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How to Be Successful by Using Backward Planning

How to Be Successful by Using Backward Planning

During my thirteen years in the US Army Special Forces, I actually learned backward planning before I attended the Special Forces Qualification “Q” Course.  My first education in planning came from the US Army Ranger School, which is primarily a leadership course that uses patrolling in harsh conditions to duplicate the stresses of combat.  It’s a very demanding course with a planned lack of food and sleep. While some might say that for a lot people, Ranger School was spent in a daze of confusion, hunger and fatigue, backward planning does not mean that you have to plan in confused or awkward manner.

One of the biggest factors that determine whether you get your task completed is effective time management. Without good time management, you will almost always fail.  This was beaten into our heads by the Ranger School Ranger Instructors (RI)s: The RI would continually ask us what time was our time to be on target.

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    Time on Target

    Time on target was the time that we had to accomplish a mission—everything else led up to that time.  We simply then mentally walked our way backwards, putting time points at each important step.  For example, if time on target was at 11pm, than we needed to do a final reconnaissance of the target an hour beforehand. Given backward planning, our time there would be at 10pm.   Before that, we had to set up a small patrol base in the area about 15 minutes before.  This would be at 9:45pm.  It would take us about three hours to get there from where we were at.  This meant that we would need to leave at 6:45pm.  An hour to get our equipment ready, fifteen minutes to eat, and three hours planning would then mean that we would need to start to get ready at 2:45pm.

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    Backward Planning

    Backward planning lets you know when you need to get started, and also gives you timing points along the way to let you know if you need to adjust your plan in order to get ‘er done when you need to.  For example, if we ran late on the planning for the mission above, we might skip eating or cut down on equipment prep time.

    Think about how you could apply backward planning in your daily life:

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    • The kids need to be picked up from school at 3:00 pm.
    • You need to pick up the dry cleaning, which is fifteen minutes from the school.
    • You’ll need five minutes in the store, so you need to arrive there at 2:40 pm.
    • Before, that you’ll meet a friend at a local coffee shop, and take a half an hour for coffee.
    • The shop is ten minutes away from the dry cleaners, so you need to arrive at the coffee shop at 2 pm.
    • Finally, the coffee shop is twenty minutes from your house, so you need to leave home at 1:40 pm in order to pick up your kids on time.

    Your Own Time on Target

    Backward planning will help you with anything that has a deadline or a “time on target.”  In the Special Forces, we were known for our focus on being on time, which kept us on track and on schedule.  In combat, arriving too early might leave you exposed without air cover.  Arriving too late at an ambush might mean that you missed your target.  Either way was failure.

    It might be a good idea to think about this, and why this time management is so essential to success.  Perhaps you can begin by thinking of the opposite—ways which do not work.  Even if you have one very small task to complete, if you do not manage your time appropriately it may get done too late, or not at all.  You may be working on a deadline, or have a task which does not have a specific time to be completed.  If you do not have a plan for getting it done on time, results will show.

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    Game Plan for Success

    If you have ever felt that there are not enough hours in a day to do everything you need to do, this will be a very positive step for you, and you will be pleasantly surprised with how much you can accomplish.  With a game plan focused on mission completeness, you may find yourself getting more done each day than you usually accomplish in a week.  Not only will you be more productive, but achieving each goal will come much easier, and you will soon appreciate this all-important factor in your success.

    Featured photo credit:  Traditional maldivian Dhoni via Shutterstock

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    Last Updated on July 23, 2019

    5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

    5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

    In the journey of growth, there are times when we grow and excel. We are endlessly driven and hyped up, motivated to get our goals.

    Then there are times when we stagnate. We feel uninspired and unmotivated. We keep procrastinating on our plans. More often than not, we get out of a rut, only to get back into another one.

    How do you know if you are stagnating? Here are some tell-tale signs:

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    • If you have been experiencing chronic procrastination on your goals
    • If you don’t ever feel like doing anything
    • If you keep turning to sleep, eating, games, mindless activities and entertainment for comfort
    • If you know you should be doing something, but yet you keep avoiding it
    • If you have not achieved anything new or significant now relative to 1 month, 2 months or 3 months ago
    • If you have a deep sense of feeling that you are living under your potential

    When we face stagnation in life, it’s a sign of deeper issues. Stagnation, just like procrastination, is a symptom of a problem. It’s easy to beat ourselves over it, but this approach is not going to help. Here, I will share 5 steps to help you move out of this stagnation. They won’t magically transform your life in 1 night (such changes are never permanent because the foundations are not built), but they will help you get the momentum going and help you get back on track.

