A very important planning tool

I was writing this post on the plane to London with my family. Several weeks of preparation for this long awaited trip reminded me of a very important principle and effective tool – backwards planning or backplanning.

It can be applied to any kind of planning, be it vacation, work project or any other activity in your life or at work. Small or big. Once mastered, it can become yet another powerful weapon in your arsenal for fighting stress and freeing up more time for other wonderful things.

I have found it very helpful over the years, as backplanning enables three good things to happen:

  1. to plan out all the necessary and important steps on the way to results
  2. to achieve desired results on time
  3. to avoid stress along the way

At the very beginning of the planning process, I am able to see the sequence of events and make sure that enough time is devoted to each step at the right time.

So, what is backplanning?

It is the process of planning backwards, i.e. starting from your end result (point B) and planning all necessary steps back to the point of beginning (point A)

Backplanning or Backwards Planning

For example, in my case, once dates for our trip were set for some point in the future, the next questions were asked:

  • What needs to be done before we arrive at the hotel?
  • What needs to be done before this step, i.e. once we land?
  • We keep working our way backwards, until we get to “today.”

This is similar to the principle Dr. Steven Covey calls “start with the end in mind”, i.e. before you start, know where you want to end up.

Think about the future results: what are the desired results, what do you want to see in the end of the activity, project, life?

Align your steps in light of this end result, and have a clear path toward the goal.

Still, although this principle seems to be commonly understood, only a few follow it. Every day in my work I experience the fact that many projects are not properly planned, leading to missed deadlines, poor quality results, and stress for everyone involved.

The five steps of backwards planning / backplanning:

  1. Formulate your outcome, your end result
  2. Make a detailed list of all the steps in the “project” with the time each step will require
  3. Don’t forget to discuss the outcome and the list of steps and times with all the parties involved
  4. Put the steps on a timeline and prioritize them (what goes when, what goes first, what must be done before other things can be done, what cannot be done until something else is done, etc.)
  5. Plan them into your calendar, assign responsibility, and execute

Review your status as often as needed, daily or weekly, depending on the length of your project!

Also plan in some extra time in case some of the steps take more time than expected.

Even though I applied this tool to our vacation, I did not devote enough time to the second step (making the detailed list of steps and times for each step). As a result, we had some stress the day before leaving for vacation, but if we had not done it at all, the vacation would have been a mess.

Try this principle for yourself and see how it positively affects your results and minimizes stress.

If you want to study this principle in more detail, it is known as the Critical Path Method of Planning. This method has used to plan all large projects in the western world for the past several decades. However, you don’t need to know everything about it to put it to use immediately – just understand the basic ideas, and start using them. You’ll be glad you did, and so will your boss, your co-workers, and your family!

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