Is September the new January?
What is it about the whole 'Back to School' vibe that lights so many of us up - even if it's years (decades, even!) since we left full time education?
And, is there a way we can we turn this to our advantage?
Back to School
If the last few days of August have you longing for the crisp blank pages of a new notebook, a set of pristine, chisel-edged highlighters - and the obligatory stack of Post It notes, know this:
You're not alone...
I love buying new stationery.
On some level, my love of paper, planners (and planning) is hard-wired into me. It's probably no coincidence, that the small creative business I started from a home studio and ran for a number of years, was a stationery business, that designed and made personalised journals, notebooks and diaries.
Is September the new January?
When I had a chat with Maria Rodrigues on Premier Christian Radio earlier this summer - Maria asked me if the New Year is a busy time for coaches. My response? Although there is always going to be something particularly New Year-ish about the New Year - people are beginning to talk about September being the new January.
So, what's that all about then?
For me - and many others, there's a sense of anticipation that comes at the end of the summer holidays, and the start of a new academic year. It brings with it a change of pace, more of a routine - and the heady sense of new possibilities.
There's something about the slight chill of the cooler mornings, the scent of dew soaked grass - and the prospect of meeting new people, learning things - and making a fresh start.
I think some of this, is about conditioning: the way our brains have been trained through childhood and adolescence, so that the end of the summer holidays, signals the arrival a new season of activity, growth and education.
Interestingly, September and January have a number of things in common.
Both are months when many of us return to our everyday life and work after a break, during which we may have ditched some of our regular routines, got away (and perhaps gained some much needed perspective) - and had some time and space to think.
September and January both offer us an opportunity to make a new start, after the holidays.
But here's the thing:
Some of us find September a better time than late December/January, to do our best thinking and planning - and start new things.
If you've had a decent break over the summer, you may find you've got:
- more resources available: think energy, clarity and motivation - and
- fewer obstacles in your way: think post Christmas exhaustion and mince pie induced brain fog...
Obviously, this isn't true for everyone.
The summer can be a difficult time for those living and working with increased caring responsibilities and depleted resources, for weeks at a time through the summer holidays (Hello those of you caring for children, whilst continuing to juggle everything else).
If you have benefitted from a good break over the summer (and January never feels like the best time for you to reflect, review and plan the year ahead) - it might be worth switching things up a bit.
You can use the 'Back to School' season to get a jump on your annual planning - and make significant progress in the right direction, before 1 January.
You can make a fresh start anytime
Of course the good news, is that you don't have to wait until the start of the New Year - or the start of a new academic year - to make a fresh start.
There is no one 'right' time - or right way - to do this.
Ask people about the best time to chart a new course, set some goals or intentions, or commit to a different rhythm of life - and you'll get a load of start times - and time frames.
You can make a case for any (and all) of these:
- Right now - in this present moment
- Daily: Every. Single. Day.
- Once a week
- The first day of each calendar month
- Once a quarter
- The beginning of a new academic term
- Once a year - on 1 January (UK New Year), 6 April (UK Tax Year), 1 September...
And, unless it isn't - 'Now' is often as good a time as any.
And as it happens, right now (the start of the school year) is often a good time for me.
January doesn't work for everyone
I love Advent, Christmas and the New Year.
After all the excitement and busyness, I particularly enjoy the slowness and reflection of the week between 25 December and 1 January.
But, as someone who often isn't at their very best through the greyest and darkest months of the year - by the New Year I'm often ready to hunker down a bit - and just keep going - until the end of February.
I've learnt to be realistic - and accept that I don't do my best thinking and planning at the end of one calendar year - and the start of another. I've learnt not to pile extra pressure on, in the first couple of months of the year.
In January and February, I always have to work that little bit harder, to think clearly, get moving - and get things done.
It helps if I do most of my major thinking and planning for the winter months - around the end of November - before the wonder and increased activity of Advent and Christmas starts.
Break it Down - Termly or Quarterly
A year is a long time to think and plan ahead, whether you start in September, January - or any other time.
The academic year is typically broken up into three terms, of different lengths, interspersed with holidays. Different institutions in different countries (and different parts of the same country!) do this in various ways. Increasingly, institutions are experimenting with their annual timetable, to find what works best.
In terms of making plans around my own life and work; I've begun moving towards planning the year in four 'quarters' of thirteen weeks.
Quarterly, rather than termly seems to work better for me.
Four seasonal quarters feels good to my head and my heart.
These quarters very loosely fall in line with the four different seasons, where I live, in the UK:
- Autumn (Sept-Nov)
- Winter (Dec-Feb)
- Spring (Mar-May)
- Summer (June-Aug)
Planning in quarters obviously isn't a new idea.
90 days has become a well tried and tested period for setting, working towards - and reviewing personal and professional goals and intentions.
Although I value being focussed, these days I'm not particularly goal driven. However, I'm finding that setting and reviewing direction and intentions over 90 days is something that is really useful for me.
If breaking your own year down into something more manageable sounds good, you can obviously choose your own time frame - and start when you want. (eg. You'll notice I don't start a 'quarter' on 1 January)
Reviewing and planning quarterly, three months at a time, means this year I'm planning to review and plan:
- at the end of August (capitalising on the whole Back to School thing)
- towards the end of November (before things start to get busy at the beginning of December)
- around the end of February - by which time it feels like spring is on its way.
- at the end of May - as the summer begins.
In last week's post, I mentioned that I'm thinking of running some online and/or in person Quarterly Planning Days (QPDs) over the next 12-18 months.
For those of you who might be interested (feel free to drop me a message and let me know here), the first of these will likely take place in November. This is the time when I'll be planning December-February - but you can use the time to plan for a chunk of time that suits you - starting whenever you want.
Break it down, one week at a time
Each quarter consists of 13 weeks - which is still a long time. I find it's good to break the quarter down even further, into weekly blocks.
If you've been away from the blog over the summer and haven't heard about my free 5 day mini-course More Good Weeks, this introductory mini-course helps you create building blocks - one good week at a time. You can sign up here.
If the idea that September could be the new January has got you thinking about the next few weeks - I'd love to leave you with a few questions to think about:
As we get ready to head into the new academic year:
- In what areas of your own life and work, could you do with going 'Back to School'?
- What would you like to be different by the end of September?
- Where could you start?