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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 November 12, 2020

    15 Reasons Why You Can’t Achieve Your Goals

    15 Reasons Why You Can’t Achieve Your Goals

    The truth about many of our failed goals is that we haven’t achieved them because we didn’t know how to set and accomplish goals effectively, rather than having not had enough willpower, determination, or fortitude. There are strings of mistakes standing in our way of accomplished goals. Fortunately for us, we don’t have to fall victim to these mistakes for 2015. There are many common mistakes we make with setting goals, but there are also surefire ways to fix them too.

    Goal Setting

    1. You make your goals too vague.

    Instead of having a vague goal of “going to the gym,” make your goals specific—something like, “run a mile around the indoor track each morning.”

    2. You have no way of knowing where you are with your goals.

    It’s hard to recognize where you are at reaching your goal if you have no way of measuring where you are with it. Instead, make your goal measurable with questions such as, “how much?” or “how many?” This way, you always know where you stand with your goals.

    3. You make your goals impossible to reach.

    If it’s impossible of reaching, you’re simply not going to reach for it. Sometimes, our past behavior can predict our future behavior, which means if you have no sign of changing a behavior within a week, don’t set a goal that wants to accomplish that. While you can do many things you set your mind to, it’ll be much easier if you realize your capabilities, and judge your goals from there.

    4. You only list your long-term goals.

    Long-term goals tend to fizzle out because we’re stuck on the larger view rather than what we need to accomplish in the here and now to get there. Instead, list out all the short-term goals involved with your long-term goal. For instance, if you want to seek a publisher for a book you’ve written, your short-term goals might involve your marketing your writing and writing for more magazines in order to accomplished your goal of publishing. By listing out the short-term goals involved with your long-term goal, you’ll focus more on doing what’s in front of you.

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    5. You write your goals as negative statements.

    It’s hard to reach a goal that’s worded as, “don’t fall into this stupid trap.” That’s not inspiring, and when you’re first starting out, you need inspiration to stay committed to your goal. Instead, make your goals positive statements, such as, “Be a friend who says yes more” rather than, “Stop being an idiot to your friends.”

    6. You leave your goals in your head.

    Don’t keep your goals stuck in your head. Write them down somewhere and keep them visible. It’s a way making your goals real and holding yourself accountable for achieving them.

    Achieving Goals

    7. You only focus on achieving one goal at a time, and you struggle each time.

    In order to keep achieving your goals, one right after the others, you need to build the healthy habits to do so. For instance, if you want to write a book, developing a habit of writing each morning. If you want to lose weight and eventually run a marathon, develop a habit of running each morning. Focus on buildign habits, and your other goals in the future will come easier.

    Studies show that it takes about 66 days on average to change or develop a habit.[1] If you focus on forming one habit every 66 days, that’ll get you closer to accomplishing your goals, and you’ll also build the capability to achieve more and more goals later on with the help of your newly formed habits.

    8. You live in an environment that doesn’t support your goals.

    Gary Keller and Jay Papasan in their book, The One Thing, state that environments are made up of people and places. They state that these two factors must line up to support your goals. Otherwise, they would cause friction to your goals. So make sure the people who surround you and your location both add something to your goals rather than take away from them.

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    9. You get stuck on the end result with your goals.

    James Clear brilliantly suggests that our focus should be on the systems we implement to reach our goals rather than the actual end result. For instance, if you’re trying to be healthier with your diet, focus more on sticking to your diet plan rather than on your desired end result. It’ll keep you more concentrated on what’s right in front of you rather than what’s up in the sky.

    Keeping Motivated

    10. You get discouraged with your mess-ups.

    When I wake up each morning, I focus all my effort in building a small-win for myself. Why? Because we need confidence and momentum if we want to keep plowing through the obstacles of accomplishing our goals. Starting my day with small wins helps me forget what mess-ups I had yesterday, and be able to reset.

    Your win can be as small as getting out of bed to writing a paragraph in your book. Whatever the case may be, highlight the victories when they come along, and don’t pay much attention to whatever mess-ups happened yesterday.

    11. You downplay your wins.

    When a win comes along, don’t downplay it or be too humble about it. Instead, make it a big deal. Celebrate each time you get closer to your goal with either a party or quality time doing what you love.

    12. You get discouraged by all the work you have to do for your goals.

    What happens when you focus on everything that’s in front of you is that you can lose sight of the big picture—what you’re actually doing this for and why you want to achieve it. By learning how to filter the big picture through your every day small goals, you’ll be able to keep your motivation for the long haul. Never let go of the big picture.

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    13. You waste your downtime.

    When I take a break, I usually fill my downtime with activities that further me toward my goals. For instance, I listen to podcasts about writing or entrepreneurship during my lunch times. This keeps my mind focused on the goal, and also utilizes my downtime with motivation to keep trying for my goals.

    Wondering what you can do during your downtime? Here’re 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time.

    14. You have no system of accountability.

    If you announce your goal publicly, or promise to offer something to people, those people suddenly depend on your accomplishment. They are suddenly concerned for your goals, and help make sure you achieve them. Don’t see this as a burden. Instead, use it to fuel your hard work. Have people depend on you and you’ll be motivated to not let them down.

    15. You fall victim to all your negative behaviors you’re trying to avoid with your goals.

    Instead of making a “to-do” list, make a list of all the behaviors, patterns, and thinking you need to avoid if you ever want to reach your goal. For instance, you might want to chart down, “avoid Netflix” or “don’t think negatively about my capability.” By doing this, you’ll have a visible reminder of all the behavior you need to avoid in order to accomplish your goals. But make sure you balance this list out with your goals listed as positive statements.

    How To Stop Failing Your Goal?

    If you want to stop failing your goal and finally reach it, don’t miss these actionable tips explained by Jade in this episode of The Lifehack Show:

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    Bottom Line

    Overcoming our mistakes is the first step to building healthy systems for our goals. If you find one of these cogs jamming the gears to your goal-setting system, I hope you follow these solutions to keep your system healthy and able to churn out more goals.

    Make this year where you finally achieve what you’ve only dreamed of.

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    Featured photo credit: NORTHFOLK via unsplash.com

    Reference

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