    1. Realize You’re Not Alone

    Everyone stagnates at some point or another. You are not alone in this and more importantly, it’s normal. In fact, it’s amazing how many of my clients actually face the same predicament, even though all of them come from different walks of life, are of different ages, and have never crossed paths. Realizing you are not alone in this will make it much easier to deal with this period. By trying to “fight it”, you’re only fighting yourself. Accept this situation, acknowledge it, and tell yourself it’s okay. That way, you can then focus on the constructive steps that will really help you.

    2. Find What Inspires You

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    Stagnation comes because there isn’t anything that excites you enough to take action. If you don’t have a habit of setting goals, and instead just leave yourself to daily mundanes, it’s not surprising you are experiencing stagnation. What do you want to do if there are no limitations? If you can have whatever you want, what will it be? The answers to these questions will provide the fuel that will drive you forward.

    On the other hand, even if you are an experienced goal setter, there are times when the goals you set in the past lose their appeal now. It’s normal and it happens to me too. Sometimes we lose touch with our goals, since we are in a different emotional state compared to when we first set them. Sometimes our priorities change and we no longer want to work on those goals anymore. However, we don’t consciously realize this, and what happens is we procrastinate on our goals until it compounds into a serious problem. If that’s the case for you, it’s time to relook into your goals. There’s no point in pursuing goals that no longer inspire you. Trash away your old goals (or just put them aside) and ask yourself what you really want now. Then go for them.

    3. Give Yourself a Break

    When’s the last time you took a real break for yourself? 3 months? 6 months? 1 year? Never? Perhaps it’s time to take a time-out. Prolonged working can cause someone to become disillusioned as they lose sight of who they are and what they want.

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    Go take some extended leave from work. A few days at bare minimum; a few weeks or months will be great. Some of my ex-colleagues have quit their jobs and took months out to do some self-reflection. Of course, some of us might not have that luxury, so we can stick to a few weeks of leave. Go on a trip elsewhere and get away from your work and your life. Use this chance to get a renewed perspective of life. Think about your life purpose, what you want and what you want to create for your life in the future. These are big questions that require deep thinking over them. It’s not about finding the answers at one go, but about taking the first step to finding the answers.

    4. Shake up Your Routines

    Being in the same environment, doing the same things over and over again and meeting the same people can make us stagnant. This is especially if the people you spend the most time with are stagnant themselves.

    Change things around. Start with simple things, like taking a different route to work and eating something different for breakfast. Have your lunch with different colleagues, colleagues you never talked much with. Work in a different cubicle if your work has free and easy seating. Do something different than your usual for weekday evenings and weekends. Cultivate different habits, like exercising every day, listening to a new series of podcasts every morning to work, reading a book, etc (here’s 6 Proven Ways To Make New Habits Stick). The different contexts will give you different stimulus, which will trigger off different thoughts and actions in you.

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    When I’m in a state of stagnancy, I’ll get a sense of what’s making me stagnate. Sometimes it’s the environment I’m in, sometimes it’s the people I’ve been hanging out with, sometimes it’s my lifestyle. Most of the times it’s a combination of all these. Changing them up helps to stir myself out of the stagnant mode.

    5. Start with a Small Step

    Stagnation also comes from being frozen in fear. Maybe you do want this certain goal, but you aren’t taking action. Are you overwhelmed by the amount of work needed? Are you afraid you will make mistakes? Is the perfectionist in you taking over and paralyzing you?

    Let go of the belief that it has to be perfect. Such a belief is a bane, not a boon. It’s precisely from being open to mistakes and errors that you move forward. Break down what’s before you into very very small steps, then take those small steps, a little step at a time. I had a client who had been stagnating for a long period because he was afraid of failing. He didn’t want to make another move where he would make a mistake. However, not wanting to make a mistake has led him to do absolutely nothing for 2-3 years. On the other hand, by doing just something, you would already be making progress, whether it’s a mistake or not. Even if you make a supposed “mistake”,  you get feedback to do things differently in the next step. That’s something you would never have known if you never made a move.

    More to Help You Stay Motivated

    Here are some resources that will help you break out of your current phase:

    Featured photo credit: Anubhav Saxena via unsplash.com

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