Plan Backward to Move Forward

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Do you think of your goals as something you HOPE to get done or something you PLAN to achieve?

How you manage your time can reflect your real view of your goals. When you just hope to get something done, you don’t really plan ahead. You approach your time as sort of an experiment. For example, if you hope to clean out your closet, you probably don’t schedule a block of time for that activity. You probably leave your free time open and adopt a wait-and-see attitude: “If I feel like cleaning my closet, then I will.”

The example above is NOT an if-then plan—not if you really want to get it done. An effective if-then plan for cleaning your closet would be, “If I feel like watching TV, I will first clean my closet for 15 minutes.” You can also replace “if” with “when” for even more powerful if-then plans. “When I’m finished with dinner, I will spend 30 minutes cleaning my closet.”

If-then plans are an effective form of micro-plans. Let’s talk a minute about macro-plans.

If you truly plan on achieving your goals, you will plan your time in a way that gives you forward momentum toward those goals. That’s where macro-planning comes in.

Think of your goal as a point on a map. To arrive at that goal, you have to map out a course by which you will navigate. Most people get that part when setting goals. You write down your goal, and you figure out the big steps to getting there.

Now what?

Let’s use the metaphor of taking a road trip and programming your destination into the GPS. While you’re driving, you notice that the GPS often recalculates your route based on traffic and other road conditions. The computer is always comparing where you are with where you want to be and looks for the best route to get you there.

That’s what we have to do with our goals. Once we set a goal and map out the steps to get there, we need a way to monitor our progress. Casually checking in on occasion isn’t enough. You need a system, a routine that gives you a structure for checking in and recalculating route accordingly.

The system that works for me and has helped many of my clients achieve their goals is to “plan backward-move forward.” In a nutshell, you map out a route to achieve your goal, set smaller monthly goals and even smaller weekly goals and plan your days based on your weekly goals.

1. Set monthly goals

You can sketch out several months in advance, but real monthly goal setting is done at the beginning of that month. That’s key here: Plan each month that month. That’s how you monitor your progress and recalculate your route as necessary. If you plan several months in advance, what happens if you don’t meet one month’s goals? What do you do the next month? Planning each month that month gives you the flexibility to take into account new circumstances and information. And it gives you the power to work from where you are. Let’s say you’re writing a book and plan to write six chapters in August when your regular workload is light and two chapters in September when your workload is expected to pick. What do you do if you don’t meet your August goal? If you stick to your original September goal, you’re now way behind where you wanted to be, even if you do meet your September goal. Or do you try to make up what you didn’t achieve in August while also sticking to your original September goal?

Again, it’s fine to pencil in long-term monthly goals, but you’ll want to use your internal goal positioning system to monitor where you are each month and set definitive monthly goals accordingly.

2. Set smaller weekly goals

Now that you have your monthly goals, you will set even smaller weekly goals. Again, do this each week. Do not plan your weekly goals in advance. If you want to pencil in some goals as an ideal, that’s fine. But do your real goal setting at the beginning of each week.

I use a rough approximation of Stephen Covey’s suggestion to plan your week around your roles. What I do instead is set my weekly goals around my different projects. For example, my projects may include coaching, Positivity Girl™, Parents Association, my home, my kids and my husband. My weekly goals may include updating my website, scheduling Parents Association speakers, organize the laundry room, take my son swimming, take my daughter school shopping and schedule a date night with my husband.

3. Schedule your week in advance

Now that you have your weekly goals, it’s time to schedule the tasks and activities that will enable you to achieve your goals. Physically write in your calendar all of those activities at the beginning of the week. Meetings and appointments with other people are easy to schedule. The trick is to schedule YOUR time to work on more nebulous activities.

Let’s go back to the closet example. Instead of saying, “If I feel like cleaning my closet, then I will,” pick a block of time and physically schedule it in your calendar. How about 30 minutes on Tuesday after work and two hours on Saturday morning? So put those in your calendar and create if-then plans: “If my calendar says to clean my closet, then I will.” Or set an alarm to remind you.

4. Plan each day that day

So you’ve got your calendar scheduled for the week. Why would you need to plan each day that day?

We all know how unexpected things crop up. We may get a call in the morning to move a meeting up. We may have to completely revise a proposal that afternoon. When a wrench is thrown into our plans, it usually foils some other pre-scheduled activity. If revising the proposal absolutely must be done Tuesday evening, of course you’re going to blow off cleaning your closet that night. So here’s why planning each day that day is so powerful. It gives you the flexibility to take the wrenches into account. If you have to finish the proposal Tuesday night, you can reschedule cleaning your closet. Find another open block in your calendar and schedule it right away.

When you plan each day, you are reminding yourself of your pre-scheduled plans, you are reinforcing your if-then plans and you are adjusting your plans based on where you are that day.

Spend some time setting a monthly goal. Then set a smaller weekly goal. Schedule your week accordingly. Then remember to plan each day that day.

I usually do my planning on the weekend. If the first of the month falls in the middle of the week, I make my general goals the weekend before then finalize my goals on the first of the month. I plan and schedule my week on Sunday. And I plan each day in the morning while having my coffee.
Like this?
Visit Kelly Eckert's website

About the Expert:
Kelly Eckert is a life/branding alchemist for spirit-led solopreneurs. She helps them release mental, emotional and spiritual blocks so they can expand their idea of what's possible, reach their highest potential and bring their deepest vision of the world to life without losing themselves or selling their souls. Kelly uses her own brand of biospiritual coaching to help her clients create awesomely authentic brands that get noticed.

© Copyright 2012, Kelly Eckert

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