How to Make an Effective Action Plan

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How to Make an Effective Action Plan

So, you’ve defined a goal you want to achieve. Now it’s time to write an action plan to help you accomplish it. Put your dream into reality by clearly defining the steps to make it happen!

What Is an Action Plan?

An action plan is your strategy to accomplish your goal. It delineates the process you will follow and the measurable milestones you expect to reach for personal growth. Your action plan is the coherent framework you will follow to realize your desired outcome.

Why You Need an Action Plan

An action plan provides a clear path for you to accomplish your goal. French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry purportedly said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” So, put your wishes and dreams into reality by crafting your plan to achieve them.

A goal without a plan is just a wish.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Writing an action plan brings clarity to your process. What will it take to fulfill your commitment? What steps are involved? What resources will you need? How long will you take to do it? Expose the holes in your plan and remove the murkiness of your goal by calculating what you will need to be, do, and have in order to make it so.

Having a plan helps you to maintain focus. You will know what you must do and when you are deviating from your chosen path. Having a definite plan helps you make better choices about how you use your time, money, relationships, and all of life.

Your action plan enables you to track measurable results and evaluate your advancement over time. Demonstrate to yourself and others how you are advancing toward your goal. Look back to see your progress and commit to following through on your commitment.

An action plan gives you hope that you can do what you have set out to do. Ambitious goals might appear to be daunting to begin and difficult to achieve. But even immense projects can be broken down into smaller and smaller tasks which can be done step by step.

How to Write an Action Plan

1. Establish Your Starting Point

First, describe your starting point so you can identify appropriate steps forward. Later you can also look back at where you started to see how far you have come. For example, record your starting weight, the number of hours you currently sleep per day, or your current monthly income.

While you will want to keep your action plan focused on the goal to be achieved, it can also be encouraging to see the progress that you have already made. Document your original condition so you can celebrate your successes along the way.

2. Identify Potential Action Steps

Brainstorm and write down all the potential steps you can think of that will take you from where you are to where you want to be. Depending on your goal, this could be a short list or a long list. Do not edit the list at this point—evaluating and prioritizing will come later.

Craft a plan that is just a little harder than you are comfortable with, but not so difficult that you feel overwhelmed.

Be specific and comprehensive about the steps you could take from where you are to where you want to be. You could also try starting with your goal and marking out the tasks backward from there to where you are now.

Consider these types of tasks:

  • What to start, what to stop
  • What to increase, what to decrease
  • What to learn, what to unlearn
  • What to get, what to get rid of
  • What to join, what to quit
  • Whom to involve, whom to separate from
  • What to schedule in, what to schedule out

Use strong verbs to describe concrete actions that you could do, like “run,” “save,” “read,” “avoid,” or “get.” Identify action steps that you have direct control over or at least can influence, emphasizing your personal responsibility to accomplish your goal. After all, you can only change yourself, not others.

Be realistic yet challenging. Push yourself. Craft a plan that is just a little harder than you are comfortable with, but not so difficult that you feel overwhelmed. Also, avoid pursuing multiple goals at the same time unless they are closely connected. Focus your available energy toward accomplishing this one task. You can then be in a position to take on your next goal.

3. Evaluate, Reduce, and Clarify Action Steps

Now look over your list of potential action steps. Just like your overall goal, each action step should be clear, compelling, consistent, and consequential.

Create specific tasks that require little motivation and decision-making in the moment. You will have already decided what you are going to do, so it will be simply a matter of doing it at the right time.

Create specific tasks that require little motivation and decision-making in the moment.

Break down a big, complex task into smaller manageable tasks. Consolidate duplicate tasks. Reduce your plan to the smallest number of actions required to succeed. What tasks could you eliminate while still attaining your goal?

Be sensible about what resources you might need to move forward. How will you get what you need? Even if you don’t have the resources, how can you still be resourceful? What can you do with what you have, at least to get started?

Remember to be flexible. Allow some wiggle room in your schedule to allow for interruptions, disappointments, and obstacles. Also, it helps to identify alternative tasks that you could use to augment your action plan or substitute if your present path is not working out.

