Podcast 079: Work backwards

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This is podcast 79 and it’s based on Simple Way #51 in my book, Work backwards. For the last several months I’ve been talking about other topics that aren’t in the book but today we’re back. Only one more to go after that! Then I need new material again. Don’t be shy, dear listeners, about suggesting subjects you’d like to hear about. You can post them on my Facebook page where you’ll find me as Clutter Coach. Or email me at Claire at cluttercoach.net.

Working backwards is a technique to use when you can’t seem to find a way into your project. It’s similar to the Time Travel concept I talked about in Podcast 64 back in July.

Are you stuck because you don’t know how to do something? You know what the desired end result is. You can imagine it and visualize it. But you can’t figure out how to get from here ….            to there.

Trying working backwards from the result you desire. You’ve achieved the result. It’s done and it worked out great. You’re finished. Let’s say your result is that you got your book published. For this technique you need a specific project. You need to be able to articulate it simply so it’s clear in your mind. And, of course, write it down because putting something into writing clarifies your thoughts about it.

Then start asking questions. What was the last thing you did before the book was in your hands (or on your website)? Probably, it was to give it one last proofreading. What did you do right before that? Let’s say it was sign off on the final cover art. And before that? You get the idea. Write out a backwards timeline and include each step.

You don’t need to get too detailed and add in all the rounds of proofreading. If you’re still scratching your head trying to figure out the steps, ask yourself what some other writer who’s not you would have done. That makes it less personal and more objective. It gives you some distance from the perhaps touchy subject.

It can defuse any emotional sabotaging your brain might be up to, reminding you that you still haven’t published that blasted book and who do you think you are, anyway? All that gremlin stuff. I talked about that a bit in podcast 71 about starting.

Better yet, draw it on a big piece of paper or whiteboard. On the right side, draw a circle and write the end result in it. Draw an arrow that points to the left side of the circle and then draw another circle that connects to the other end of it. That’s where the penultimate step goes. Keep drawing circles connected with arrows from right to left across the paper. Mix it up with colors and different shapes if that helps you stay on task.

Your imagination is powerful. Although you might have trouble seeing ahead into an unknown future, if you project yourself into the future, you can look back and see how you got there. As they say, hindsight is 20/20 vision. You know the whole story when you imagine the ending. Now you just have to get it out of your head and onto the paper.

Also remember that there may be many paths to get somewhere, but you only need one. Don’t let yourself get confused by multiple options. Perfectionists often fall into this trap. Too many good options to choose from.

Focus instead on getting to that final destination. Sometimes it makes sense to choose the simplest option because you have limited time to devote to the project. Other times, it makes sense to choose the fastest route to the end point because you have other places to go after that.

Many times, the way you get somewhere really doesn’t matter very much once you are there. Be wary of stopping to polish up all the little bits along your way when that time and effort will be wasted.

When you review your circle and arrow map from left to right, you can see what parts make sense and what might need revising. Again, you need to get it down on paper (or digitally) before you can start moving the parts around.

What can you do right now?

Draw that first circle with the end result in it. Then ask yourself, What was the very next to last thing you did before you arrived there?