Career Development

How To Write an Action Plan To Achieve Your Goals

March 24, 2021

This article has been approved by an Indeed Career Coach.


A well-designed action plan can make it easier for you to track and realize your goals. Whether you have a career, business or personal goal, you can use an action plan to create a clear path to success. The level of detail in your action plan can vary based on the resources you have and the complexity of your project or goal.

In this article, we discuss what an action plan is, why it’s important and how to make an action plan that can help you reach your goals efficiently and successfully.

What is an action plan?

An action plan is a document that lays out the tasks you need to complete in order to accomplish your goal. It also breaks up the process into actionable assignments based on a timeline. A good action plan will outline all the necessary steps to achieve your goal and help you reach your target efficiently by assigning a timeframe—a start and end date—to every step in the process. Depending on your needs and preferences, you can use this document to set single or multiple goals.

Related: Setting Goals To Improve Your Career

Why is an action plan useful?

An action plan is useful to a wide range of individuals and organizations, from employees who want to improve their work performance to project managers assigning tasks to team members. It can help you identify a clear path to move toward your goal and confidently organize associated tasks in the appropriate order to achieve your goal in the most efficient way.

An action plan can also make it easier for you to stay motivated and monitor progress toward goals, allowing you to keep your projects on schedule and, if applicable, within budget. If collaborating with others, you can use it as a tool to reference who should be held accountable for each task which can help you avoid delays and troubleshoot errors.

How to write an action plan in 5 easy steps

Writing an action plan might seem challenging but it’s worth the work upfront to keep yourself focused later on and using a simple framework can help give you clarity. While action plans may differ in terms of tasks and timelines, they generally conform to the same structure and include the same types of information. Create an action plan to help you achieve your goal by following these five steps:

  1. Set SMART goals.
  2. Create a list of actions.
  3. Set a timeline.
  4. Designate resources.
  5. Monitor the progress.

1. Set SMART goals

SMART goals

Before you start writing your action plan, consider using the SMART outline to set the right goal. Your goal should be:

  • Specific: Your goal should be clearly defined. For instance, instead of saying that you want to increase sales, you could set a certain threshold you want to reach, such as increasing sales by 20%.

  • Measurable: Make sure your goal can be measured. For instance, if your goal is to generate more sales, try to create weekly or monthly sales reports to track your progress.

  • Attainable: Although it is good to set high goals to challenge yourself, making sure they’re attainable will help you achieve your desired progress.

  • Relevant: Your goal should be relevant to your abilities, needs and interests. For instance, if you want to increase advertising revenue by 25%, setting a goal to initiate a new workplace safety program may not be relevant.

  • Time-based: You should set a specific deadline for reaching your goal, such as increasing your income by 10% within the next 12 months.

Read more: SMART Goals: Definition and Examples

2. Create a list of actions

Next, create a list of tasks you need to complete in order to reach your goal. This process entails dividing your main goal into smaller objectives. By doing so, you can make the final goal seem less overwhelming and move closer to it in an organized, step-by-step manner. Make sure the actions are attainable and related to your goal. If a given task seems too vague or intimidating, you can further divide it into two or three smaller action items that seem more doable.

For example, if you want to get a promotion, you may have to perform a number of tasks to achieve your goal, such as reaching a performance benchmark or learning a new skill. Learning a new skill is one task that will likely need to be broken up into smaller, well-defined steps. Clearly describe each task to create a plan that will lead you to your ultimate goal.

Related: Understanding the Project Management Processes and Phases

3. Set a timeline

Besides setting a deadline for your main goal, you should also establish a timeframe for completing each task in the process. It is essential to create a timeline you can reasonably follow so you can maintain consistent progress toward your goal. Assess the requirements and consider the amount of time you need to complete each item on your list.

For example, you want to increase traffic to your website by 100% in one year’s time through social media and search engine optimization. Set a timeframe for achieving your desired results for each of the tasks, such as increasing your social media following by 30% in four months and making the first page of web search results for certain keywords in six months.

Related: Time Management Skills: Definition and Examples

4. Designate resources

If you are managing a large project, you will likely be assigning tasks to a number of people. Assess the skills and abilities of your team to determine which of them are best qualified to perform each task. Then, write down who will be in charge of the objective and the resources needed to complete the task, such as money, equipment and personnel.

