A Great Strategy for Those Who Find It Hard to Get Started
Research consistently shows that a well-conceived plan can
improve your odds for achieving your goals. So why don't more
people do it in their personal lives? There are three common
We don't know what we don't know - our goals are too
We get caught up in the day-to-day details and don't invest
the reflective time to make a plan
Without support, we lack confidence in our aspirations
Planning and timelines are essential in the workplace. Whether
for students or adults, the question is "How can I improve
my efforts for my personal goals and aspirations - particularly
when they are education or career-related?" The answer
is: Backwards Planning, beginning with the end in mind.
1. Define Your Goal.
a. What do you want to accomplish?
b. Define your goal as specifically as possible. Ask yourself
why it is important and is it realistic.
2. Identify the steps and sequence needed to achieve your
a. Write out a random list of all the steps and resources
that you need to accomplish your goal.
b. Estimate the time and resources (money and people) you
need to complete each step on the list.
c. Group the random steps into clusters and sequence them.
You might find it fun to use self-stick notes on a tabletop
or wall for this activity, writing one step on each note.
Then you can easily move them into clusters. Finally, think
about creating a starting outline to begin the sequencing.
3. Create a deadline-driven timeline by committing
your plan to paper and calendar by assigning specific due
dates to each major goal and supporting steps. It is much
easier to create your calendar by working backwards - keeping
the end in mind.
a. Identify the date by which your goal should be completed.
b. Identify the last step you must do before the goal's
c. Identify the next to the last step; the third to the
last, and continue until you finish putting all the steps
in reverse order. You may need to move things around a bit
until you finalize the plan.
4. Seek support.
a. Get some feedback or input from someone to make sure
you aren't overlooking something critical.
b. Check to see if identified resources are available.
c. Backwards planning can give you confidence as you move
forward toward achieving your goal.
An Example of Backwards Planning for College-Bound Students
For high school students, the end is not what college to
attend - but identifying a career direction (or a few careers)
that align best with their unique abilities and interests.
Once the possible careers are identified, the students can
see which academic majors will prepare them best for those
paths. They can use these majors as important criteria for
evaluating potential college matches for themselves. With
this knowledge, they can also select courses at the high school
level that are in line with their career direction, such as
a computer drafting course for a future engineer or a child
development course for a future teacher. They can even gain
experience working a summer or part-time job related to their
future career field. Students who know their career direction
(or a few they are considering) make more informed decisions
while still in high school and can explore career interest
areas in a more focused way.
Backwards Planning for Adult Career Changers
For adults, this technique can help identify their job or
career goal and organize the necessary steps, working backward,
to accomplish it. For instance, before getting hired for the
desired position, they might have to, in reverse order, 7)
complete an internship, 6) take the required courses at a
university or community college, 5) get accepted into the
program, 4) apply to schools, 3) research schools that have
the academic program desired, 2) job shadow a few individuals
working in the desired job, and 1) conduct informational interviews
with people working in the desired job or career field.
Many individuals benefit from the guidance of a professional
career consultant to help put these kinds of plans together,
and their encouragement when obstacles are encountered along
In all cases, research shows that great career decisions
and solid plans come to fruition faster with the same first
step: a comprehensive career assessment that includes aptitudes
and interests, with career recommendations that are a best
© Copyright 2007, Career Vision. Article may be reprinted