We live our lives one day at a time. Things happen taking us one way or another. Without much thought. Days, weeks, and months go by quickly. Where did the time go?
Popular imagery and story lines tell us that we have to be moving forward. Constantly in motion. Change is occurring around us. We must adapt and evolve. Building families, careers, organizations, networks and friends. Fear of losing out drives us forward. Buying more things, larger things, or fancier things.
So what seems odd is to write a blog that has a title of “Working Backwards”. The phrase seems foreign to us because we never hear anyone talk about the storyline of their lives with the descriptive words of working backwards. Never are we asked directly to develop any skill in working backwards.
Yet working backwards can be a powerful process for us to use regularly. When raising a child first think about what type of adult you want them to be. Responsible, hard working and skilled? Or selfish, easily distracted, & not accountable? Or do we simply raise our children without much thought about their future? Because, in part, we are so focused on getting through our day.
The shortest path to accomplishing anything is to first decide what success will look like when you are done. Then work backwards to see what you need to do to get there. More importantly, even if all the steps don’t go as planned, you have a way to objectively look at your results to see what was missing. For we are always heroes of our own stories. Never totally self aware of our own weaknesses and biases that may have led to less than effective outcomes.
A difficult question to answer is when someone asks ” How did I do?”. Before offering your opinion first ask what were you trying to do or accomplish? Making it much easier than to see how close or far someone is to their goal. This is also a solid way to separate busyness or activity from results when this question is first asked.
People often share their frustration with having too many choices. Understandably so. It can be hard to decide what ice cream you want when there are so many flavors. But if you think about it, knowing up front what type of flavors would be most satisfying to you, makes the initial frustration dissipate because you have a better idea of what you want. Confirming your choice as the best way to get there. The same can work with house hunting or remodelling. Designers often use mood boards showing pictures of end results that describe the feeling or aesthetic they want to achieve in the end.
It becomes much easier to judge a person’s performance when we help others work backwards by describing what success might look like after their efforts are tallied. Again, infusing objectivity into a discussion that can be given or received with too much emotion. In the workplace, using the objective – key results framework (OKRs) is another example of working backwards to achieve better results.
Working backwards isn’t so strange after all. There are many examples where it is used and where it can be helpful. Where we need more focus in using this tool is where to we want our own lives to be 1 – 3 or 5 years from now and then work backwards to figure out how to get there. Making the steps in between more effective given the amount of effort necessary to complete them.