For example, if you’re managing a marketing campaign, you will need to find out which of your staff members are strongest in planning, content production, social media marketing and SEO. You should also have the applications and tools for content production, graphic design and marketing analytics.

Related: What Are the Responsibilities of a Manager?

5. Monitor the progress

Finally, describe how you will ensure each task in your action plan is completed on time, such as using internal reporting or holding regular meetings. By doing so, you will have a clearer idea of the progress you are making toward your goal. Specify the measures you will be using to monitor the plan’s progress, which can be milestones like the number of tasks completed or quantitative measures, such as sales or market share.

For example, you want your customer service department to be able to handle 1,000 inquiries a day by the end of the year. However, you need to have at least 10 customer representatives in order to achieve your goal. You can easily figure out how close you are to your final goal by assessing how many inquiries you can handle and how many customer service representatives you have at the half-year mark.

Related: Using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to Achieve Goals

Action plan template

You can save time by using a template to create your action plan. Here is a effective template for a wide range of goal-setting situations:

Problem:

Goal:

Action Plan:

  • Actions (steps you plan to take to achieve your goals)
  • Persons in charge (staff members who will be handling each step)
  • Timeline (deadline for each step)
  • Resources (assets you need to allocate for each step)
  • Potential barriers (factors that can potentially hinder the completion of each step)
  • Outcomes (desired result for each step)

Evidence of Success:

Tracking and Evaluation Process:

Action plan example

The following is an example of an action plan for an apparel retailer:

*Problem: Slow profit growth as a result of insufficient customer service.*
*Goal: Increase profits by 50% within three years.*
*Our Three-Year Goal (Tip: These are SMART goals outlined)*
We expect our apparel retail business to increase our profitability by 40% as we follow this plan to improve customer service and increase staffing over the next three years.

  • *Current state of our business: Yearly profit of $150,000, four employees and many customer complaints*

  • Our business in six months’ time: Every employee will be trained in customer service and profit will increase by 10%

  • *Our business in 12 months’ time: Annual profit of $180,000, six employees, no job vacancies and strong customer service culture*

  • *Our business in three years’ time: In the top 20% of apparel retailers with the largest market share in Palo Alto, California*

Action Plan to Achieve Our Goal

Task 1. Training

  • *Action: All employees will undergo customer service training.*
  • *Completion date: September 20XX*
  • *Person responsible: Sales manager*

Task 2. Recruitment

  • *Action: Identify skill sets needed from new employees and work with recruitment agency to hire the right talent.*
  • *Completion date: November 20XX*
  • *Person responsible: Sales manager*

Task 3. Improve customer service

  • *Action: Update our website and keep it current.*
  • *Completion date: Starts in December 20XX and remains ongoing*
  • *Person responsible: IT manager*

Task 4. Generate more sales

Plan A

  • *Action: Meet with the top 20% of customers and devise strategies to generate more sales per customer.*
  • *Completion date: January 20XX*
  • *Person responsible: Customer sales manager*

Plan B

  • *Action: Create products and services brochure.*
  • *Completion date: May 20XX*
  • *Person responsible: Marketing manager*

Task 5. Increase cash flow and reduce costs

  • *Action: Introduce a more convenient payment plan for customers.*
  • *Completion date: January 20XX*
  • *Person responsible: Finance manager*

Task 6. Expand customer base

Plan A

  • *Action: Look for regional selling events and participate in relevant ones.*
  • *Completion date: June 20XX*
  • *Person responsible: Sales manager*

Plan B

  • *Action: Review our competitors’ offers and target shortcomings in their offers.*
  • *Completion date: October 20XX*
  • *Person responsible: Sales manager*

*Evidence of success: Annual profit of $225,000*

*Tracking and evaluation process: Assessing profitability, staff size and number of customer complaints.*

Related

View More 

Setting Goals To Improve Your Career

Setting goals can help you gain both short- and long-term achievements. You can set professional and personal goals to improve your career.

Learning Styles for Career Development

Do you know the three types of learning styles? Here’s how to identify which style works best for you, and why it’s important for your career development.