Action planning is one of several organising skills which will help you to focus your ideas and to decide what steps you need to take to achieve particular goals that you may have. It is a statement of what you want to achieve over a given period of time. Preparing an action plan is a good way to help you to reach your objectives in life: don’t worry about the future, start planning for it!
Identifying your objectives
Setting objectives which are achievable & measurable.
Prioritising your tasks effectively.
Identifying the steps needed to achieve your goals.
Being able to work effectively under pressure.
Completing work to a deadline.
Having a contingency plan
Writing down your goals turns them into a plan, not a dream. An effective organising skills action plan should give you a concrete timetable and set of clearly defined steps to help you to reach your objective, rather than aimlessly wondering what to do next. It helps you to focus your ideas and provides you with an answer to the question ‘‘What do I do to achieve my objective?’’.
It’s OK to have several objectives, but you will need to make a separate organising skills action plan for each, otherwise things get confused.
The following are all valid goals for an action plan:
To get more involved in a student society to get to know more people.
Deciding what skills I need to improve and deciding how I will improve them.
When careers action planning there are likely to be three main areas for action plans. These are:
Choosing the career you wish to enter.
Working out a strategy to help you enter this career e.g. application and interviews.
Developing skills that you need to acquire to allow you to enter the career of your choice and to be successful in it.
ACTION PLANNING MODEL
There are many different models of organising skills action planning, but a good starting point is shown here. Action planning is a cyclical process, and once you have been through one cycle, you can start again at the beginning. Of course, in real life it’s not quite as simple as this. The process is more organic and stages will overlap, or you may change your goals as you progress, and you must be prepared to revise your plan as circumstances dictate.
The stages are as follows:
WHERE AM I NOW? This is where you review your achievements and progress, and undertake self-assessment.
WHERE DO I WANT TO BE? This is where you decide your goals.
HOW DO I GET THERE? This is where you define the strategy you will use to achieve your goals, and to break down your goal into the smaller discreet steps you will need to take to achieve your target.
TAKING ACTION. This is the nitty gritty where you implement your plan!
WHERE AM I NOW?
The cycle begins again with a redefinition of your goals……..
The main steps in preparing an action plan are as follows:
Have a clear objective. (‘‘Where do I want to be?’’). To be motivating a goal needs to be challenging enough to stimulate us, but not too difficult enough to be demoralising. It should be just outside your comfort zone: stretching but not highly stressful.
List the benefits you would gain by achieving your goal.
Start with what you will do NOW. There is no point in having an action plan that will start in six months time
Define clearly the steps you will take. (“How do I get there?’’) Think of all the possible things you could do to take you closer to achieving your goal, no matter how small. Break down any large steps into smaller components, so it doesn’t seem so difficult to achieve. What is the biggest obstacle? What could go wrong?
Identify the end point for each step and give yourself a small reward for achieving it! THis could be sweets, clothes, a gadget, book or CD or meal out with friends.
Arrange the steps in a logical, chronological order and put a date by which you will start each step. Try to set yourself weekly goals: what research you will do into jobs, what skills you will concentrate on learning etc. It’s also a good idea to get into the habit of planning a timetable each evening listing your tasks for the next day or two.
You need to consider if your plans are attainable and what would happen if you failed to achieve your goals. Try to map out several paths to your goal, then if one becomes blocked another is available: build flexibility into your planning. People tend to strongly underestimate how long a project will take, especially if working in a group because they tend to visualise everything going to plan with no problems. Think about the type of problems you might encounter at each step. What are the barriers in the way of achieving your goal? What you would do to overcome these problems? Concentrate 10% on the problem and 90% on the solution. Try to turn every problem into a challenge and every challenge into an opportunity.
Review your progress. Keep a diary or blog of your daily activities and record your progress as things happen: this keeps your plan as concrete as possible. A good time to start your review is about two weeks after you have begun. Review how far you have got towards your objective, identify any mistakes you made and what you can learn from them, look at any new ideas or opportunities that may have presented themselves and then revise your plan to incorporate these.
Mix with positive people who will encourage you to keep going! Tell your friends or relatives about your goals. They will provide support when going gets tough and will also give you an incentive to keep going as you’ll feel embarrassed if you have to tell them you’ve given up!
Visualisation techniques can help prepare neural pathways in the brain for when the task is performed for real. However research has found that visualising just the outcome decreases chance of success so you need to imagine the steps along the way as well. Oettingen and Mayer found that students who reported fantasizing about success made fewer job applications, received less job offers and had smaller salaries. So you need to realistically assess problems that could be encountered as well.
Procrastination can involve the fear of failure, perfectionism (“I don’t want to get anything wrong”), lack of self control, not breaking projects into smaller parts, and underestimating how long it will takes to do things.
Once you have started an activity, your mind constantly nags away until you have completed it. Once it’s done, your mind clears it away, like when you close down a program on your computer. So start an activity and just spend a few minutes on it initially and this should help to beat procrastination. As the Mastermind quizmaster says: “I’ve started so I’ll finish!”