When we’re facing a deadline or getting ready to tackle a big project, the standard approach is to plan from the beginning and then work our way forward, starting with the first step and ending with our final task.
For example, if you have a job application to write, rather than focusing on the first steps, you would start by looking at the application closing date and identifying the last action you would need to take. How far along would you need to be the day before the deadline? What documents need to be ready? When would the application need to be submitted?
As counterintuitive as it may seem, working backwards in this way can give you a much clearer picture of what and how much must be achieved during each phase of a project. It can also help you identify and avoid unnecessary activities.
Hindsight can help increase our anticipation of pleasure from achieving our goal, which brings about goal-directed behaviours.
HOW TO create a reverse plan
1. Start with the end goal in mind
Before you start constructing your plan, look at the end goal. What is it that you need to accomplish? Is there a big event coming up? Are you going to an important job interview that you need to prepare for?
Once you have this goal clearly in your mind, you can start working your way backward. What’s the last step you will need to take before you turn up at your job interview? You would want to double check your outfit and review your notes.
2. Outline clear steps
Research has shown that visualising the steps you need to take to reach your goal can increase confidence, reduce anxiety, and lead to more purposeful actions. So make sure you identify and outline clear steps and milestones as you go along.
Try to make each step as specific, realistic, and actionable as possible, as this will help you work out which tasks are likely to require the most effort or creativity, and plan your time accordingly.
3. Focus on the Process
Thinking about your goal and working backwards from there to identify each step you’ll need to take along the way may take time. So don’t try to rush through the planning process or feel like you have to put together a perfect plan, because reverse planning is more about the journey than the destination.
4. Visualise a Positive Outcome
When you visualise a positive outcome, such as passing your exam with flying colours or acing your job interview, you’ll already feel closer to that goal than you would if you focused primarily on how much effort it’s going to take or what might go wrong.
Of course, it is also important to be realistic about the potential difficulties or obstacles you might face as you work towards your goal, but visualising a positive outcome can put you in the right frame of mind to succeed.
For an example of when I have assisted people in backward planning, please read the Career and Wellbeing Planning Workshops that I created and delivered for Rural Health West. I also utilise backward planning in my Coaching packages too.