Unless a project has an external deadline, I don’t put pressure on myself to achieve it by a certain date. I think if I try to do quarterly goals, for example, I’m always negotiating with myself – do I do this today or tomorrow or next week or next month…? I am also more attracted to “systems” (see James Clear or Scott Adams on this) than goals. I have goals for general direction but systems to achieve them and that approach seems jive with how I plan.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger March 29, 2021 at 7:44 pm

      so interesting Kersti! I think if my time horizon were 2-3 years I’d lose motivation but it sounds like it works really well for you!!

      • Reply Kersti March 30, 2021 at 2:35 pm

        I do think I’ve been pretty successful with this approach, but I wonder if I am missing out on something by not giving myself a deadline! Perhaps I could push myself more…something to ponder!

  • Reply Anna March 30, 2021 at 8:29 am

    When I heard about this system about a year ago, it was life changing for me. I had previously heard about Lisa W’s three New Years, I liked the idea, but the time intervals didn’t quite resonate with me. Monthly planning is too much pressure, but 5 times a year is just right, so I now go straight from Qs to weekly. I use Trello to keep track of the entire year and recurring seasonal tasks, holidays, etc. but I do Q planning on paper and don’t look at Trello again until it’s time to plan the new Q (or if tasks need to be added to a future Q). It is working out really well. Thank you Sarah for your amazing ideas!

  • Reply Marcia (OrganisingQueen) April 1, 2021 at 5:05 am

    I’ve always loved your quintiles… for you 🙂 Quarters work mostly fine for me (our schools in South Africa are either quarters – aligned with the seasons, more or less, except now during Covid – or thirds for the private schools).

    Q1 – getting school routines sorted
    Q2 – autumn 🙂 and exams for kids
    Q3 – birthday season (we’re all within a month)
    Q4 – exams at school and finishing the year well (incl are my reflections which I now do in November instead of Dec so I can enjoy Christmas)

  • Reply 2016windaily April 5, 2021 at 11:14 am

    I’m not sure which podcast you asked for comments re Cozi. Maybe this one or the one before? Anyway, we use Cozi, but just for the shopping list. My husband does the grocery shopping (YAY!!!). All week, we put stuff on the shopping list. We have it sorted into stores, and also just a general list, where we are not sure where he will find the item. I can add stuff when I randomly think of it, at work, before bed, etc. Works great for us!!

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