Back-Planning and Pre-Planning: Small Moves, Big Results

Think back to your childhood. Before going to bed, what did you do?  In getting up and getting ready for school, what did you do? What about preparing to eat? What about the chores you were given?

Maybe you didn’t like the rules that your parents laid down about school and nap-times, and clean-up and homework, and about eating your vegetable and picking up your toys when you were done playing. But all that training served a purpose: you were being taught to think ahead and prepare the things you need ahead of time.

You were shown a model of behavior to copy when you were young, so that when you grew older, you would know what to do and do it by yourself, on your own and of your own volition. Most importantly, you were shown that you can do things even if you don’t feel like doing them. This installed a sense of discipline, self-regulation, and self-care for you. And bringing that all together is the fact that all of it is meant to instill a sense of organization meant to help you throughout your life.

Why are you organized?
To get what you need when you need it– no scrabbling around, no going on an expedition to find it.
To move efficiently and effectively,  saving time, energy, and effort.
To have order in your life — and structure too.

When we talk about productivity, there are certain key areas which where we need to be clear about because of the challenges we face today:
External pressure – there’s time pressure, the pressure to be efficient and productive,the pressure to handle all the important things that come in.

Internal focus — This is what enables us to resist all the distractions, prioritize effectively, and recover from the interruptions. To be able to work until a thing is finished at the stage set for it, in the time blocked for it — to work with internal friction and unravel it.

Execution — to start on time, to work effectively and have that work result in a product or situation that is of acceptable quality and meets realistic expectations

Sustainability — to work in such a way so as to be able to produce quality results without over-exerting oneself continuously or beyond reasonable expectations.

We feel the negative effects of a pressured society in that we’re expected to product more and more work in a finite amount of time, and live our lives in the scraps of time we have left —and then there is never enough time.

This article focuses on one aspect, sustainability, and what can be done to help keep that and maintain that. If you work and live at an unsustainable pace, there are bound to be negative effects on you. This especially holds true  when you work for your self and  run your own business. Of course, productivity is an essential element to running a business well, but you also have to think about how the methods you employ to be  productive affects your personal well-being.

If you want to be productive you need to be specific.
To be productive where (referring to a specific area in your life.)
We all have various parts of our lives that are important to us, some more so that others, and we need to make sure that what we spend the bulk of our time and energy on will not be a time or energy  dead-end, but instead give back— otherwise, we’re just pouring ourselves out  without any true returns.

Where in your business can changes make the most positive impact? The answers to this question define the goal, now you have to work it in that the methods you employ to reach the goal won’t hamstring you on your way to it.

If everything is important, nothing comes first.
To be clear, this touches on the “What” – what are your filters for what is important? Are they up-to-date and aligned with your most important goals?

  • How will you know you’re being productive? Is it in the number of units produced, sold?
  • Is it taking concrete, closed loop steps towards making your business better?
  • In what sense or way can you nail down what “Better” means? Is it in percentage of sales increase? How would you know?

Having a baseline and established records are very helpful here. You can’t know what you don’t measure. When you’re  clear about the results you’re looking for, you make it easier to focus on that, and screen out anything else that doesn’t make the cut.

Be realistic.

  • How much time can you devote whole-heartedly to your pace of productivity? We all experience slow seasons,and frantic ones. The trick is to be able to weather both well.
  • How will you protect that time from being contaminated by other worries and concerns?  What  guideposts and goal posts do you have?
  • What practices do you have in place? Can they stand some updates?
  • What measures have you established to check your progress?


Have a sense of detachment about things that don’t matter to your mission.
Some activities, while comforting, are only comforting to the part of your brain habituated to you doing these activities. Watching TV, browsing Reddit or Facebook —  this isn’t forcing you to cut out all avenues of leisure or mental relief, but to help you think about the things you don’t think about — the activities which , while not actively harming you, are not helping you either.

If you don’t have that much time to do this — then you don’t have time to waste on things that take time but don’t contribute anything positive to your life. You may have to break down and rebuild the parts that aren’t working for you.  To build something you need to plan it out first. To build a sustainable workflow process, or business, you plan it out.  If you stuff full work in your workday, where is there room for you and the things that you work for?

Take care of yourself.
Spending time off ‘recovering’ from work only to do it again the next day is a very hard way to live. It’s a mechanistic  way of thinking to ignore patterns of stress or sickness and overlook the ways you may be hurting yourself. You can only rework or redesign the way you work form the inside out — there are enough stressors from the outside, but if you start on the inside and strengthen yourself with supportive habits and consistent outside action, you can exercise your sustainability into your life . Like strengthening a muscle, you grow stronger with each repetition you do. By resting and regularly checking in on how you’re doing, you gain more awareness as well. The more you do, the more you learn that you can do.

You don’t have to stay stuck working in a miserable, pressured way. You can find and make a less hurtful way to live and  to work.  We’ve all heard the phrase,”work smart, not hard.” In some cases, working hard is the only way you get through  some tasks. And working hard can  be the way to fix an issue — but then that level of work can’t be done for long, or else the worker breaks down. Working smart asks you to  develop other ways to make the job easier for you.

When we talk about ‘being  more productive’, what is rolled in with the whole image is getting a better return on the time, labor, attention, and energy you put into any job. Throwing things all-in doesn’t equal miraculous returns — blind effort don’t do anything except waste resources.

Productivity isn’t only about what you get done. It’s how efficient you are completing those tasks.

You have to have a plan.
To be productive, you have to have a good plan: One that has a clear assessment and lay-out of the goals, the standards, the time-line, the people involved, the material and the resources to be used in getting to those goals. A good plan is part of the preparation that is necessary and essential to success, which in this case, means getting good results.

Breaking things down, a good plan:

  • Works from the end and break down into logical steps backward.
    Over arching big projects can be broken down into phases, linked by progressive milestones and assessments.
  • Requires discipline -being disciplined means you follow the plans and have alternatives when the situation is impacted by surprise events.
  • Means identifying and getting all the resources and materials organized and in place before they’re needed.

Planning means looking ahead and  anticipating possible log-jams, most possible breakdown points, and issues of concern so that you can devise fixes and alternatives to handle problems when they come.

Backwards planning runs counter to how people think in time linearly, and the very nature of doing it backwards forces us to think more carefully, instead of assume things will naturally fall in place ‘ when the time comes.’ Back-planning makes clear what order you need to go through things to be able to have enugh time to finish what you need to finish.

Start with the deadline, and work backward in  reasonable increments of time to do the important things you need to do. If the work can’t fit in this succession, then you see that the deadline isn’t reasonable, and you can make the adjustment then and there, instead of finding out at the last minute and having to push back the deadline, or work, actually miss it in real-life.

Small things you can do are simple things kids learn in school. You plan. you carry it out, and you review the process and results. Start small, start simple.  Lay out the things you need the night before. Make sure your desk is clean at the start and end of every workday. This way you save your mental bandwidth for things more important than worrying about what to wear, what to bring, or what unfinished task has been left hanging the day before. This helps ease up on your cognitive load, and makes things easier for you to do.

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