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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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    Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boosts Productivity 10X More with Focus

    Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boosts Productivity 10X More with Focus

    There’s a dark side to the conveniences of the Digital Age. With smartphones that function like handheld computers, it has become increasingly difficult to leave our work behind. Sometimes it seems like we’re expected to be accessible 24/7.

    How often are you ever focused on just one thing? Most of us try to meet these demands by multi-tasking.

    Many of us have bought into the myth that we can achieve more through multi-tasking. In this article, I’ll show you how you can accomplish more work in less time. Spoiler alert: multi-tasking is not the answer.

    Why is multitasking a myth?

    The term “multi-tasking” was originally used to describe how microprocessors in computers work. Machines multitask, but people cannot.

    Despite our inability to simultaneously perform two tasks at once, many people believe they are excellent multi-taskers.

    You can probably imagine plenty of times when you do several things at once. Maybe you talk on the phone while you’re cooking or respond to emails during your commute.

    Consider the amount of attention that each of these tasks requires. Chances are, at least one of the two tasks in question is simple enough to be carried out on autopilot.

    We’re okay at simultaneously performing simple tasks, but what if you were trying to perform two complex tasks? Can you really work on your presentation and watch a movie at the same time? It can be fun to try to watch TV while you work, but you may be unintentionally making your work more difficult and time-consuming.

    Your brain on multi-tasking

    Your brain wasn’t designed to multi-tasking. To compensate, it will switch from task to task. Your focus turns to whatever task seems more urgent. The other task falls into the background until you realize you’ve been neglecting it.

    When you’re bouncing back and forth like this, an area of the brain known as Broadmann’s Area 10 activates. Located in your fronto-polar prefrontal cortex at the very front of the brain, this area controls your ability to shift focus. People who think they are excellent multitaskers are really just putting Broadmann’s Area 10 to work.

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    But I can juggle multiple tasks!

    You are capable of taking in information with your eyes while doing other things efficiently. Scientifically speaking, making use of your vision is the only thing you can truly do while doing something else.

    For everything else, you’re serial tasking. This constant refocusing can be exhausting, and it prevents us from giving our work the deep attention it deserves.

    Think about how much longer it takes to do something when you have to keep reminding yourself to focus.

    Why multitasking is failing you

    Multitasking does more bad than good to your productivity, here’re 4 reasons why you should stop multitasking:

    Multitasking wastes your time.

    You lose time when you interrupt yourself. People lose an average of 2.1 hours per day getting themselves back on track when they switch between tasks.

    In fact, some studies suggest that doing multiple things at once decreases your productivity by as much as 40%. That’s a significant loss in efficiency. You wouldn’t want your surgeon to be 40% less productive while you’re on the operating table, would you?

    It makes you dumber.

    A distracted brain performs a full 10 IQ points lower than a focused brain. You’ll also be more forgetful, slower at completing tasks, and more likely to make mistakes.

    You’ll have to work harder to fix your mistakes. If you miss an important detail, you could risk injury or fail to complete the task properly.

    This is an emotional response.

    There’s so much data suggesting that multitasking is ineffective but people insist that they can multitask.

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    Feeling productive fulfills an emotional need. We want to feel like we’re accomplishing something. Why accomplish just one item on the to-do list when you can check off two or three?

    It’ll wear you out.

    When you’re jumping from task to task, it can feel invigorating for a little while. Over time, this needs to fill every second with more and more work leads to burn out.

    We’re simply not built to multitask, so when we try, the effect can be exhausting. This destroys your productivity and your motivation.

    How to stop multitasking and work productively

    Flitting back and forth between tasks feels second-nature after a while. This is in part because Broadmann’s Area 10 becomes better at serial tasking through time.

    In addition to changing how the brain works, this serial tasking behavior can quickly turn into a habit.

    Just like any bad habit, you’ll need to recognize that you need to make a change first. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to adjust to a lifestyle of productive mono-tasking:

    1. Consciously change gears

    Instead of trying to work on two distinct tasks at once, consider setting up a system to remind you when to change focus. This technique worked for Jerry Linenger, an American astronaut onboard the space station, Mir.

    As an astronaut, he had many things to take care of every day. He set alarms for himself on a few watches. When a particular watch sounded, he knew it was time to switch tasks. This enabled him to be 100% in tune with what he was doing at any given moment.

    This strategy is effective because the alarm served as his reminder for what was to come next. Linenger’s intuition about setting reminders falls in line with research conducted by Paul Burgess of University College, London on multitasking.

    2. Manage multiple tasks without multitasking

    Raj Dash of Performancing.com has an effective strategy for balancing multiple projects without multitasking. He suggests taking 15 minutes to acquaint yourself with a new project before moving on to other work. Revisit the project later and do about thirty minutes on research and brainstorming.

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    Allow a few days to pass before knocking out the project in question. While you were actively work on other projects, your brain continues to problem solve-in the background.

    This method works because it gives us the opportunity to work on several projects without allowing them to compete for your attention.

    3. Set aside distractions

    Your smartphone, your inbox and the open tabs on your computer are all open invitations for distraction. Give yourself time each day when you silence your notifications, close your inbox and remove unnecessary tabs from your desktop.

    If you want to focus, you can’t give anything else an opportunity to invade your mental space.

    Emails can be particularly invasive because they often have an unnecessary sense of urgency associated with them. Some work cultures stress the importance of prompt responses to these messages, but we can’t treat every situation like an emergency.

    Designate certain times in your day for checking and responding to emails to avoid compulsive checking.

    4. Take care of yourself

    We often blame electronics for pulling us from our work, but sometimes our physical body forces us into a state of serial tasking. If you’re hungry while you’re trying to work, your attention will flip between your hunger and your work until you take care of your physical needs.

    Try to take all your bio-breaks before you sit down for an uninterrupted stint of work.

    In addition, you’ll also want to be sure you’re attending to your health in a broader sense. Getting enough exercise, practicing mindfulness and incorporating regular breaks into your day will keep you from being tempted by distractions.

    5. Take a break

    People are more likely to head to YouTube or check their social media when they need a break. Instead of trying to work and watch a mindless video at the same time, give yourself times when you’re allowed to enjoy your distracting activity of choice.

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    Limit how much time you’ll spend on this break so that your guilt-free distraction time doesn’t turn into hours of wasted time.

    6. Make technology your ally

    Scientists are beginning to discover the detrimental effects of chronic serial tasking on our brains. Some companies are developing programs to curb this desire to multitask.

    Apps like Forest turn staying focused into a game. Extensions like RescueTime help you track your online habits so that you can be more aware of how you spend your time.

    The key to productivity: Focus

    Multitasking is not the key to productivity. It’s far better to schedule time to focus on each task than it is to try to do everything at once.

    Make use of the methods outlined above and prepare to be more effective and less exhausted in the process.

    If you want to learn more about how to focus, don’t miss my other article:

    How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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