Do you know how to create an action plan? Do you need to? Have you ever found yourself saying any of these things?
- “It’s all in my head.”
- “I forgot about that.”
- “No one can do it except me.”
- “I don’t know what to do next.”
Most of us have.
The most common conversation I have with colleagues, clients and friends about work revolves around figuring out exactly what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and how it ranks relative to other priorities.
That’s why you need an Action Plan.
What is an Action Plan?
Thirty days is long enough to see results, and short enough to get the immediate gratification of checking boxes off a list. After you create an action plan and execute it, you can make time to reassess and create a new Action Plan. For many people, one of the items on the first 30-Day Action Plan includes creating a longer term Action Plan or more detailed project plans around specific products or services.
How does an Action Plan help?
- An Action Plan is more detailed than a list of goals, and broader than a project-specific plan.
- Create an Action Plan and you’ll have a working document that can be edited and updated as needed. A plan should be a guideline, as business needs and priorities do change.
- Create an Action Plan and provide shared accountability on progress for all members of the team.
- Action Plans contain set due dates that are listed by item or section. Since all deadlines are in one place, it is easy to see at a glance if dates are realistic, too aggressive or overlap more than they should.
- Create an Action Plan and see where you may need to put more (or less!) focus and time around a particular process, project or product.
- An Action Plan is a framework that sets up success regardless of the type of work to be done.
- Last, but certainly not least, a well-crafted Action Plan highlights tasks and projects that can be handed off to others, freeing you up to do what only you can do.
It isn’t hard to create an action plan, but it can be a lot of work. Following the eight steps below to move from overwhelmed to action.
- Pick your tool(s)
- Big picture goals
- Do a brain dump
- Delegate, Delete – Or Shiny Object
- Work the plan
Let’s get started.
8 Steps to Create an Action Plan and Get More Done
Too much info all at once? Email me and request the steps as a a seven-day ecourse or a downloadable ebook.
1 – Pick Your Tools
The first task is to pick the tool you want to use to create your action plan. Don’t over think this, and definitely don’t feel like you have to use anything fancy. What are you most likely to actually use and follow through with?
Some common tools:
- Pen and paper
- Paper planner of some sort
- Word document
- Google doc
- A project management tool like Asana or Trello
Personally, I like something digital and have found the most success using either Evernote or a Google doc. The accessibility from anywhere (including my phone), is key to my success. But as my husband says, “I’ve never found a [tool] that works as well as a pen and paper.”
Find what works for you and use it. This probably isn’t the time for the learning curve of a new tools, so go with something familiar and comfortable.
Whatever you’re going to use, get an account or blank document set up and ready to go. (See, it’s easy one step at a time. You can do this!)
2 – Identify Big Picture Goals
Before we dive into the details, take a step back and look at the big picture. It’s all to easy to lose the forest for the trees, and that’s precisely what we don’t want to happen.
What’s the biggest thing that’s weighing you down? What is the big goal that you’re working to accomplish?
- What’s your primary goal for this action plan?
- A new product launch?
- A marketing plan?
- General clarity to figure out what your goal is?
Take a few minutes and write down your big picture goal(s).
This isn’t a goal-setting course, and you can certainly continue even if you’re not clear on the big picture. If that’s you though, I would strongly advise including reviewing your business and setting an overall strategy and goals as part of your Action Plan.
Once you’ve got your goals written down, print them out and hang it up somewhere you will see and review daily. Mine can usually either be found my closet or the bulletin board at my desk. Keeping your goals top of mind will help keep you focused on the big picture and taking action in the right places.
3 -The Great Brain Dump
Next we’re getting gritty. It’s time to do a brain dump.
A brain dump is as simple as it sounds. Pull up your chosen tool for capturing information. Take 10-15 (or longer) min and write down everything that’s on your mind.
Don’t worry about organizing, or even if it’s about your business. In fact, if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably have plenty of non-business-related things on your list as well.
It doesn’t matter if it’s big, small, overdue or a year out – get it all down on paper.
Don’t filter, don’t edit (that comes later!), just put it on paper (or screen).