4. Prioritize the Steps to Complete Your Plan

Rank your potential steps according to must have, nice to have, and not needed. Avoid being busy without having anything to show for it. What will each task actually achieve?

You can’t do everything at once, but you must do something.

Finally, identify the order to pursue the steps in your action plan. You might make the steps easy to start with. Recognize which steps depend upon other steps to be completed first. Identify what comes next.

You can’t do everything at once, but you must do something. What is the first thing you can do to move you forward?

Work backward from your goal to establish regular benchmarks along the way. What do you need to do each day or week to accomplish your goal?

If you are trying to develop a new habit, following a definite (albeit arbitrary) sequence can help ingrain the habit. Practice makes permanent, and as Zig Ziglar said, “Repetition is the mother of learning, the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment.”

Focus carefully to achieve the most results. Each success will build your confidence and encourage you to persevere in the next step.

Action Plan Example

Here is a sample action plan with the goal of reducing screen time on your phone. This plan follows the framework outlined above and can be adapted to whatever your particular goal may be.

Problem

I am spending too much time on my phone.

Goal

I will reduce the screen time on my phone to three hours per day so I can read more books and get eight hours of sleep every night.

Gather Data

First, track how I use my phone for one week using accountability software. Identify the apps that I use the most, the frequency I pick up my phone, and the total time I am on my phone.

Findings

I spent an average of six hours a day on my phone, with most of that time in the Instagram app during the day and Netflix in the evening. I also pick up my phone every 10 minutes to check notifications.

Possible Action Steps

  • Turn off all notifications except phone calls and text (SMS) messages from people in my contact list.
  • Use the Accountable2You app to continue to track my phone usage.
  • Share my device usage reports with my accountability partner and meet with her on Sunday afternoons to discuss.
  • Set an alarm for every 60 minutes to remind me to check for notifications, then put my phone away.
  • Set a time limit of 30 minutes per day on Instagram.
  • Remove the Instagram app from the phone.
  • Remove Netflix app from the phone.
  • Turn off autoplay on Netflix.
  • Log out of social media apps each time after I am done.
  • Remove games from the phone.
  • Set quiet hours or Downtime on the phone to block apps and turn off notifications.
  • Turn off colors on screen; use grayscale.
  • Put the phone in a desk drawer when I am at my desk.
  • Turn off the phone.
  • Do not bring the phone to meals.
  • Check work email only during work hours.
  • Do not bring the phone to the bedroom.
  • Configure screen time alerts.
  • Keep a book by my bed to read instead of using the phone.
  • Use a news aggregator to avoid surfing news sites.
  • Put my phone away when I am talking with someone face-to-face.
  • Do not show notifications on my lock screen.

Resolved Action Plan

One-Time Steps

  • Turn off all notifications except phone calls and text (SMS) messages from people in my contact list.
  • Turn off autoplay on Netflix.
  • Set a time limit of 30 minutes per day on Instagram.
  • Do not show notifications on my lock screen.
  • Set an alarm for every 60 minutes to remind me to check for notifications, then put my phone away.
  • Set quiet hours or Downtime on the phone to block apps and turn off notifications.
  • Configure screen time alerts.

Ongoing Steps

  • Use the Accountable2You app to continue to track my phone usage.
  • Share my device usage reports with my accountability partner and meet with her on Sunday afternoons to discuss.
  • Check work email only during work hours.
  • Put my phone away when I am talking with someone face-to-face.
  • Do not bring the phone to the bedroom.
  • Keep a book by my bed to read instead of using the phone.

Future Step

  • Reevaluate my plan after three weeks.

Conclusion: Put Your Plan into Action!

With all this planning and evaluating, the important thing is to start. Your action plan will never be perfect and you will likely modify it as you move forward, so don’t wait for it to be just right. Start with what you know and persevere through fear of the unknown. You don’t have to figure out everything in order to start. Commit to learning along the way, but get moving!


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