Backwards Planning Retooled for You! Get the Most Out of Your Limited Time

How often do you think “How am I ever going to accomplish this in time?” Yet you’ve always found a way to get it done in time (though after making it through some pretty late nights). But wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to feel like you were “just in time?”

That’s where I’ve found backwards planning to be so useful.

Many campaigns or projects make sure to start at the end when creating timelines, but I’ve noticed a lot less individuals using backwards timelines for getting their work done. Many organizers have their “to do” list, but often do not put as much thought into making a long-term timeline.

Though I’d realized how helpful backwards timelines were in making sure work got done ahead of schedule for the initiatives I was a part of, it took me much longer to see that I could really apply a backwards timeline to my own work.

Often campaigns create backwards timelines for benchmarks or milestones. We should do the same for our smaller tasks that lead us to those key deadlines. Organizers should make sure to use backwards plans in both their collaborative timelines and individual work plans.


Quick overview of backwards planning


Backwards planning ensures that you set attainable goals, actions, and time periods for accomplishing your aims and do not have a lot of work to do at the end of your project/campaign to catch up.

This way of planning also makes it easier to include time just in case unexpected difficulties or challenges come up.

This way of organizing turns planning away from starting at present realities and constrictions to starting at the outcomes you want to create. For example if you need to accomplish something by December 2013, start planning backwards from that date (e.g. in November I’ll finish X task, in October I’ll contact X person, etc.)

While a complete individual timeline would have a lot more steps on what/when to accomplish sub-tasks needed to fulfill the large tasks, this shows that if you start at the end it is much easier to “fill in the pieces.”

As I noted at  the beginning, backwards plans are most common with campaigns or larger projects; however, I think individuals could save a lot of valuable time by completing a backwards time and making sure work is more evenly spread out over a period of time.

For individuals, a backwards plan is especially useful if you have a lot of the following:

  • Involvement in many distinct projects (e.g. leadership development, working with the media, etc.)
  • Recurring work that you’ll always need to account for when scheduling
  • Highly time-sensitive work that needs to be accomplished at a certain time

Elements of a backwards plan


So now let’s look at some important elements to consider when writing your backwards plan for your campaign/project or your individual workplan.

1. Start at the end!

Makes sense right? Maybe even consider start with writing when you will debrief your work.

Since my work doesn’t have an end, I usually create my individual workplans in 3 month increments (e.g. Drew’s 2013 April – June workplan) and leave space at the end for future work I need to keep in mind (e.g. what I need to accomplish after June 2013).

2. Timeline out everything you need to accomplish

There is so much going on in our lives, for me it’s often easier to write some things down so I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything. If you’re creating a backwards timeline as part of a group, then its even more important to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Below are some elements to consider including in your timeline.

  • Key benchmarks, goals, objectives, and tasks
  • Coordination (e.g. roles, volunteer management, and collaboration)
  • Outreach (e.g. media outreach and advertising)
  • Logistics (e.g. reserving rooms, sending e-mails, and preparing materials)

3. Include specific dates and those responsible

If you include additional specifics in your plan, such as who will do which part of the plan, then you are well on your way to a successful result and not just a good plan.

For an individual workplan, you’ll probably just need the dates since you know who is responsible.


Making the mental shift backwards for your individual workplans


When I first started backwards planning for myself, I had no idea how challenging it would be to switch to a different way of thinking about planning. I still sometimes have to remind myself to make that mental shift to beginning at the end. Though with continual review and looking over past work, I remind myself how to walk the backwards path.

While a backwards timeline is not the most advanced of organizer tools, it is a method I’ve found that saves me time, keeps me on track, and shows me how much I’ve actually accomplished!

What other ideas do you have for completing a successful backwards plan? Leave a comment below!