Action Planning




You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you are going because you might not get there.
Yogi Berra

Action planning is a process 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!

It involves:


Action Planning Chart

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Writing down your goals turns them into a plan, not a dream.

A study of 327 job seekers by Daniel Turban of University of Missouri College of Business found that writing a plan at the start of your job search, has a big impact on success: make a plan and continuously assess your progress.

"Thinking about a plan, acting on a plan and reflecting upon that a plan were important early in the job search while having positive emotions were important later in the job search"

You also have to expect rejections and develop a coping strategy in advance. This should help maintain positive emotions during the process to improve your chances of getting a job. Positive emotions may help job seekers behave more confidently and cope better with stress, “thereby responding more skillfully in interviews than job seekers with less positive emotions”

“People don’t have strategies, they don’t assess their plans and they don’t think about their strategies and reflect on whether it’s working or how to make them work better. They just don’t do it."

An effective 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 action plan for each, otherwise things get confused.

Although here we shall be applying the techniques to careers, it can be used effectively to help you to reach your goals in many other aspects of your life.

The following are all valid goals for an action plan:

When careers action planning there are likely to be three main areas for action plans. These are:


It’s essential to have clear goals in place rather than just vague descriptions, such as saying you want to grow. Success in any walk of life is based on putting your goals first. ... Find out what you want, decide exactly how you will achieve it, and let nothing distract you from the end result.

James Caan


In a survey of 50 start-up businesses, those with a plan outperformed those without even if the plan was not followed!

Working together to develop a plan builds stronger relationships and a deeper shared understanding of what needs to be done, so if unexpected things happen individuals can make good decisions.

The best return occurs when just one percent of the time taken to carry out a task is spent on planning. Too much planning can be procrastination: delaying actually getting down to taking action.

"In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable" President Eisenhower (overlord of D-Day landings) 

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Benjamin Franklin

There are many different models of 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:


Action Planning

The cycle begins again with a redefinition of your goals........

The main steps in preparing an action plan are as follows:


When the going gets tough, the tough get going!

Action planning problems

If you take a stand that is visible to others, a drive arises to maintain that stand in order to look consistent. Public commitment makes people stubborn:

A hardened smoker desperately wanted to stop smoking. She made a list of all the people who she really wanted to respect her, then got some blank cards and wrote on the back of each card, “ I promise you that I will never smoke another cigarette” and signed it. She gave or sent the cards to her family, friends and boyfriend. Stopping was the hardest thing she had ever done, but every time she thought about having a cigarette, she pictured how all the people on her list would think of her if she broke her promise. She never smoked again.

If you write your commitments on paper you tend to live up to what you have written down as written commitments require more effort to make than verbal ones and there is also a reminder for you. The process of writing things down also seems to embed the commitment in your brain:

"Set a goal and write it down. Whatever the goal, the important thing is that you set it, so you've got something for which to aim- and that you write it down. There is something magical about writing things down. So set a goal and write it down. When you reach that goal, set another and write that down. You'll be off and running." Amway Corporation

From the excellent Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Professor Robert Cialdini

Beating Procrastination

Motivation gets you started but habit keeps you going.

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!".

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.

Building in rewards for completing the steps in your plan

It’s a good idea to think of a small reward to give yourself for completing each step above to keep you motivated. The bigger the step, the larger the reward could be. 

Setting yourself concrete goals to help others makes you happier!

Researchers at Stanford University found that setting goals to help others that are achievable gives you a greater sense of satisfaction that having an abstract concept of helping others. Givers experience greater happiness if they have concrete, specific goals of benevolence: making someone smile or increasing recycling rather than similar but abstract goals such as like making someone happy or saving the environment. This is because when you pursue concrete goals, your expectations of success are more likely to be met. Jennifer Aaker, the lead researcher said: 'A prosocial act can not only boost the happiness of the recipient, but it can boost the happiness of the giver as well.' Pursuing happiness without clearly defined goals can actually make us more unhappy due to unrealistic expectations.



MY OBJECTIVE IS: To choose my future career!

List the steps you need to take. Be detailed and specific (not ‘‘I'll contact some employers’’, but ‘‘Find email addresses of 5 local employers who have marketing departments & contact them"

Date I expect to complete this step by
My reward for completing this step will be
I will tell my plan to: my three best friends, my parents!    
I will start my action plan on (date): 3rd March  
Step 1. I will use the Prospects Planner computer guidance system to help me to identify jobs of interest
4th March Some nice chocolate!
Step 2. I will use the "What can I do with my degree in ..." pages to find out what jobs graduates from my subject can enter
6th March More nice chocolate!
Step 3. I will pick up booklets from the Career Service on some of the careers suggested and browse through these.
9th March Time in gym to burn off chocolate!
Step 4. I will use the Careers Network to arrange a day shadowing the work of a graduate in the Career that seems to be most of interest.
Over Easter vacation Book by favourite author
Step 5. I will see my careers adviser to discuss the ideas I have got from the above and to narrow these down.
By 10th May Meal out with friends

What problems am I likely to face? What will I do to overcome these?
Fear of life after university. Have procrastinated too long and now realise that I must take action or miss opportunities.
Will I be able to arrange a suitable work-shadow? If nobody suitable in the Careers Network, may have to contact companies directly for help.



Now write your own action plan ......


List the steps you need to take. Be detailed and specific (not ‘‘I'll contact some employers’’, but ‘‘Find email addresses of 5 local employers who have marketing departments & contact them"

Date I expect to complete this step by
My reward for completing this step will be
I will tell my plan to:    
I will start my action plan on (date):    
Step 1
Step 2
Step 3
Step 4
Step 5

What problems am I likely to face? What will I do to overcome these?



"World class performance comes from striving for a target just out of reach., but with a vivid awareness of how the gap might be breached. Over time, though constant repetition and deep concentration the gap will disappear, only for a new target to be created, just out of reach once again."

"Bounce", by Michael Syed


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