Meet Gregory, a writer and the brains behind Face Dragons. He's the go-to guy for getting things done. Gregory's been living the digital nomad life in Asia for as long as anyone can remember, helping clients smash their goals. He writes on topics like software, personal knowledge management (PKM), and personal development. When he's not writing, you'll catch him at the local MMA gym, nose buried in a book, or just chilling with the family.
If you’re not where you want to be in life (and none of us are), it’s because you’re not who you want to be. A personal action plan is a great way to focus your attention on yourself and work toward who you want to become. It will give you a goal to point you in the right direction, tasks and projects to keep you making progress, and a time frame to push and motivate you. Learn how to make your personal action plan in this step-by-step guide.
Figure Out Who You Are
Knowing who you are now is the best starting point for figuring out who you want to be and how to get there.
Start by figuring out which personality type you are and how that affects what you do and how you think and react in different situations. For example, if you are introverted or an omnivert, your goals will differ from an alpha male type who loves to be the center of attention.
Though you may wish you were someone else, you will find goals that work with your personality type will be much more achievable than those that fight against it.
Start with a personality test, such as the big five, which tests your personality over five spectrums, then analyses which you are, based on ten subcategories and the motivations of each subcategory.
What Do You Want?
For some people, answering the question, “What do you want?” starts them off on a never-ending list of dreams, goals, and wishes, and for others, all you get is a shrug. You notice this most at Christmas when you ask people what they want for a gift.
Depending on which type of person you are, this may be easier or more challenging for you.
I’d recommend you start with a brain dump using a trigger list or just the following questions to help you come up with some answers:
- What would you like to complete this year?
- What do you want your life to look like in 5 years?
- How do you imagine your job and career in 5-10 years?
- What do you want to do or see before you retire?
- How do you imagine spending retirement?
Once you have some ideas written down, remember that you can’t do all of them at once, so you need to prioritize. Selecting 3-5 goals to work on at once is usually more than enough. On the other hand, don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to work on too many things at once, especially if you have a full-time job and other responsibilities.
Create Your Personal Action Plan
Once you know who you are and what you want, it’s time to make a concrete plan that will keep you responsible and making progress to become the persona you want to be. It all starts with your goals.
1. Set Your Goals
Goal setting is always an important step to creating any meaningful change in your life.
Look back at the things you wrote down for the previous section, and let’s try to create some powerful goals that will be catalysts of change in your life, starting today.
Remember, you can have many things you want to achieve, but you can’t work on them all at once, so you’ll need to prioritize. The best way to manage this conflict is to keep a list of life goals, an “Archived Goals List.” This list will contain all the goals that you want to achieve in your life. This should be a long list if you ever actually make it.
Aside from your archive list, write down an Active Goals List. This will be a shorter list of goals you want to accomplish and are actively working on right now. I recommend putting three to five things on this list.
2. Set a Timeframe
If you find that a goal has been on your active list for some time, but no progress has been made, it doesn’t mean you’re lazy (though you might be). Perhaps you chose a goal you don’t actually care that much about, or you didn’t set yourself a motivating time frame.
So what is a reasonable time frame to set for your goals?
It will, of course, depend on the goal; learning to speak French fluently will take longer than a goal to write your first blog post, for example.
The best way to set a timeframe is to
- First, work out the steps you need to take to achieve the goal
- Schedule the steps in the time you have available
- calculate how long it will take you to complete all the steps
There’s no point in setting yourself an extremely tight time frame if it means you will either miss the deadline or be so stressed the whole time that you rush through the tasks and projects you need to complete the goal.
So set a realistic time frame and remember that as long as you are making progress or doing something toward your goal, you’re moving in the right direction and will soon enough be able to check it off.
3. List Your Tasks and Projects
When you first make your goals, you may have no idea what you need to do in order to complete them, but that’s OK. Making the goal is enough to get you started. Next comes the research.
If, for example, your goal is to get a higher-paying job, you should start with some research.
- What are the salaries in other companies for the job you currently do?
