Five Secrets to Focus on When Planning Your Next Goal

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You have an overwhelming, multiple step or complicated plan you want to execute. 

Something like...
- leaving your current job then getting the job of your dreams in another field
- moving across country and starting anew
- completing a graduate degree.

You want this. You want it to work. Your plan might have steps you have never done before. Other steps are scary and some are familiar. You know if you can pull it off it is going to be, "Oh, so good!"

I have Five Secrets for you to focus on when planning your next goal.


Planning your Next Goal Without the Five Secrets:

  • Determine your end goal and write it on a sticky-note along with the date, month and year or time of year (end of summer, beginning of winter however you do not want to be vague, the more specific the better), you will achieve your goal.
  • Put that sticky-note on the wall on the far right-hand side.
  • Then incrementally write the next to the last goal on another sticky-note. Include the date.
  • The rule is one goal/sticky-note. Then, you got it, write the third to the last goal on a sticky-note and include the date. 
  • Place the stickies horizontally in order as a timeline on the wall. 
  • The sticky-note at the far left is the most current goal you need to do to get yourself moving toward the last sticky-note goal on the right hand side of the wall.

You’re done!

You may have heard this goal planning method before.

This method is often called Backwards Planning. Many professionals use it.

As a teacher educator, I taught teachers how to use backwards planning to plan their lessons. A teacher starts with what he or she wants their students to learn by the end of the lesson, week, month or semester, then works backwards; determining and strategizing each step in the lessons until they reach their student’s starting knowledge on that topic. 

The students’ current knowledge is on the left hand sticky-note and the learning goal is on the right hand sticky-goal. With the various resources, labs, technologies and instructional strategies in between. Yes, the teachers used sticky-notes!

Backwards planning works with personal goals as well.

When my husband and I were planning to move from Saskatchewan to British Columbia we used this strategy.

We visited BC in December of 2012 and decided it was where we wanted to live.

We went back to Saskatchewan and created a sticky-note goal timeline - backwards.

Five Secrets that Made our Plan Successful! 

Secret #1: Write a meaningful goal and envision yourself doing each step along the way.

Our goal; it was January 2013 and we envisioned moving by May 2013. Using backwards planning we wrote the last goal first; “Unpack our belongings in Victoria BC, May 2013.” 

Meaningful actions serve as evidence that you are doing what is necessary to achieve your goal. 

I could see my husband and I unpacking our belongings in our new home in our new city and it felt GREAT!

It represented the completion of our goal. Notice I said, it felt great

One requirement for this secret is using your body as a signpost for each sticky-note. 

What do you feel as you envision the task on each sticky-note?

As I envisioned unpacking in the warmth of spring, I felt butterflies in my stomach (we are actually here), slight cold feet (where will we put this item?), a warm heart and taking a full breath (we did it AND this is the right place). 

On the last sticky-note we vertically placed other stickies noting related tasks that we imagined ourselves doing in the month of May 2013. They were, “Find a place to eat breakfast before movers arrive,”  “Pick up keys” “check that utilities are on - electricity, cable, gas” “become member of CAA” (Canadian Auto Association, we were driving across country). These were all things I envisioned as a real part of us moving in. 

What you envision yourself doing gives you information that allows you to make better decisions that move you toward your goal. 

Secret #2: Pick a date. 

Many people are afraid of this step – here’s how to do it. 

We chose May because we DID NOT want to spend another spring (or lack thereof) in Saskatchewan. The date was very meaningful – we felt it in our bones.

Setting a time frame is your gauge for each step. It didn’t make sense to start looking for a place to live a couple of weeks before our move. Looking for a place to live was a step we planned at the end of February.

Our time frame felt right and reasonable for us to complete.

Dating your sticky-notes adds structure to your plan – use dates! 

They will help you to solidify your steps toward your goal. 

Secret #3: With each remaining sticky-note ask, “What do I need to do at this point to get to the end goal?” 

The burning question for each sticky-note working backward is, “What do I need to do from this point to get me to the last sticky-note?”

With each backward sticky you are setting the stage for the completion of your goal.

One of our stickies was, “pick up the keys.” Practically speaking, we needed keys! Picking up the keys was one of the things we needed to accomplish before unpacking our belongings.

Still working backward, the month prior to our ultimate goal we wrote, “Say goodbye to friends.”  

It is important to think of the emotional tasks as well. A support system requires emotional as well as mental goals.

This is NOT about just checking things off a list; it is about creating a supportive system so you will be successful

Think of the people who have been there with you as you strive toward your goals. I bet the support was emotional as they listened openly and provided space for you to vent or just be. They may also have provided mental support as they challenged your thoughts or tested your theories.

When you backwards plan in this way you are building in both emotional and mental support for yourself. 

Continue envisioning and noting what the action feels like as you write each goal on a separate sticky-note.  

Secret #4: Small steps work! 

Big steps can get in the way of seeing how you will actually accomplish the task! 

Also, big steps can be scary. 

Notice we had steps like eating breakfast, picking up keys, checking each utility…small steps. 

Each step had meaning for us. We felt nervous, excited and satisfied. 

Work all the way from your end date to the present date - from the right hand side of the wall to the left hand side of the wall. Adding vertical notes as needed.

What if you know there is a step that needs a stickie but you are not sure of the specific step? Add a stickie in this spot with a “?” on it. 

This is a reminder that you need to do some research about this step and it holds the spot. 

You may want more stickies closest to the present date (left hand side) to get your momentum moving toward your final sticky-note. You may know exactly what you need to do as you get closer to your goal and have more notes on the right hand side. 

Secret #5: Leave your sticky timeline alone. 

I recommend not removing your stickies as you proceed along your plan. We removed our timeline as the movers were packing the truck.

I often looked back over the steps we had taken and marveled that we actually did step one, two, and three and was excited if not nervous about the upcoming steps. 

It was a reminder that we can achieve the things we set out to do and feel good about our accomplishments. 

After you complete a step on a sticky-note reward yourself. A stop by your favorite park, take a break, read, draw or nap. 

Sometimes we forget to celebrate the small successes. Looking at the accomplished stickies allow us time to reflect and reaffirm our goals. 

The frequency of the goals along your timeline may fluctuate. 

Backwards planning gives you a visual representation of the steps and you see the rhythm of your accomplishments. We often get discouraged when things are not moving as fast as we think they should. Looking at your goal timeline, you can see that you are on track or waiting for another event then you can move forward.

Why use stickies? You can move them around! You can rearrange them as new information enters the scenario.

Life happens! Something you had not thought of will impact your plan. 

That’s okay. You are smarter, have more information about yourself and your goal and you can re-work your plan.

Remember secret #3. Small steps

Sometimes our goals feel like we are climbing Mt. Everest. By using small steps you can make the climb.

The Benefits of backwards planning plus the Five Secrets:

1. Planning with the end goal in mind
2. Enhanced creative thinking during the process
3. Making a clear intent of your desires to the universe
4. Staying on track and having built in flexibility – because life happens!
5. Concrete feelings of accomplishment
6. Reflection and affirmation of your accomplishments
7. Possibly completing your goal sooner than you planned (we moved in March 2013 - that was a shocker and it was spring in Victoria!)
8. This is NOT a to-do list

Blessings and Happy Goal Planning! Backwards!