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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 May 7, 2021

    Productivity Boost: How to start your day at 5:00 AM

    Productivity Boost: How to start your day at 5:00 AM

    I have been an early-riser for over a year now. Monday through Friday I wake up at 5:00 AM without hitting the snooze button even once. I never take naps and rarely feel tired throughout the day. The following is my advice on how to start your day (everyday) at 5:00 AM.The idea of waking up early and starting the day at or before the sunrise is the desire of many people. Many highly successful people attribute their success, at least in part, to rising early. Early-risers have more productive mornings, get more done, and report less stress on average than “late-risers.” However, for the unaccustomed, the task of waking up at 5:00 AM can seem extremely daunting. This article will present five tips about how to physically wake up at 5:00 AM and how to get yourself mentally ready to have a productive day.

    Many people simply “can’t” get up early because they are stuck in a routine. Whether this is getting to bed unnecessarily late, snoozing repetitively, or waiting until the absolute last possible moment before getting out of bed, “sleeping in” can easily consume your entire morning. The following tips will let you break the “sleeping in” routine.

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    Relocate your alarm clock.

    Having an alarm clock too close to your bed is the number one reason people simply cannot get up in the morning. If your alarm clock is within arms reach of your bed, or if you can turn your alarm clock off without getting out of bed, you are creating an unnecessarily difficult situation for yourself. Before I became an early-riser, there were many times that I would turn off my alarm without even waking up enough to remember turning it off. I recommend moving your alarm clock far enough away from your bed that you have to get completely out of bed to turn it off. I keep my alarm clock in the bathroom. This may not be possible for all living arrangements, however, I use my cellphone as an alarm clock and putting it in the bathroom makes perfect sense. In order to turn off my alarm I have to get completely out of bed, and since going to the restroom and taking a shower are the first two things I do everyday, keeping the alarm clock in the bathroom streamlines the start of my morning.

    Scrap the snooze.

    The snooze feature on all modern alarm clocks serves absolutely no constructive purpose. Don’t even try the “it helps me slowly wake up” lie. I recommend buying an alarm that does not have a snooze button. If you can’t find an alarm without a snooze button, never read the instructions so you will never know how long your snooze button lasts. Not knowing whether it waits 10 minutes or 60 minutes should be enough of a deterrent to get you to stop using it.

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    Change up your buzzer

    If you use the same buzzer day in and day out, you begin to develop a tolerance to the sound. The alarm clock will slowly become less effective at waking you up over time. Most newer alarm clocks will let you set a different buzzer tone for the different days of the week. If you change your buzzer frequently, you will have an easier time waking up.

    Make a puzzle

    If you absolutely cannot wake up without repetitive snoozing, try making a puzzle for yourself. It doesn’t take rocket science to understand that the longer your alarm is going off, the more awake you will become. Try making your alarm very difficult to turn off by putting it under the sink, putting it under the bed, or better yet, by forcing yourself to complete a puzzle to turn it off. Try putting your alarm into a combination-locked box and make yourself put in the combination in order to turn off the alarm — it’s annoying, but extremely effective!

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    Get into a routine

    Getting up at 5:00 AM is much easier if you are doing it Monday through Friday rather than sporadically during the week. I recommend setting an alarm once that repeats everyday. Also, going to bed at about the same time every night is an important factor to having a productive morning. Learn how much sleep you need to get in order to not feel exhausted the following day. Some people can get by on 4-6 hours while most need 7-8.

    Have a reason

    Make sure you have a specific reason to get up in the morning. Getting up at 5:00 AM just for the heck of it is a lot more difficult than if you are getting up early to plan your day, pay bills, go for a jog, get an early start on work, etc. I recommend finding something you want to do for yourself in the morning. It will be a lot easier to get up if you are guaranteed to do something fun for yourself — compare this to going on vacation. You probably have no problem waking up very early on vacation or during holidays. My goal every morning is to bring that excitement to the day by doing something fun for myself.

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    As I previously mentioned, I have been using these tips for a very long time. Joining the world of early-risers has been a great decision. I feel less stressed, I get more done, and I feel happier than I did when I was a late-riser. If you follow these tips you can become an early-riser, too. Do you have any tips that I didn’t mention? What works best for you? Let us know in the comments.

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