- What are the typical jobs people move into after being in a role like yours?
- What other career moves might you be interested in?
- Does your company have any promotional opportunities you don’t yet know about? Ask your boss, department heads, or HR.
- What other jobs might you be qualified for?
There are probably other questions you can think of that you can start researching too. For example, perhaps you’ve always been curious about what it would take to create your own business. Make some time in your schedule to answer any questions you have. Most will require a simple search on Google, checking job descriptions of other companies, and perhaps some phone calls or meetings with colleagues or other employers.
Be realistic, you won’t get all of this done in one day, but perhaps you could have it all finished in a week.
The outcome of your research should give you a path to follow or a direction to head in next. For example, if you were searching for job or promotion ideas, you may find out about a managerial position you could apply for or a higher-paying role requiring you to develop new skills. These will be the projects for you to take on next. Research them and figure out how long they will take, then schedule them and do them one by one.
Projects are like short term goals, like learning a new skill for your career goal. It’s important to have these projects but they can be a bit vague. Luckily the actions needed to complete the project will be more specific.
Your tasks or actions must be actionable! You can’t “learn a skill,” but you can memorize a list, practice out loud, take a quiz, read a book etc. So when working towards your projects be sure to break them down into small, time bound, attainable actions.
Quick actions help you stay motivated, making goals seem more manageable.
4. Create a Schedule to Achieve Your Goal
Creating a schedule may be something you haven’t done since school, but it can be helpful when you want to get lots done in a short amount of time. Why? Because we all have a massive problem with wasting time. Jordan Peterson once surveyed his students, who estimated that, on average, they wasted about 6-8 hours per day! Imagine what you could do with all that time.
Now you might not be wasting as many hours as his undergraduate students, but if you track your time for a few days, you may find you have much more free time than you think. For example, you could use time spent watching TV in the evenings to work on your personal plan and check off those goals, as can your time off on the weekends.
Here’s how I like to schedule out my time when I’m doing a period of intense work, like monk mode.
Create a Weekly Timetable
I have a stack of weekly plan templates printed out and kept in a drawer, but you can create one with pen a paper in a few seconds. Put the days of the week across the top and the hours of the day down the side. Done!
Block Out Your Busy Time
Trying to figure out how much free time you have is more complicated than it sounds, so instead, just block out the time you know you are busy. I do this by simply coloring in the hours I have pre-arranged work, appointments, or other activities when I know I can’t focus on anything else (for example, when I am homeschooling my son, I could try to work, but it’s better if I give him my full attention)
Whatever is left is time you can put toward your goals, tasks, and projects of your personal action plan.
Add Your Tasks into the Remaining Time Slots
Now take the projects and tasks you have to work on and put them into the free time boxes on your schedule.
Don’t over-schedule yourself. Trying to make yourself work nonstop every time will only set you up for burnout, so give yourself breaks and when you feel you’re exhausted, give yourself a break!
I like to give myself a few days of intense work and then a couple of more leisurely days. It helps you recover and prepares you for another few hard days.
Personal Action Plan Procrastination
Whenever you find yourself procrastinating or avoiding doing work you have scheduled for yourself, ask yourself if you know what you physically need to do. David Allen says that an undefined task is one of the most common reasons for procrastination. An interview for your career goals is a perfect example.
“Interview Prep,” is not a task you can do unless you have done the required research.
Do you need to memorize the products and services of the company? Update your CV? Or practice your answers to questions like “Why do you want to work here?” and “Why did you choose this industry?”
These are all things that are part of doing “interview prep,” but without the thought or research, you’ll sit down to do it and not be sure what you need to do. So you procrastinate or do something else, thinking you’re lazy or “Can’t be bothered.” Instead, define it thoroughly and check it off!
Set Goals That Excite You
Your goals should excite you and be a source of motivation and fun!
Sure, not everything can be enjoyable and sometimes hard work and grind is required but ultimately if your goals and objectives don’t make you want to work toward them, you may need to rethink your personal development plan and turn things around.