Coming up with new dreams and passions can be fun, easy and inspiring – at least until you sit down and begin trying to sort out how to actually accomplish these wild goals. Suddenly, what seemed like such a clear and well-marked path takes on the aspect of an overgrown and thickly brambled wilderness of dangerous, unseen pitfalls and endlessly branching and unmarked trails. It's enough to make you want to crawl back into your boring old life and forget the whole thing ever happened. But let's try something a little different, first, and see if we can not tame that overgrown jungle.
One of the best and most thorough ways to figure out how to do something new is called back-planning, or top-down planning. You begin by listing your finished goal at the top of the page, then working your way backward through each logical step that must come before the one above it. This is the best way to find out early where the gaps are in your information. In order to be truly effective, the list needs to be consistently precise and highly detailed, rather than broken up into large, ambiguous steps, any of which may contain many smaller, unknown pitfalls for the unwary. Here are two examples, one bad and the other good, based on the goal of buying a house. Read them from the bottom up.
Goal: Buy house in suburbs
* Close on house (there may be many steps involved here)
* Get inspection (how do you go about setting that up?)
* Make choice (based on what?)
* View houses (are they prioritized, is there a list of qualities?)
* Research neighborhoods (based on what qualities, and in what manner?)
Goal: Buy house in suburbs
* Close on house
* Approve and make offer or disapprove and repeat with next house
* Review inspection and legal reports
* Hire real estate attorney to review property legal issues
* Get quotes on real estate attorney (see Charlie)
* Hire independent inspector
* Get quotes on inspections (see Bob and Jackie for referrals)
* Choose top 3 picks based on priorities list, Needs / Wants list, and price and rank them in order of preference
* Research recent appraisals, compare to prices
* View properties in person
* Give them priorities list and Wants / Needs list and set up appointments to view properties
* Contract real estate buyer's broker
* Ascertain loan approval for estimated purchase price brackets
* Research loan options / providers and chose best (ask Mary)
* Budget for down payment and fees
* Estimate down payment, inspection, legal, brokerage and closing fees
* Estimate property prices in chosen neighborhoods
* Research neighborhoods based on lists and pick favorites
* Create priorities list for structures and settings
* Create a Needs / Wants list for new home
As you can see, the second list is much more organized and detailed, and sets out the process in a specific, sensible order. Of course, if you already know what house you want to buy, or already have your favorite neighborhood picked out, you would eliminate those steps, just as you would have to change some steps and probably add quite a few more if you required the property for business purposes, etc. The trick is to make sure you anticipate every step and sub-step involved, and account for it, so that there will be a clear progression from start to finish.
One important feature of this planning method is that it assumes success from the get-go. Rather than standing at the starting line gazing out in stark terror over the vast and unfamiliar territory between you and your dream, back-planning makes success merely a final step in the process and focuses your attention on the nuts-and-bolts of getting there . Once it becomes obvious that your previously hazy and distant dream is clearly achievable through a series of defined and reasonable steps, items once thought out of reach suddenly fall within your grasp.
The observant reader will note one other notable difference between the two lists. The second list contains references to friends and acquaintances that might be able to help through their contacts, advice or services. Friends want to help friends, and having someone on your side who knows the terrain ahead can not only level the playing field where unhelpful (or even antagonistic) experts and complicated processes are involved, but realizing that you do not have to know or do everything yourself in order to make this adventure successful gives you a calming sense of having it all under control.