In Tunneling Your Way to Complex Problem Solving, the focus was to define an end goal and determine how to get there from “here,” your current state, by exploring possible options, fleshing out the details organically, then filtering out options that were not feasible. This method of problem solving and goal setting can be applied in the reverse direction as well.
For the sake of reference, I’m calling this approach “reverse tunneling,” and it builds on similar ideas as in the previous article, but also upon a goal setting process developed by Brian Azar, a personal and professional coach also known as the Sales Doctor.
Brian Azar’s Goal Setting Process
Brian Azar developed his goal setting technique over the years, using his early experience in social work, then as a personal/ professional coach mostly for salespeople, and also his recent work teaching kids tips on how to have an entrepreneurial mindset.
The basic process is that you define your goals and then step backwards to determine what “X” has to come before “Y”, then what “W” has to come before “X”, and so on until you come to present day.
His approach usually is applied to a five-year period, and the step-back period is one month. So you start with your goal for five years from now, then step backwards one month at a time, determining what needs to be done in the month previous to achieve the next month’s goal. Keep stepping back until you are in the “now.”
For example, if you want to build up, say, $50,000/year in sales in month 60 (five years from now), what do you have to do or achieve in month 59? What do you have to do or achieve in month 58 to get to month 59? Write down what you think you need to do or achieve in each month going backwards, but stay open to the possibility that there may be one or more alternatives to achieve the sub-goal in month X. Make sure you break monthly goals down into weekly and/or daily goals, as appropriate.
Brian Azar’s process can be applied to personal and professional goals. Many of his clients are salespeople, though his method can be adapted for many uses including typical entrepreneurial goals. In experimenting with his process, I realized that it could be adapted to the tunneling method of problem solving discussed previously.
In adapting the process into “reverse tunneling,” I’ve used a looser time frame. You should not skip the stepping backwards process, but you do not have to bind yourself to a month by month timeframe. You also can just set goals for one or two years from now. Many people get intimidated by having to produce five-year plans, even though that’s fairly standard advice for entrepreneurs starting a business. Still, there’s nothing wrong with easing into the process by setting goals for a shorter period.
So step backwards, to break your goal down into sub-goals. Decide later when certain sub-goals need to be achieved by. Make the process organic, leaving room for some changes in timeline. Determine bottleneck goals.
- Keep a short time span. Apply the reverse tunneling process to 1-2 years of goals first. After solidifying your action plan, you can think about longer-term goals.
- Step back at comfortable levels. You do not need to step backwards only one month at a time. If what you need for month X requires something to be achieved 3 months back, that’s okay. But steps of one month backwards tend to be less overwhelming.
- Apply a final timeline afterwards. This is less intimidating and helps you to gauge what’s realistic. A particular achievement might take more than a month.
The diagram above shows a loose action plan followed by the same plan with a timeline applied to it.
Benefits of the Reverse Tunneling Approach
The benefits of this approach is that you have a visual process for setting your goals, and a loose timeframe in which to achieve them. You can adjust your timeframe as necessary. This breaking down of goals is far less intimidating, and it’s easier to feel that your end result can actually be accomplished.
Because my life and work are so intertwined at the moment, I tend not to separate work and personal goals. Do whatever works for you. This method applies equally well to both personal or professional goals. My feeling, though, is if you’re going to plan, plan big. Just keep in mind that big plans can be and usually are overwhelming, which is why breaking your big goals down helps. You can have personal work goals or goals to be achieved with a business and or life partner. Just be clear, for your action plan, who is being included.
The image below is a bird’s eye view of my approximate plans professionally and personally. The timeline runs across most of the width of the image. The thin blue lines running down from the timeline attach to personal goals, many of which are in turn driven by professional goals.
Don’t be concerned with my actual goals (since you cannot really make them out in the images below). Just get an essence for the process and apply it to your goals to produce an action plan.
Here are some slightly larger views of pretty much the same example as above. The focus is on the professional goals. While I have goals for what I’d like to achieve in gross revenues per month for all my efforts, either on my own, with my fiancee and with other partners, I’ve also broken down daily achievements (first image) as well.
Here is the professional goals action plan fleshed out a little bit more, minus the daily breakdown.