Getting info out of your brain and captured somewhere safe is the best way to clear your mind clutter and start moving forward.
Keep this document handy, and continue to add to it throughout the day (and the next few days) as you think of additional things. (And you will. It’s next to impossible to get it all down at once.)
You’ll also want to set a place to do a regular brain dump and incorporate it into your plan.
Having trouble getting started? Here are some common topics and triggers to get you going:
- General business or job related
- Email – review emails to see what you have outstanding or have been asked about
- Project specific tasks
- Things that you’ve started but not finished
- Financial tasks
- Marketing tasks
- Expectations from colleagues, clients, family and friends
4 – Organize & Categorize
Let’s get organized.
Review your list and group together common themes or types of actions. You’ll likely end up with an Action Plan that has three to five sub-sections or projects within the plan. Don’t worry if you’ve got more than that – we’ll talk about what to do with that next.
How should you organize? However makes the most sense to your brain. Typically, it’s by areas of business, it could be by timeline, or location it need to be done, etc.
A general small business Action Plan could include categories of Blogging, Social Media, Products, Services, Continuing Education.
Similarly, a plan could include: Marketing, Sales, Product Development, Operations, etc.
If it’s a product launch, you’ll have more overlap, but could look something like In-Person Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Other Marketing, Technical Setup.
Within each of those areas, start to organize further. You can organize by order things need to be done, amount of time a particular task will take, who should be doing it, or any other way that will make sense to you as you work your plan.
5 – Delegate, Delete – Or Shiny Object
Go back over your list. What shouldn’t YOU be doing? What can you delegate to someone else?
What could you delegate if you had a process mapped out for someone could take over? (If you’ve got anything here, add an action item to create a process so that you can delegate. The time spent upfront will save you an exponential amount of time in the future.)
What shouldn’t be on the list at all? Delete it. (Please. Liberally. Give yourself permission to NOT do things.)
If you’re having trouble deleting things off your list, create a Don’t Do List. This is as simple as it sounds – a list of things you WON’T do. You’re making a conscious decision that these are not priorities and won’t be worked on.
Create a Shiny Object List. Similar to the Don’t Do list, the Shiny Object List is a list of really cool things that you want to do someday, but right now are only distractions from the main goal. When in doubt, add something here. And then put it out of your mind. If the time ever comes where you are sitting twiddling your thumbs and looking for something to do, because you’ve accomplished everything on your Action Plan and have no pressing needs, this is a great place to look. And in your annual strategy review. Until then, stay away from anything and everything on this list.
6 – Prioritize
You’ve got a list. It’s organized. Now it’s time to prioritize.
- What is essential to getting business done? If it doesn’t happen, your business will close up shop and you’ll be out of work. This is clearly the most important.
- What’s going to move your business forward the most in the long run?
- What’s immediate, but not necessarily going to make a big impact long term (hint: this is often a great area to delegate)
- What’s not important at all? (Hopefully nothing – anything unimportant should already be on your Don’t Do List or your Shiny Object List)
7 – Timeline
Now that we’ve set goals, brain dumped our tasks, categorized and organized, delegated, deleted and prioritized, all that’s left is to set a timeline to your plan.
- What needs to be done immediately?
- Within the week?
- Three months?
If it’s three months or longer, consider separating this out into another list. While it’s important and essential to keep on the radar, this isn’t part of your immediate Action Plan. Save it in a safe place (using the same tools and systems you’ve already implemented). You don’t want to get distracted from the task at hand. Let’s keep our momentum focused on your immediate Action Plan and results.
8 – Work the plan
Set aside a specific time block to create an action plan within the next week. I recommend picking one of two approaches:
- Do one step each day and have a completed plan in a week. Request the ecourse and you’ll get each step as a daily prompt.
- Plan in a single day time block. You’ll probably need a 2-4 hour time block, depending on how much pre-work you have already done. This article or the PDF Action Plan Guide are great resources.
Create your plan.
Congratulations, you took the time to create an action plan! Doesn’t it feel great?!
You’ve planned the work, now go work the plan. And then let me know how it goes!