How to Plan Using Backwards Goal Setting

May 3, 2010

In project management, we plan from the desired end state.  I have found this technique helpful when it comes to planning for the goals I’ve set for my life.  Project management provides processes and structure to achieve that end state.

For example, last year I set a goal to climb Mt. Rainer this year.  I read lots of books and created a plan. This plan included a training plan, gear purchase, picking a date for the climb and making travel arrangements.  At the end of every quarter I re-evaluate my progress towards. As with my Mt. Rainier goal, it has now become a Mt. St. Helens goal. Unplanned travel for work during January and February put me too far behind to climb Mt. Rainier by the end of summer.  I either had to move the date out and change the goal.  Climbing Mt. Rainier in October seemed too dangerous for a novice climber.  Mt. St. Helens in August was the wiser choice.

  1. Set Goal
  2. Deconstruct the goal – that is list everything that needs to be done in order to reach that goal. These becomes milestones or mini-goals that you can now start working towards
  3. Order those steps in sequence.  Some may be done in parallel.  In my example, it doesn’t matter when I buy my gear to climb Mt. St. Helens.
  4. Add dates to those steps
  5. Execute
  6. Celebrate at every milestone.  You are making progress.  Even if the goal needs to be adjusted, the feeling of accomplishment will be there.

4th quarter of every year, I begin setting goals for every area of my life.  After each area has at least one goal, I then complete the above exercise.  By year’s end I have plan for the following year.  By New Year’s Day I’m ready to begin execution.

How do you create a plan to achieve your goals?


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I'm Laurinda and I'm a Program Manager by day, Writer by night, Engineer by trade, Speaker sometimes & Christian always. I have a passion for leadership, wine, good friends & science fiction.

2 responses to How to Plan Using Backwards Goal Setting

  1. Thanks. I lve the way you explaned the backward approach.

    I fnd what works for me s a goal settng app called GoalsOnTrack and t has worked very well. It saves me a lot of tme n keepng track of my goals and most mportantly t helps me better organze my daly todos towards achevng my goals. You may want to check t out.

  2. I set larger goals for the year but then break them down nto smaller bte-szed goals. Ths way, when I accomplsh somethng, I feel confdent and thus I feel some momentum growng. So mportant!

    I used to follow my plan monthly. But I haven't for the last few months :-/ Gotta get back on t :-)