Published March 6, 2019

Do you do things backwards? It might sound like a bad idea, but at least when it comes to planning, research shows that “thinking backwards” can be a key to success…

We have probably all learned that planning is key if we want to be successful at whatever we are doing. And when we think about planning for a project, most of us probably think chronologically: What is the first thing I have to do? What do I need to do after that? Etc, until we have hopefully reached our goal.

However, research is now showing that planning things this way might not be the best method. Instead, we ought to do the exact opposite, start by planning the end, i e your much coveted goal!

This ”backwards planning” or “reverse planning” has had quite a lot of attention in recent years. And it is exactly what it sounds like. You begin by formulating the goal you wish to reach and how great it would feel to achieve this. Then you work your way backwards: What is the last thing you need to do in order to reach this goal? Second but last thing? And the thing before that? And so on. You move from the future back to where you are today and plan all the steps you need to take to achieve your goal.

Does this sound odd? Several research projects in the US, Canada and China, presented for example in Association for Psychological Science, have compared backwards planning and traditional planning and they all reached the same results. Those who planned things backwards all showed better results than those who planned according to the traditional, chronological method.

Scientists have several explanations for the backwards planning being so effective:

• If you start by focusing on the goal, on what you want to accomplish, you become more motivated to devote time and effort to the work you need to put in anyway.

• If you visualise reaching the goal, and the advantages it will give you, your anticipation will increase and make you more goal-oriented.

• If you can already “see” yourself crossing the finishing line, having reached your goal, you will consider all efforts to get there worthwhile. Any obstacles and difficulties you are likely to stumble across on the way will feel less daunting.

• If, however, you use traditional planning, you will come across obstacles before you have even had a chance to focus on your goal and how fabulous it would be if you reached it. This will increase the risks that the obstacles feel insurmountable and that you give up.

It should perhaps be added that these results apply to more complex planning, where there are many levels and steps necessary to reach the goal. Also, the results only apply to individuals. The scientists emphasise not knowing how the backwards planning method would work in groups and teams.

But let us establish one thing. Whether you plan backwards or forwards, you will end up with a rather long to-do list. And this is perhaps where the main difference is to be found between the two methods: in your attitude when you look at your list.

Do you see mostly challenges or mostly possibilities?