How Backwards Planning Helps Me Put My Best Foot Forward

backwards spinning wheel

Backwards planning.

Backwards planning  might seem like a paradox to you, but it’s a guaranteed way to keep you oiled, lubed, and able to keep moving forward. If you think you spend a lot of time spinning your wheels, then these tips are for you.

While on the outside I appear organized, I still meet more in-the-nick-of-time deadlines than I’d like. I clean off my desk and come across forgotten (important) papers. I’ve missed other deadlines because I failed to check a calendar or send myself a reminder. (Having a cell phone where I can remind myself has been an added bonus for me, for sure).

While some folks think I’m organized and others know I’m not that organized, I keep plugging away at the things that tend to get in my way.  It’s more fun to be able to enjoy an event when you’re not worn out trying to make the deadline. I’ve learned that the hard way. Some of you probably have, too.

backwards planning

How it helps

One thing that has helped me is backwards planning. I did several posts that included backwards planning earlier. If you’d like to read the one about Sunday being a day of rest and not a day you detest, you can click here.  If you’d like to read the one about Kitchen Hacks, click here.

It’s simple, really. If you do it, that is!

It helps to make a list of what needs to happen. A mental list is better than no list at all.

backwards planning

My kids think I’m weird, but I do like to make it fun.  Sometimes, when I’m trying hard to find a way to remember important info, I think “Alphabet”.

How backwards planning works

I do this when I need to run into the grocery to pick up a few items, items that anybody should be able to remember. I think alphabet letters. Sometimes I make it spell a word like this: jebms. Sometimes I do it alphabetically, like this: bejms. They both spell butter, eggs, jello, mayonnaise, and sugar.

This week my letters are WMBVLPS.  We’re travelling to spend some time with several other couples, and one of my assignments is to bring waffles for a brunch at the condo.  I need to pack things when my mind is clear rather  than throwing items in at the last minute.

The other day while I was on the phone, I got my WMBVL (I pronounce it “wumbvil” because it’s more fun that way) and put it all into a tote. The caller didn’t know what I was doing, and the tote got filled during our conversation. There’s a note inside the tote telling me what perishables to add.

You want to know what’s in the tote? Waffle iron, (Waffle) Mix,  Baking Powder, Vegetable Oil and Lemon Juice. On the list in the same tote is this note:  butter, milk, eggs, and syrup. (My hubby makes some mean waffles.)

backwards planning

I can’t add those items until the last minute, but I won’t be trying to remember what else to bring.  I have a few other things I’m bringing for the brunch that morning: bacon, fruit, eggs and juice. They are also on a list.  There’s an empty cooler sitting in the same room, ready for the other items.  Today is Wednesday, and we’re leaving Sunday.

Thinking ahead by backwards planning

Since I’ll be out of town Friday evening and Saturday, I won’t need to think about that stuff when I get back. I’ll be unpacking clothes and repacking, so why would I want to try to remember the food I’m to bring?  It’s ready now. Shazaam!

I also have a list of groceries I’m picking up Friday (before I leave town).  If I wait until Saturday, you can be sure I won’t have what I need or I’ll run out of time. That’s backwards planning. I think to myself: end of the week – what can I do now to make it better then?

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t spend time wringing my hands worrying about Saturday when I have Wednesday things that must be done now. But when there’s time, I get things together. Come Saturday night, I’ll be glad I did.

backwards planning

For regular schedules, these maneuvers are what I use to help me:


Look at your week and plan backwards. Yes, I know that today is important because it’s now. But you’ll be amazed at how doing one thing now for an event on Sunday will make your end of the week so much nicer.  Anything that can be done ahead for any day of the week should be done today (or tomorrow).  My mother used to tell us, “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”


Everything that goes out the door in the morning should be packed, filled, loaded and ready to ride.

When the kids go to bed at night, their backpacks and jackets should be parked and ready to roll.

We had a rule at our house: mom doesn’t help you do or find homework in the morning.  You want help?  Ask for it the night before.  [Of course there were exceptions – that’s called grace.]

Your child has to return a library book? Find it the night before.

No matter what goes with you when you leave in the morning, it can be prepared the night before.  Whether it’s your briefcase, diaper bag, lunch box, a grocery list, or a bag to drop off at Goodwill, it can be ready the night before.

Sure, you can add to your grocery list the next day if you have time and think of extra things, but planning ahead gives a better guarantee that you won’t be missing items when you’re shopping.

The same policy goes with clothing for you or your kids.  The rule at our house was that our kids could pick out their clothes the night before. If they failed to do that, mom got to choose.

Make that decision the night before for yourself as well.  It’s okay to change your mind in the morning if you have time.  But  in case you’re short on time, that decision will have been made for you.


Look ahead at what needs to happen by a certain date.  Do what you can do today.

Make a list (mental, on your phone, on paper) of the things you can’t complete today.

Whether you’re planning for guests, choosing a topic for a term paper, or filling out a resume for a job interview, plan backwards and start today by doing what can be done ahead of time.

You have a wedding to attend on Saturday?  Don’t wait until Friday night to make sure the clothes your kids are wearing are clean.  Get them ready Monday – or Tuesday.  Don’t wait until Friday.

Remember what my mama said?  “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”


I have to consider not only how long it will take me to drive to my appointment, but also how long it takes me to get us from the house to the vehicle, buckle the kids into car seats, and defrost the windshield.

I have to add to that total time how long it will take me to park my vehicle, get everyone unbuckled, and get inside wherever I am going. By planning backwards, I give myself enough time for getting to an appointment on schedule.

My husband always says, “If you’re not ten minutes early, you’re late.”

Sorry to say, I’m still working on being ten minutes early so I’m never late.

If it takes you ten minutes to get to your job, you’ll be late if you leave ten minutes before time to clock in. You’re not giving yourself any time to get buckled, wait longer at a stop light, or walk inside the building once you arrive. When you’re prepared, packed, and buckled, you can cruise along without a care.

backwards planning

Little by little, I’ve been chipping away at being more organized so I can get more done in less time.

I have come to appreciate the fact that a little extra work early paves the way for a smooth, stress-free ride later.

PINTEREST backwards planningThis post was first published six years ago. I still use this method to help me stay organized. Let me know what you do that helps you stay organized!

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  1. I enjoyed this post!! Planning ahead also has saved me last minutes frustrations. And I find that under frustrating moments –someone gets blamed; and us moms tend to blame ourselves, which adds to the difficult tardy feelings. And it helps children to stay more calm and happy, — if mama is feeling calm inside too!!
    One thing I did was –if we a trip was coming up within a week, I would pull the clothing for the family out of their closets and hang it in another closet so it would stay clean ready to be packed up for the trip!

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