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How to Write an Action Plan for Goals

 Introduction

This guide shows you how to make an action plan that will help you achieve your goals more efficiently.

A well-designed action plan makes it smoother for you to track your goals. And it is more likely that you will achieve them with a good plan. 

Whether you have a career, physical or personal goal, you can use this blueprint to create a clear road to success. The level of detail in your action plan can vary based on your resources and how complex your goal is. 

What is an action plan?

Idea Plan Action Placard

An action plan is a document that lays out the steps you need to take to complete your goal. It breaks down the process of reaching the goal into action steps with a timeline to complete each step. 

Your action plan will outline all the necessary steps to reach your goal. The planning process and resulting plan will help you reach your objectives efficiently by assigning a milestone to every step. 

It’s best, in most cases, to limit each goal to its own plan. When you plan for multiple goals it gets more complicated and difficult to plan. Try to keep it as simple as possible yet thorough.

An action plan can also make it easier for you to monitor your progress, so you can keep your projects on schedule and within budget. If your plan involves teamwork, you can use it as a reference tool to monitor who should be held accountable for each task, to avoid delays and to prevent oversights.

How to write an action plan

Setting a goal is simple, but creating a plan to achieve that goal requires thought and planning. It’s well worth the time though.

Follow these steps to put together your action plan:

1. Set SMART goals

2. Break each goal down into a series of smaller steps.

3. Make a timeline for completing the steps in sequence.

4. Choose and apply resources to accomplish the steps

5. Monitor your progress and make adjustments when unexpected problems arise. 

1. Set SMART goals

The SMART outline for setting a goal is a good blueprint to follow.

Specific: Your goal should be specific like “lose 20 pounds” and not vague like “lose weight”. Also, it’s best to set action goals not outcomes. For example, goals like exercising for 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week and eating 1500 calories per day are action goals. On the other hand, losing 1 pound per week is an outcome goal.

Yes, the outcomes are what you want to achieve, but you get results and make adjustments by focusing on your actions. You can change your actions when you aren’t getting the results you want.

For example, exercise 40 minutes a day instead of 30 minutes. Or eat 1400 calories a day instead of 1500 calories. Then you can see if these changes are producing the results you want.

Measurable: Be sure you describe your goal so it can be measured. For instance, you can measure your exercise goal by keeping a journal and setting a timer for how many minutes and how often you exercise.

Attainable: You should definitely set high goals to challenge yourself, but be certain they’re attainable and necessary. Is it attainable for you to exercise 2 hours a day 7 days a week? It may be if your goal is to enter some bodybuilding competition. Is it necessary? Not if your goal is simply to be more healthy and fit.

Relevant: The goals should be consistent with your values and overall life plan. 

Time-based: You should have a specific end date for accomplishing your goals and a specific date to complete each interim step. Make a commitment to do something everyday that moves you towards your goals.

2. Break each goal down into a series of smaller steps.

Next, create a list of actions you need to complete to reach your goal. Divide your main goal into smaller steps. By doing so, you make the final goal less overwhelming because you have much smaller steps that you can do more easily. 

  • You can finish your goal like a puzzle: One piece at a time.  Make sure the tasks are attainable and necessary for your goal. 
  • If you are not confident that you can complete a certain step, make it even smaller by dividing it into two or three smaller tasks.
  • Clearly describe each task to create your plan that will lead you to your ultimate goal.

Here is a detailed article about how to break down goals effectively.

3. Set a timeline

First, set a deadline for your primary goal. Then, establish a timetable for completing each step or action in the process needed to achieve your primary goal. 

Make sure you can reasonably complete the timeline so you will sustain consistent progress toward your goal. 

  • Assess the requirements and consider the amount of time you need to complete the task. Consider that you will underestimate and increase your estimate by time and a half or double the time you guess. 
  • Then make adjustments as you go along. Don’t use adjustments as an excuse to put things off. 
  • Make a commitment to do something every day to move towards your goals.

4. Designate resources

On a personal basis, this means to set aside time and money to achieve your objectives. 

If you are managing a large project, it means assigning tasks to people. Assess the skills and abilities of your team members to judge which of them are best qualified for each task. 

Then, write down who you assign to each task and write down the resources needed to complete the task, such as money, equipment and personnel.

5. Monitor the progress

Finally, choose how you will monitor and manage your progress and record completion of each task in your action plan on time. 

  • For personal goals, you might use a chart, journal or annotated calendar to keep track of progress.
  • For a project, you might require progress reports or have regular meetings to assess your progress and make adjustments to stay on track. 

Specify the measures you will use to monitor the plan’s progress. The measures would be completing the interim steps to your objective.  

For the weightloss example, your measures are:

  1. Did you exercise 30 minutes a day 5 days per week?
  2. Did you keep a meal log and limit your calories to 1500 per day
  3. Have you lost 5 pounds in the past month?

How to Write an Action Plan for Goals Example

Problem
I need to lose 20 pounds to be at a healthy weight.
Goal
Lose 20 pounds over the next 4 months and continue after that to maintain my healthy weight.
Goal Broken Down Into Steps
1. Get a kitchen scale to measure food portions (tomorrow).
2. Research my foods for nutrition and calorie information and make a list (every Sunday as needed).
3. Plan meals that fit my calorie needs and food tastes (every Sunday).
4. Exercise for 30 minutes, 5 days a week and record in a journal.
5. Eat 1500 calories or less each day and keep a journal of meals and calories daily.
6. Check my weight weekly and adjust my diet and exercise to lose 5 pounds (17,500 calories) per month.
Team Assignments
People responsible for each step.
Not Applicable for personal goals.
Timelines
Get a kitchen scale to measure portions. July 1
Plan meals.Weekly
Research my foods for nutrition information and make a list (every Sunday as needed).Weekly
Exercise for 30 minutes, 5 days a week and keep a journal.Daily
Eat 1500 calories or less each day and keep a meal journal. Daily
Check my weight weekly and adjust my diet and exercise to lose 5 pounds (17,500 calories) per month.Weekly/Monthly
After losing 20 pounds keep the same routines and increase calories to1800 per day.After 4 months

This weightloss action plan example has many repetitive activities so the timelines are “daily” and “weekly”.

When you have one-time actions, just set a specific completion date for each step based on how long you estimate it will take.

Resource Allocation
Time: 1 hour a day for exercising, planning meals and recording activities in journals.
Money: $12 for the food scale.
Potential Barriers
Lose motivation, underestimating calories when eating out, willpower to eat properly.
Desired Outcomes
Exercise 30 minutes 5 X a week.
Eat 1500 calories or less per day.
Keep a journal of exercise and meals.
Lose 5 pounds per month.
Lose 20 pounds in 4 months.
Continue exercising and maintain healthy weight.
Evidence of Success
Exercising daily, eating 1500 calories per day and weight falling by about 5 pounds per month.
Tracking and Evaluation Process
Recording exercise and meals daily.
Recording weight weekly and seeing weight loss over weeks and months.

Conclusion to How to Write an Action Plan for Goals

Follow the steps and you’ll be well prepared to achieve your goals. Below are other resources to help in your quest to achieve your objectives in life. We also have a free Problem Solving Checklist to help with the inevitable challenges that crop up.

Best wishes in your efforts!

Research Backed Approaches to Goal Setting

Achieving your goals: An evidence-based approach

Beyond SMART: An Evidence-Based Formula for Goal Setting

More Resources