Who is leading your schedule? Not sure? Check on the last ten things you have done today so far, including reading this article. Did you check social media? Did you answer a call or an email or join a meeting, or was there something else that took up your time? The important question to ask is, who decided what you did? You or someone else? If it’s not you, then you’re letting someone else dictate your time and your schedule. Someone else is controlling your calendar. You will never achieve your goals if someone else is in charge.
Take power back by drawing up a well-considered action plan.
WHAT IS AN ACTION PLAN?
An action plan is a checklist that outlines the steps or tasks that you need to take or complete for you to achieve certain goals. Besides the steps, an action plan should include things like a clear description of the goal that you are working towards, the resources you will need to complete the steps, the people involved, deadlines, and a system to measure the plan’s performance and progress.
The best action plans are flexible and can be tweaked and adjusted to ensure it stays on track toward reaching the goal, or when circumstances change.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO HAVE AN ACTION PLAN
An effective, well-thought-out action plan helps you to prepare for the future, including any obstacles that you may face on your way to achieving your goals. It ensures that you stay on track and helps you to avoid distractions so that you can remain focused and disciplined. An action plan can also be a big motivator by setting and celebrating achievements along the way to achieving your goals.
HOW TO CREATE AN EFFECTIVE ACTION PLAN
Creating an action plan is critical if you want to achieve your goals. Several considerations go into creating an effective action plan.
1. Create SMART goals
Setting goals is the most important part of an action plan. After all, achieving goals is the main purpose of the action plan. One of the best ways to set goals is to use the SMART method – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Let’s look at that in more detail:
Your goal needs to be clear and well-defined. There must be no uncertainty about what you want to accomplish.
The goal must be measurable so that you can track your progress.
Be realistic. The goal you set should be achievable within the constraints of things like available time, money, experience, relationships, and skills. If a goal is unachievable, it might set you up for disappointment.
Your goal should be relevant to you. This means that it should fit in with your long-term objectives, as well as your values.
Set a realistic deadline and hold yourself to it. A deadline forces you to take action, even during times when you may not be motivated to do so.
Check your goal against these criteria. If it doesn’t check out, then consider making some changes to give yourself the best chance to succeed.
2. Identify tasks
The next step to create an action plan is to identify the tasks that need to be completed for you to achieve the goal. What these tasks are will depend on the type of goal. For instance, if your goal is to build a cottage yourself, some of the tasks may include researching and finding the correct timber, taking a joinery and construction course, etc.
Once you’ve identified the tasks, the next step is identifying the Greatest Impact Activity or GIA. As the name suggests, this is the task that will have the most impact on your journey toward achieving your goal. You should channel the majority of your energy toward this task.
3. Set priorities
Once you have identified the tasks in your action plan, it’s time to set your priorities. Identify and organize tasks from most important to least important. The Greatest Impact Activity will usually take the top spot, then work your way down from there.
But tasks rarely stand independently, and most depend on other tasks to be completed first. Identify the relationships between tasks, which tasks are dependent on which, and the deadlines for each task to be completed, then reorganize your priority list into a sequence of tasks.
You’ll often notice that your priority list may have changed. But this doesn’t mean that your priorities have changed. The sequence of tasks will allow you to complete the most important tasks quicker!
4. What or who do you need to accomplish your set goals
Following the SMART method of setting goals, your action plan should identify the people and resources needed to complete the set sequence of tasks. Gather as many of these people and resources as possible before you start to implement your action plan so that you don’t waste time scrambling for resources. Remember that some people and resources may not be available exactly when you need them, so check availability, then adjust your priority list if needed.
5. Set deadlines & milestones
Deadlines and milestones help you to focus and stay on track. Milestones are mini goals you must reach or achieve on your way to achieving your main goal. Deadlines tell you when you need to achieve these.
Setting proper milestones and deadlines can be tricky because it’s often difficult to tell precisely how long a certain task will take. The best way to approach this is the start at the end and work your way backward. If you’re not sure how long a particular task is going to take, add a little buffer, but be careful not to add too much time.
6. Divide into smaller tasks and add calendar placeholders
Forget about to-do lists. To ensure things are going to plan and that you are on track to achieve your goal, it is critical that you create placeholders in your calendar to get the job done.
For this to work, you’ll need to
- estimate the length of the task correctly
- and avoid external solicitations disturbing you
If you don’t complete the task as per the calendar placeholder, analyze the reason and correct it for the future.
For instance, if the task was not completed because something urgent arose, learn to refuse to be interrupted if that thing is urgent but not important. Nicely explain to whoever is interrupting you that you are busy.
This is the critical point related to the title of this article:
If you don’t complete the task because you underestimated the time needed, consider it for future tasks and add an extra placeholder on the next available slot on your calendar.
HOW TO STICK TO THE ACTION PLAN
Having an action plan is no good if you don’t follow through with it. There are several things you can do to help you be disciplined about following your action plan.
To be in charge of your schedule, you need to take control – that means you have to be proactive. Take action and make a call instead of waiting for the phone to ring. When you answer a call, you fit in with someone else’s schedule, not yours. Look at the tasks your action plan requires and actively do them. Everything else can wait until you decide to do it.
Part of being proactive is to set rules. A best practice is NOT to check emails first thing in the morning or take calls. Use the time to check things off of your to-do list or anything else that you want to do. Check emails and messages later in the day and respond if and when you deem them appropriate. The key is that you should decide to fit it into YOUR schedule.
Use task management tools
To make it easier to follow your action plan, consider using task management tools like Asana, Trello, or Monday. These applications allow you to schedule tasks, set deadlines, and create alerts. It also allows you to monitor your progress. A task management tool keeps all your tasks and timelines in one central place so you always know what to do and how you’re doing it. The important thing is that YOU schedule the tasks for a time that suits YOU best.
Who is in charge of your schedule? It should be you. If not, take back control of your life by drawing up a well-thought-through action plan. Set carefully considered goals and use the action plan as a roadmap to help you get there. But for an action plan to be effective, you need to be proactive and take control. Only you should lead your schedule, not someone else.
If you have not checked out our programs, these courses at MEDDIC Academy can help with discipline and time management: