How to Plan Using Backwards Goal Setting


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?

2 thoughts on “How to Plan Using Backwards Goal Setting”

  1. Thanks. I live the way you explained the backward approach.

    I find what works for me is a goal setting app called GoalsOnTrack and it has worked very well. It saves me a lot of time in keeping track of my goals and most importantly it helps me better organize my daily todos towards achieving my goals. You may want to check it out.

  2. I set larger goals for the year but then break them down into smaller bite-sized goals. This way, when I accomplish something, I feel confident and thus I feel some momentum growing. So important!

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

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