Setting Goals Right – Part Two: Developing Your Action Plan

Methodology

Today, we come to the second part of setting a strong goal. If you read part one, you know that in order to achieve a particular goal, you have to be very clear and specific on what it is. You also know that you need to set yourself a deadline in order to hold yourself accountable to actually taking action.

So what action do you take? That's what the next step is about. For some goals, it will be intuitively obvious what you need to do. For others it will be a little more complex.

The first part of developing an action plan is to brainstorm. When I do this, I like to take out a sheet of paper and just write all over it. I list all of the things that I could possibly do in order to achieve my goal. Some of them might be little actions that will take me two minutes, others might be bigger projects that need to be broken down into smaller steps over longer period of time.

For example, I might have a goal to lose 10kg within the next 12 weeks. I'd take out a sheet of paper (I always find it better to write these things down rather than typing at this stage -- but more of that another day!) and start my brainstorm. I write down everything I could possibly do, even if they somehow conflict with each other or I don't think I could possibly have time to do everything I'm writing down. We're not committing to actually doing these things just yet. We're just getting them all out there so we can evaluate them and form a more structured plan.

So what are some of the key things I might write down? Here's a few I came up with:

  • Develop a running programme.
  • Develop a gym programme.
  • Develop an eating plan
  • Talk to my family to get them on board.

If you've read my previous post on why goal settings works, you'll know that big, complex concepts like this don't always lead to a lot of action. This is because they're not really that measurable or trackable and it's hard to know exactly what you actually need to do. If my action is “run”, then all I really have to do is go for a little jog every once in a while and I'm done. But we know this is not really what I mean. So the next step is to gain clarity by breaking these down into simple, individual tasks. For example “develop a running programme” might become:

  • 1x 12km run a week
  • 1x 8km run a week with 4x 30 second intervals.
  • 1x 8km a week on a hilly route.
  • 1x 8km a week at fast pace.

Running jargon like “pace” and “intervals” aside, you can now see that this is a very simple, easy to follow plan and it's easy to track and measure whether I have actually done it or not. (Remember not to mistake easy-to-follow and easy-to-track for easy-to-do!) You can also see that these are individual actions that I can take on any given day. This is important because it is repeatable and it will help me start to develop consistency.

If your goal is to develop greater flexibility, your action plan should be more than just “stretch”. What stretches? How many times a week? How many times a day? How long will you hold each stretch for? All of these things should be considered ahead of time. The perfect time to do this is when you've just set your goal and you're feeling excited about it.

Once you have completed brainstorming your actions, you might find you have a lot of ideas down on your page but not very much structure, and definitely no scheduling. The next step is to identify your critical path. What do I mean by that? Well if you look at your plan (and this will work best if you're actually writing an action plan as you read along this post), you will see a bunch of actions that are absolutely mandatory in order to achieve your goal. There will be other actions that would be good things to do, but if you left them out for some reason, you'd still be able to achieve your goal without them. We say the actions that are mandatory are on the “critical path” to achieving this goal.

Say I want to run in a race within a certain time, you might say actually going for runs is on your critical path, whereas cross training, working on your diet and stretching are, whilst still very important, not going to completely destroy my chances of getting my goal.

Finally, once you have found your critical path, you should write these down as a numbered or bullet-pointed list of things you must do in order to achieve your goal. Underneath this, you may wish to include some of the non-critical items on your action plan as well.

To summarise this post, the process is:

  1. Brainstorm all the things you might do to achieve your goal.
  2. Break them down into individual, simple, measurable, trackable actions you can take.
  3. Identify your critical path.

There's a lot to take in in this post but I hope you can apply these tips to your own goals and start to develop solid action plans. When you master the art of developing a good action plan, it will give you a sense of purpose and it will motivate you because the path to completing your goal will be much clearer and real.

If this is a little hard to follow, don't worry. There will be worked example coming up in a post where I will present a video walking you through the steps above. For now, take pen to paper and start to develop your own action plan for one of your goals.

39 comments

Neville Saunders

Another awesome post Josh. Very interesting reading and motivating me to start getting some things written down for goals I want to achieve before the end of the year.

Thanks

Kelly Tuapawa

Identifying the critical path is a very important part of the process that I think is generally missed in a lot of other material I have read on goal setting. This will be really helpful when there seems like too many actions to be taken to reach a goal. Awesome stuff!

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