Building a personal action plan and tracking your progress helps to ensure you are fully committing yourself to your life goals. Reflecting on some key questions will give you a better understanding of how you can plan for, and be successful in achieving those goals.
In the previous article entitled “Setting Goals“, you had a chance to evaluate the amount of effort and impact that a goal may have on your life. You’ve also now chosen a few items that you would like to turn into goals and by when.
In this article, you’ll learn about some tools that can help you turn those goals into action. Setting goals can be easy but getting started may prove a bit more challenging.
Developing an “action plan” for yourself is one of the best ways to keep track of your progress in achieving your goals. It’s a way for you to visually plan for the goals, see where you are at and determine what’s to come. Before you develop an action plan it’s important, however, that you understand some of the finer details of each of your goals.
Using the same sheet of paper or software you used to write down your goals in the first two articles of this series, I want you to now break apart each of your goals into smaller bits. For each goal you have written down, try your best to answer the following questions:
- Will this goal cost money? If yes, how much?
- Will this goal require use of your time? If yes, how much and when?
- Will this goal require you to obtain additional schooling? If yes, what type?
- Will this goal require you to learn a new skill or multiple skills? If yes, what kind?
- Will this goal affect your relationships with family or friends? If yes, how so?
- Will this goal affect your career or schooling? If yes, how so?
- Will this goal affect your health? If yes, how so?
- Will this goal require a major change to your lifestyle? If yes, how so?
- Will this goal require support from friends, family or someone else (ex: a professional)? If yes, who and what type?
- Are there any other factors you can think of when it comes to planning for this goal?
For each of the answers you provided, let’s go into more detail:
- What is required when you are preparing for the goal?
- What is required when you are doing the goal?
- What is required after you have achieved the goal? (ex: how will you sustain it?)
- Will the effects of preparing for, doing, or achieving the goal be positive, negative or both?
Now that you have a sense of what’s required to plan, prepare for, do and follow up on each of your goals, you are now ready to build your action plan.
Evaluating Your Responses
I want you to go back to the ranks and timelines you set for each of your goals in the previous article entitled “Setting Goals“. Depending on your ideal timelines for each of your goals, you’ll now need to consider your answers to the 10 questions above. For example, if you want to take a trip to Italy next summer, hopefully by answering the questions above, you’ll have a sense of how much this trip would cost; how much time you would want to spend; whether you’ll need a babysitter or petsitter; whether you will need to ask for time off from work or how it may affect your schooling; what kinds of health precautions you may need to be aware of; and any other factors that may come into play when planning for the trip, taking the trip and then afterwards once you’ve returned home.
If you’re planning to go to Italy in a month, your timeline will need to be respectful of the answers to the questions above. Take a moment to review your goals again. Are they realistic? Hopefully by now you will be better able to answer this question. If they are unrealistic, what can you adjust to make them more realistic? For example, if you want to rebuild a classic car but you won’t be able to save enough money until next year, now’s the time to adjust your timeline so you can better set yourself up for success. The great thing about setting multiple goals, if you choose to, is the ability to see how many of them require your money, time, energy and efforts. If you have a lot of goals that require more money than you will earn in that timeframe, use the ranks you assigned to your goals to schedule them in when you know you will have the money. For this part, you may need to spend some time calculating a budget for where you want your money to go. I highly recommend a website called Mint.com to help you with this task. It’s great to help you set budgets and assign categories. If you have a financial goal in mind, this website can help you plan for that.
Building Your Action Plan
Once you have as much details worked out as possible for each of your goals, you can now develop your action plan. This is where time-management is key. If you feel that you have strong time-management skills, great, let’s put those skills to use. If you feel that you are weak in this area, this is an excellent way for you to build this skill.
There are so many different ways to manage your time that I would never be able to list them all here. I can, however, provide you with some ideas. These include such things as:
Using a printed or digital calendar can help you look ahead in the days, weeks and months and help you schedule when you want to be working on your goals. Calendars are also helpful to plan out your income and available time. I personally find that digital calendars, especially the native one on my iPhone, is very helpful to plan when I want to get things done. This syncs to all of my other devices which helps me to stay organized wherever I am. If you have a smartphone or tablet, check out some of the apps and tools that are already out there. You might just find one that works for you.
These are great to make your goals more visible. You can mount one in your home or office and use it to keep track of your progress. I’ve found these helpful when you are working on the before, during, and after phases of a goal and you can write out each of the steps you are working on. Then, you can use coloured dry-erase markers, chalk, magnets or pushpins to check items off as you go or make notes about them. Be sure you have your timelines listed on your board so you know whether you’ve met the task on the deadline you’ve set for yourself.
Task Management Software:
These are great online or downloadable tools that help you set goals using a task-list style of organization. There are many out there that are just a quick Google search away, but the one I’ve found most helpful is called Producteev. It’s a free online tool that allows you to type in a task, set a deadline and assign tags and categories. It’s great if you are working on multiple goals at a time, you can really see how these tasks intertwine. You can then cross off the tasks once they have been completed. Producteev also has an app that let’s you take your task list wherever you go.
Don’t underestimate the power of pen and paper! In this digital world it’s sometimes nice to have something physical to touch, write on, doodle or rip pages out of. I consider myself to be a bit of a ‘techie’ but I still find myself turning to my handy notebook on a daily basis for those items that I feel need more of a human touch. I find it especially helpful when exploring ideas. I’m able to freely draw tables, flowcharts, boxes, concepts and more.
While I’ve only listed a few items above, there are so many other ways to keep organized and you may already have a method that works for you. If so, great! Now think about all the new and different ways you can use it to help you with your goals.
Once you choose a tool that works for you, try it for a while and if you find it’s not meeting your needs try something else. Keep adjusting as you go until you are happy.
A good test is that if you’re easily able to keep track of your progress and timelines and are finding success in meeting the majority of those timelines, you’re doing well. Now take some time to choose a tool and try your hand at making your action plan. It’s OK if it’s not perfect (it shouldn’t be). This is your first draft and your plan will often change as your goals are refined. This allows you the flexibility to make changes as you need to. It’s the act of taking that first step that’s important!
Summary & Next Steps
So in summary, now that you have undertaken some personal reflection on what you are passionate about, had a chance to set some goals and timelines and found a way to stay organized by preparing your action plan, you are now ready to get started and take action on your goals!
In the next article, I will explain the importance of reflecting on your progress as you go along. This is especially helpful if you are coming up against challenges with meeting your goals.