Most people never achieve their goals.
According to research from the University of Scranton, 92 percent of New Year’s resolutions go unrealized.
This trend extends beyond our end-of-year aspirations. Often, when we’re eager to tackle an objective, we assume that diving in quickly is better than delaying action.
Despite the best of intentions, this lack of planning tends to limit our success.
The truth is, taking the time to create an action plan rarely hinders progress. Once you know how to plan effectively, devising and following a plan of action will improve your resolve and provide the momentum needed to see things through.
To help, this article outlines how to make a plan in five steps.
1. Define your goal in writing
Making an effective action plan starts with defining and documenting the end goal.
According to research from Dominican University, people who write their goals down accomplish significantly more than those who don’t.
Beyond increasing the odds of success, putting your goals in writing will also force you to consider the process required—not just the desired outcome.
This is especially helpful when trying to define goals that might be vague, lofty, or unformed.
As the first step in building an action plan, we recommend using the SMART goals framework:
To qualify, a SMART goal must be:
- Achievable (but ambitious)
- Relevant (and realistic)
- Time-bound (or timely)
Using this framework will enable you to remove ambiguity around a goal and craft an action plan that spells out exactly what you need to do.
2. Divide the goal into milestones
Big goals are often so intimidating that people quit before giving their best effort.
By focusing too much on the desired outcome, they wind up feeling stuck when it’s time to define how they plan to achieve it.
But breaking a goal into discrete milestones helps the goal-setter worry less about the finish line and instead, treat each mini-goal as a necessary step towards realizing their plan.
When you have a roadmap that details what needs to happen, you’re more likely to stay motivated and committed throughout the process.
3. Identify the resources needed
Any action plan that doesn’t account for resources is akin to a wishlist.
Whether you’re embarking on a solo project or working as a team, identifying the resources needed to successfully act on your plan will enable you to make informed decisions regarding its implementation.
Here are a few examples of resources you might identify in an action plan:
- People or knowledge resources: A marketing manager with the goal of driving more organic traffic will need people (namely, writers) to help execute the plan. An entrepreneur in need of a website will need someone (namely, a web designer) to set it up.
- Technology and software resources: A marketing manager with the goal of getting more leads might need a new tool to run display ads. An IT director who needs to install a new phone system will need to select a provider.
- Financial or time resources: You’ll probably invest both time and money into accomplishing your plan. Include estimates for both in your action plan even if your financial cost is minimal.
4. Prioritize and assign all related tasks
Different goals can benefit from different types of planning.
If you’re planning a new initiative, you might start by identifying where you are currently in relation to where you’d like to be.
If you’re solving an existing problem, you might use brainstorming to analyze the situation and explore potential solutions.
In either case, your action plan is more actionable when you prioritize each task.
If you’re flying solo, prioritization will rely solely on effort and impact. When working in a group, you’ll need to both prioritize and assign tasks to track progress and inject accountability.
5. Review, reflect, and refine as you go
Creating an action plan is important, but remaining agile is crucial to success in the long-term.
An effective action plan isn’t static—it’s dynamic and subject to evolve as your organization and circumstances inevitably change.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report, technological and societal change result in rapid transformations in the workplace. At some point, these transformations will undoubtedly impact even seemingly bulletproof plans.
The best way to ensure your plan of action is still sound is to regularly review the plan. An ongoing review enables you to not only track progress against each task or mini-goal, it also empowers you to make necessary changes to meet the growing needs of your team or organization.