When you're planning a project, the best place to begin is the beginning, right? If you're up against a deadline, you might actually want to reverse that. Start with the deadline and work your way backwards. Photo by Dan Foy.
As writer and psychology PhD student Welton Chang explains, "backwards planning" works by examining your deadline first. You know your due date, so you know how long you have to get a completed project. From there, you can work in backward steps. How much do you have to have done a day before the deadline? A week before? By examining these milestones in reverse, you can give yourself a clearer picture of how much you have to get done in a given time frame:
First, I use backwards planning to make sure I have enough time to accomplish what I need to accomplish. This is a technique I picked up in the Army. Start with the deadline and work incrementally from there, putting in reasonable time estimates for the critical things you need to get done as you move towards your goal. If you can't make the work fit within the deadline, then you know that the deadline isn't reasonable and that you have to adjust it. You do this before you have to push the deadline at the last minute.
The alternative, that all too many of us adhere to, is to begin with the first step and work on it as long as we feel is necessary, eating up time that is needed on future steps. The end result is that when you're running low on time, you have to rush all the final work, leading to a poorer result. Backwards planning allows you to structure your work at a pace that makes sense and gives you the freedom to do quality work.