A Really Simple Way to Achieve More Goals

If You Are Working On A Challenging Goal, Plan Backwards

As a study skills tutor, I often work with high school and college students to prepare for exams, write a lengthy paper, or plan how a project will be completed. I notice that many struggling students simply jump into their work haphazardly and get started without much of a plan. Although getting started is an important step, as Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.”

Successful students know that planning is essential to the pursuit of goals and, as a result, they break the task into manageable steps and plan out when to complete each step. Although this approach is more organized than the haphazard approach, it is not the most effective because:

  • Often the plan is not clear enough and they become confused about how to proceed.
  • They get bogged down by the details and lose sight of the big picture
  • Towards the middle of the project, motivation wanes and they give up.

So, you may wonder, what is the best way to make a plan when faced with a challenging goal or project? According to recent research, it is reverse planning or working backwards. Backward planning not only leads to greater motivation in the planner, it also leads to better performance, and a more positive outcome. It turns out that goal-attainment is affected not just by having a plan, but by how the plan is constructed.

Starting at the end tends to help the planner think of potential problems from the perspective of finishing the project.

What is Reverse Planning?

Reverse planning, as the name suggests, works backwards starting with the exam or due date. The first task to think about would be the last task before the end date. Then, to plan, you would work in reverse, breaking the material into chunks.

What are the Benefits of Reverse Planning?

Working backwards has several benefits. First, it reduces the perception of time pressure because you are starting at the achievement of the goal. This causes you to envision the successful completion of the goal. Starting at the end tends to help the planner think of potential problems from the perspective of finishing the project. Finally, having the end in mind helps to boost motivation when drive lags, as it tends to do, towards the middle of goal-pursuit.

How Do I Make a Backwards Plan?

Try these steps to get started with a reverse plan:

  • Identify your goal and deadline.
  • Start from the end or goal and work backwards. Think about what is the last task that needs to be completed, next to last, third to last, and work that way until you get to the first task.
  • Give each step a due date.
  • Move things around (reorder the steps and due dates) until the plan makes sense.
  • Once you have it planned out, make sure to write down the whole plan and post it where it will be visible to you every day.

-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.
Owner | Parrish Learning Zone, LLC


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