I do not know when it started, but for as long as I can remember I have had an obsession for making to-do lists and once completed, checking off the tasks. While this might be an admirable quality in an entrepreneur, in an eight year old it was a slight neurosis. In fifth grade my mom had to ask my teacher to stop writing the week’s homework on the board after she found me on Monday at midnight, scrambling to get Friday’s homework completed before I had even learned the material.
I admit it – I’m addicted to the rush of crossing things off my list. Reaching set goals feels great because it boosts my self esteem and feelings of worth. But the comfort goes further than that. Creating a time-lined list for the things I have to get done is a Zen ritual that always leaves me feeling inspired and relieved of stress and anxiety.
Just recently I learned there is an actual concept behind my particular way of list making; it’s called Backwards Planning.
Here’s how it works: say for example that you have to lead a very important proposal meeting at 3pm and you need to finish some things first in order to be prepared. Rather than letting the clock rule your day, with each tick adding pressure and stress, you can take a few minutes to plan backwards.
- You need to give your presentation at 3pm
- You want to practice your pitch right before your presentation for at least 15 minutes, so you’ll need to be ready to start practicing at 2:45pm
- In order to be ready to go in the conference room by 2:45pm and still have a relaxed lunch hour you’ll have to be done with printing out the materials by 1:45
- Printing out all of the materials and binding them into packets could take up to thirty minutes
- Before you can print the materials, you’ll have to edit them which could take up to an hour
By defining everything you have to do and estimating how long each step should take, your list practically timelines itself.
- 3:00pm: Give the best proposal ever
- 2:45- 3:00pm: Practice pitch
- 1:45-2:45pm: Have lunch
- 1:15-1:45pm: Print and bind the packets
- 12:15-1:15pm: Edit materials
No matter what, you know your deadline is going to be met as long as you start by 12:15pm. Notice you overestimated some of your time frames by assuming that some things could take up to “x” long. This will grant you a grace window for any unexpected obstacles while increasing the chances of being finished before deadline (in my mind, this possibility is thrilling… Pathetic, I know.)
In addition to aiding you in accomplishing the tasks of your day, backwards planning can help you define the timelines of larger goals you have for your business. The end result sometimes seems far and out of reach so start there at your desired result and then work out the steps and time that will be required to take you to your starting point.
To be successful, backwards planning requires you to put into place the skills and materials needed while the desired finished product acts as your north star. It is important to accept your backwards plan as a living document that is flexible. This way you can revise your steps when necessary and easily compensate if you accidentally skip a beat.
In addition to soothing crazy-list ladies like me, backwards planning is there to help those who are not sure where to start. By switching up your perspective from the traditional start-finish approach you are detailing a path of success that you can then follow. Try backwards planning today to start making the impossible seem perfectly plausible.
How can you implement backwards planning into your entrepreneurial efforts?
Kelly Gregorio writes about relevant topics that affect small businesses while working at Merchant Resources International, a merchant cash advance provider for over 10,000 small businesses.
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