How to Create an Action Plan For Your Goals | Reset Your Life #4
Over the last three weeks, I’ve showed you all how to take a vague idea and turn it into a clear, specific goal through some self-reflection exercises and learning how other people have successfully completed similar goals. This week is all about taking the building blocks of goals and showing you guys how create an action plan!
A lot of people like to rush directly into thinking about what steps they need to take to accomplish a goal, because it’s easier to feel like we’re putting pen to paper and actually accomplishing something. However, I think there’s value in taking a step back to really understand ourselves and our actions, which will help you create an action plan for your goal.
If you’ve followed along so far with the worksheets from the previous steps, you’ll already know what some of your biggest weaknesses are. You’re also in good shape to start thinking about how you can apply the steps you identified from other people in last week’s exercise.
Creating an action plan to build a new habit or complete a goal can - and should be - individualized.
However, you’re also not reinventing the wheel. Save yourself the stress of being too overwhelmed, especially if you have no idea where to begin, and find how other people have accomplished similar things.
For some additional guidance, swing over to my new resource tab to download a two-page walkthrough on how to find success stories related to your goal.
WHY HAVING A SPECIFIC GOAL IS IMPORTANT
I know it seems like I bring this up every week (it’s because I have), but it’s important to always refer back to your original goal as your guiding star. Your goal, if it’s specific and detailed enough, should work for you when creating an action plan, not against you.
As I’m talking through these steps, if you find yourself saying, “Kayla, I have no idea how my goal fits into this process,” I encourage you to make sure your goal is really specific.
“I want to read more” isn’t a goal, it’s a wish.
Unless it’s specific - I want to read one book each month - you have no way to hold yourself accountable, and attempting to create an action plan is just going to leave you feeling frustrated.
If you’re still confused on the difference, make sure to catch up on the first step, where I walk through how to identify your goals in more detail.
After you’re confident that your goal is specific, start by working backwards through the problem or end goal to find the solution and develop a set of individualized benchmarks.
For example, one of my goals is to pay off all $52,000 of my student loan debt over the next two years. This meets three steps of the S.M.A.R.T criteria that I talked about in step one a few weeks ago.
Paying off my student debt in two years is both specific, measurable (a certain amount of money in a specific window of time) and has some type of relevancy for me. I want to travel more, but also recognize that living in debt while seeing the world isn’t the most responsible thing.
But how am I going to accomplish this?
First, I start by looking at how much I’ll need to contribute to my loans over the next twenty-four months ($2,100/month), and then I review my current expenses to see if this goal is still possible or realistic.
It’s okay if at this point you see that it isn’t realistic. Starting a goal with a rough estimate, especially if it involves your finances or something else that’s easily quantifiable, gives you a good starting point to adjust.
In my case, when I saw how much it would actually take to pay off that much in such a short amount of time, I ended up scaling up to two and a half years ($1,700/month) so that my monthly payments ended up making more sense for my personal needs and expenses.
Starting backwards allows you to address some of these problems at the beginning, and helps you focus on how you’re going to complete your goal, which will help you create an action plan.
However, let’s say your goal isn’t something that you can start working from by doing some basic math.
Some goals, like wanting to get promoted in time for your next annual review, can be a bit more trickier. These goals may involve other people, a major lifestyle change that has multiple goals and deadlines (like wanting to move out of the country), or other factors that don’t fit in nicely into a calculator.
If your goal fits into this category, this is why researching how others have done similar things is such a valuable tool.
Obviously you don’t go from barely working out to running a 5K or half-marathon in a day.
How did people who successfully finished something start their original goal?
In the case of running, there are apps and online communities that offer tips on how to get started.
This doesn’t mean that everything you read online will offer the best advice, but use your best judgement. If someone is telling you that you don’t need a visa to live in the European Union, check your gut. As a U.S. citizen, you actually don’t need one if you’re in the Schengen zone for 90 days or less, but go a day over, and you could face some challenges.
With something that’s a bit more bureaucratic or influence-based, like a corporate promotion, get a read from others at your company. Sure, your employee handbook may say you need to do certain things to get promoted, but do the actions of those around you support that?
Is getting a promotion in your field, at your position, realistic within the time frame you initially gave yourself? Are you willing to do things, like social climb, in order to get? What are the associated responsibilities?
Something as specific as this may require you get to know more people at your office, or talk to different experts, either online or through a quick coffee chat. Having these types of conversations will help you understand and get better guidance on what you need to do in order to complete a goal.
CREATING BENCHMARKS & MINI-GOALS
As you start working backwards, you can then create benchmarks, or ways to help keep you accountable. This will help you build a rock-solid action plan.
Going back to my student debt example, after I figured out how much I needed to pay each month to meet my goal in a more reasonable time frame, I then needed to figure out how I would get to that number every month.
I could make the extra money by working a second job, while not having a social life or time for this blog, or I could move from New York to live with my parents.
When I realized that my long-term happiness and priorities were worth more than my short-term goals or wants, this decision was pretty easy. I’ll be able to save over $30,000 just by cutting my rent for two years.
As a benchmark, each month I’ll check in with myself to review my progress, see if there are any adjustments I need to make, and create my monthly budget.
I’ll also include how much I need to contribute in my debt repayment whenever I breakdown my weekly budget.
Depending on your goal, you can do something similar.
Start looking at the big picture, and then break down the goal based on what you’ve heard from others, your knowledge of certain barriers that could get in the way, and fitting that into the timeline you’ve given yourself, will help you create your action plan.
Even if it’s something as small as waking up at a certain time, start by doing something like heading to bed and waking up 10 minutes earlier each day. In less than a week, you could get your bedtime down by almost an hour.
If you’re still a bit lost on how to translate this to your goal, I talk about this a bit more on my YouTube channel.
In order to keep myself motivated, I have a few mini-goals and rewards sprinkled throughout the next two and a half years.
While my main goal is becoming debt-free, my long-term goal is traveling the world, so while my debt repayment is happening, I’ll also work on building my savings. My plan is to take three smaller trips throughout the year that will serve as small glimpses into what life will look like after I complete this long process.
Your goals don’t have to be based on spending money. Whatever is going to safely motivate you works as well.
Whether your goal or new habit is as high stakes as your career, or you just want to read more, you can apply this basic framework.
- Always start by working backwards. If your goal is to read a book a month, first think about what books you want to read, how many pages each book is, and how much you’d need to read in a day or week.
- Check-in with the experts. When a goal isn’t as clear-cut, ask others - either in-person, or online - for advice to get a sense on where to start. Chances are, you’re not the first person to try and do your new goal or habit.
- Combine what you’ve learned about others, and yourself, into a plan. Taking everything we’ve talked about to far - you’re specific goal, acknowledging any potential barriers, talking with others - start to map out the steps you’ve identified into an action plan.
I go into greater detail on how to really get into the specifics of your goal, and how to create an action plan, in this week’s worksheet.
Next week is the last step, which will show you how to take everything and finally start implementing it!