What is "reverse-engineering" and how can it help me?

What is "reverse-engineering" and how can it help me?
People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going.
— Earl Nightingale

If you know anything about me, you know that vision is a massive part of who I am and how I operate my life on a daily, weekly, monthly and even yearly basis. I place a massive importance on self-awareness and end-goal strategy, and I spend a lot of my time doing the things that will connect those two. Maybe it sounds millennial of me, but I don't believe it's a far cry to want to choose a career path that includes fulfilling, meaningful work AND consistent, predictable income for my family.

Lately, I've been having trouble seeing this path. I know the basic pieces, but they've been like an un-sewn patchwork across my brain for the last few months. I blame part of it on the cold weather, another part on the transition in to marriage, and the last part on me not spending enough time critically thinking about how I could gather a clear path for connecting my personal self to what I want to see my life become when I am older. 

A few days ago, I sat down with my white board and went through an exercise that I knew would help figure this exact thing out, and today, I'm going to share that exercise with you. It's helped me out massively in the past, and this week, it gave me more clarity than any other goal or vision exercise I've done in the last 6 months.

It's called "reverse-engineering," and it's the process of working backwards from your goals and figuring out the steps you need to take in order to achieve those goals. By doing this, you set up verifiable metrics to track your relative success on the journey to those goals - things that you can achieve realistically that will help you move your life closer to the path you want to be on. This works for large goals, smalls goals, projects, really anything - and after the success of it this week for myself, I'm excited to apply to other areas of my life on a smaller, more local scale moving forward. 

The reverse-engineering I did for my life a few days ago:


Step 1. Begin with the end in mind

I learned the skill of reverse-engineering mostly from Stephen Covey's book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In the book, he talks about "beginning with the end in mind."

At the top of the white board, you can see that I wrote my ultimate goal - one that isn't even related to my business or career directly. It says "be a good steward of my life for Jesus." Some of you already know that I am a christian, so it shouldn't come as a surprise to you. I want my life to be lived as an example of the love and integrity Jesus had, through my own life and circumstances. My ultimate goal is to do that well. Below that, everything else falls in to place. 

The best thing you can do when reverse-engineering is to begin with the end in mind - basically, begin with your ultimate goal for the specific thing you're reverse-engineering. In this case, it was my life - but for other goals, it could be the piece of art you want to create or the business you want to run or the project you want to see finished. The possibilities are endless in this way. 

2. List large life-goals practically

From the top, the end, I started to breakdown the bigger goals that I want to make happen in my life. One of my dreams is to run a NPO that helps bring joy to people through photography and creativity. This goal is placed directly below my top goal, and directly relates to to my top goal. it also uses my specific skill set and gifts, sharing them with the world - and because it lines up with who I am and what I do, it's a sure-fire way to know that I can and will achieve it. 

Below that goal, I thought about what I would do as an artist if there were no limits and I could just focus on art... and what I would do would be create socially impactful art projects that help people around the world. See how this ties back in to the goal above? And the one above that, the "end" goal? 

In order to have the time and resources to do that, I want to make sure that I have time for my friends, family, and travel with both. That was the next goal I listed. 

But how do I achieve that? How do I free up enough time and resources in order to spend that time with family and friends while still making income? That's where my business comes in - and it's a business I own, but not one that I work in myself for the rest of time. In my eyes, I see businesses as a way to free up your time, not as a way to be stuck to an office you bought in a building. My teams are reserved for the art I want to create in the future - so what am I doing? With talleymedia.com, I'm creating a system where I can still use my gifts and skill set, but I don't have to actually work in the business myself after it's up and running. 

3. End with the beginning in mind

This is where the practicality of reverse-engineering comes in to play. Once I've identified my top goals, how to achieve them, and steps I plan to take in order to get there, I can begin to break down the things I can do on a local, right-now level. For me, these things right now are the things that I use to build up to the business I'm creating, but they could work for any goal you want to achieve right now. 

Since my goals on a local, right-now level is to free up my time to focus on bigger projects while still making income, I'm putting my energy in to developing my business and getting it off the ground. I start with bringing in consistent jobs, which comes from a good site with good services, and a good team, which comes from finding the right customer, which comes from talking to them the right way and giving them exactly what they need. 

This step looks different for everyone, but for me, I know the next best-step I can take is to continue polishing my website, and once ready, start driving traffic to it to bring new customers in to the system. Once I have enough consistency in jobs and free-time, I am able to move forward with my other goals.

4. Don't forget the end

While this is a very practical way to breakdown my life goals, it doesn't work for everyone and it's also not the right path for everyone. I think, if anything, those of us who have strong goals but trouble connecting the dots should go through this exercise. It has helped me immensely, and although it may be difficult to remember that the grunt work is being done so that I can enjoy the cloud-work, I know that if I stick to this path I will achieve my goals. 

Can it shift and change along the way? Heck yeah. 

Can I completely throw it out the window if I want? Yeah, sure. 

Do I have to wait to do the other things before I do the big goal things? No, and that misses the point. The purpose of reverse-engineering is that you can make a path that will help you track the success of the goals your setting - to give you anchor points, rest stops, and sign posts leading toward your ultimate goals... but that doesn't mean I'm not going to achieve my end-goal if I don't achieve the other goals. 

It's just a way of keeping myself on track. Us creatives always seem to work best in structure, and this is the structure I'm giving myself.

I hope you enjoyed this exercise - let me know how it goes for you. For further reading, check out Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He breaks it down in detail and it's worth the long(er) read. 

- David


The 7 Habits: http://amzn.to/2kcxJ97
Stock images from Unsplash.com

I'm on a mission to show that the light will always pierce through the darkness.