Tis the season when our thoughts turn to... planning content for our food blogs! We've talked about editorial planning and editorial calendars for your blog before so this is nothing new. But this year, if you run your blog as a business, we wanted to encourage you all to think, and plan, bigger - beyond just blog content.
We also wanted to share a planning strategy that we tried at FBC this past year that worked extremely well for us - quarterly planning. By implementing this strategy we were able to plan bigger, by planning smaller.
Sounds strange doesn't it?
But by using quarterly planning we were able to be more productive, tackle bigger goals and push ourselves forward. We've included downloadable calendar sheets in excel and pdf formats just like the ones we use. They also have all the Canadian holidays and some other key dates where food plays a big role - like Grey Cup and Super Bowl.
Before we dive into the specifics of how we changed our planning, let's have a quick chat about thinking beyond just content.
Think Beyond Blog Content With Big Picture Goals
Make no mistake, content is a huge part of our overall strategy here at FBC. But we also have "bigger picture". Content plays a big supporting role in virtually all of our bigger picture goals but not the only role.
Some bigger picture goals to think about may include:
- a more cohesive social media strategy
- a website refresh or perhaps even an app for your blog
- building a brand strategy
- launching and growing a YouTube channel
- writing a book - be it traditionally published, self-published or an e-book
- creating some kind of in person event - teaching cooking classes, hosting a dinner series etc.
- shaping a picture in your mind of where you'd like to see your blogging business in one year, two years or three years (technology moves so fast that we find thinking beyond the three year mark in blogging to be very difficult!)
It's important to think about where you want to go before you can build any kind of plan to get you there or this won't work.
Quarterly Planning Step by Step
One of our biggest weaknesses when it comes to planning is getting excited about All The Things. We always think we can accomplish way more than we actually have time for in a year and we can easily get distracted by shiny things.
It took us a long time before we were willing to admit that this was our biggest stumbling block and we know we're not alone. It's a side effect of being passionate about what you do for a living!
A byproduct of picking too many projects to work on is that to do lists become overwhelming and you find yourself paralyzed into inactivity.
So here's what we did and the tools we used:
- Pen and paper or notebook
- Printed out one month calendar sheets that we could scribble on (we liked having big boxes for each day)
- A project management tool (don't be intimidated - see our list below)
Determine Your Overall Objective For The Year
This is key. Before you decide what you're going to do this year, you have to know what your overall objective is. Try to make it as simple as possible. If you can boil it down to one word that can be very helpful. If not, try to get it down to one simple sentence. Here's just a few examples:
- visibility (you want to raise your profile in the on-line or off-line space)
- streamline or efficiency (you want to improve your systems to make your work life easier)
- branding (you want to build an instantly recognizable presence)
- balance (you want to improve your work/life balance)
1. List All Your Potential Projects For The Year
Simply grab a notebook and brainstorm. Don't censor yourself here - just write them all down!
2. Evaluate Your List And Cut It In Half
Go through that great big list one item at a time. When you review each item ask yourself "does this support my objective for the year?"
If the answer is no, ditch it. If the answer is maybe, ditch it. If the answer is yes, keep it.
Try to cut your list in half at this point.
3. Estimate Time Lines
Next to each remaining item jot down how long you think it will take you in days, weeks or months to accomplish. Then go back through your list and double each timeframe. That's right... double it.
People inherently tend to underestimate how long it will take to get things done and that means we're almost always running behind. When you work for yourself you usually don't have the luxury of throwing more human power or money at a project to hit a deadline so, it's all on you!
If you think something will take a week, change it to two weeks. If you think it will take a month, plan for two.
4. Pick 3 Projects To Work On Each Quarter of the Year
This is the key to quarterly planning. Pick no more than three projects to work on each quarter.
But let's go into a bit more detail. This doesn't mean you can only work on three projects for the whole year. Here's how it works:
You may find some of the projects on your lists can be accomplished in a month or two. Some may take 6, 9 or 12 months. Some may even span years (like writing a book).
Take a look at your biggest projects that will take the longest. Realistically, it will be very ambitious for you to choose 3-4 projects that are 12 months in scope. So narrow those projects down to 1 or 2. Then look at projects that may take 6-9 months. Realistically, you can probably accomplish 2-4 of these in a year. Maybe more if you have no 12 month projects to work on. So narrow those projects down even further, always measuring them against your objective for the year.
Which ones will have the biggest impact on that big goal?
Then look at your projects that will take 1-3 months. You can probably fit quite a few of these in so you won't have to be quite so ruthless. These smaller projects can also offer you a bit of a break from your big goal for the year if you want to do something a little bit different but still stay focused on the big picture.
The idea is that in any given quarter, you don't want to be working on any more than 3 projects at any one time.
5. Get Out Your Calendar Sheets And Get Ruthless.
Start mapping out your projects on your calendar sheets and give each quarter three project slots.
Start with the big projects. If you have a project that's going to take all year, it gets one of your three slots in each quarter. If you have a project that's going to take 9 months, assign it to one of the remaining two slots in three of your quarters. You can see how things fill up quickly! This is where you're really going to have to get ruthless with what you'll work on this year.
There is a surprising amount of flexibility with this method. For instance, with smaller one month projects you can divide your remaining quarterly slots into monthly slots. So if you've got one slot left for first quarter but you've got a project that's going to take 2 months and a project that's going to take 1 month, you can divide that last quarterly slot into two slots and do two projects. Or you can double up your efforts on a bigger project and get it done faster (this doesn't always work if your bigger project requires you to wait on others to do parts of the project)
But the whole goal is to never be working on more than 3 projects at any one time. Three seems to be the magic number and the universe does like threes.
Downloadable and Printable Calendar Templates
Here's where you can download the calendar sheets we use. The PDF version is static if you want to print them off and write on them yourself. The excel version you can use electronically and customize for your own needs. Both versions include Canadian holidays and other notable food dates to help you with your planning.
6. Break Down Your Projects And Assign Due Dates
The next step, and this has been crucial to us being successful, is breaking down each project into smaller tasks and assigning due dates to each task. We do this right in the calendar and while we're at it, we also block out work travel, holidays or any other time blocks that will take more than a day so we can really see how much time we actually have available in a quarter.
This does a few things:
- It creates an automatic To Do list. A big part of project paralysis is the overwhelm of not knowing where to start
- It creates accountability - especially if you have a team (like we do) or a VA or clients waiting on those deadlines before they can do their part
Essentially, you're working backwards when you do this. You know when you want the project to wrap up so now you need to break it down to figure out how to get to the final destination on time. We start with general deadlines for the year and then we revisit our plan quarterly and refine it. Sometimes your big objective or your priorities change but with quarterly planning, you can be flexible and easily change things.
You may want to use a tool to help you with this. We use Asana, which is a free project management tool and very powerful. It let's us assign tasks and deadlines to each other, our VA, our graphic designer and our editorial team. Other tools include Trello, Basecamp or even a well thought out spreadsheet or a calendar. Whatever works for you!
7. Refine and Tweak Regularly
The beauty of this system is you're planning forward for the entire year but, you're really only getting into the weeds on a quarterly basis. Which means you can go in and tweak and refine regularly. We review our plan each quarter to see what needs updating and to track our progress.
The Keys to Making This System Work:
- being brutally honest with yourself about how much you can realistically accomplish - it's usually a lot less than we think. But, by being extremely honest and scaling back, you'll probably find you actually complete more work than you would have otherwise and do a better quality job of it.
- Keep your focus on that big overall objective and make sure your projects will move that objective forward.
- Assign deadlines and review your progress.
- And take great satisfaction when you complete a project!