WHAT IS ACTION PLANNING?
You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you are going because you might not get there.
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!
- Identifying your objectives
- Setting objectives which are achievable & measurable.
- Prioritising your tasks effectively.
- Identifying the steps needed to achieve your goals.
- Using lists.
- Being able to work effectively under pressure.
- Completing work to a deadline.
- Having a contingency plan
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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?.
Its 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:
- 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:
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.
ACTION PLANNING MODEL
In a survey of 50 start-up businesses, those with a plan outperformed those without even if the plan was not followed!
"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.”
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 its 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!
The cycle begins again with a redefinition of your goals........
The main steps in preparing an action plan are as follows:
A study on 1979 Harvard MBA students asked them, "Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?"
- 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. Be precise about what you want to achieve,
- 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 doesnt 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. Put these dates into your diary or onto a calendar. Try to set yourself weekly goals: what research you will do into jobs, what skills you will concentrate on learning etc. Its also a good idea to get into the habit of planning a timetable each evening listing your tasks for the next day or two.
Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.
Jim RyunA journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Lao TzuSuccess is the sum of small efforts, repeated day-in and day-out
Action generates the impetus for further action: if you want something done quickly, give it to a busy person.
The best time to do something is usually NOW!
“Never confuse motion with action.” Benjamin Franklin. Work smart rather than hard. Rather than running around like a headless chicken from one idea to the next, pay attention to quality rather than the quantity of effort you put in.Life satisfaction is greatest for those involved in short term goals which are enjoyable, not too difficult; and done in cooperation with others. Focus on one objective at a time and always have the next goal in mind. To accomplish more difficult tasks, break them down into components. The most satisfaction comes from pursuing an objective, not simply from achieving it.
Ari KievIt is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.
Ursula K. Le GuinUnless you have a definite, precise, clearly set goals, you are not going to realize the maximum potential that lies within you.
Zig ZiglarWell begun is half done.
Mary Poppins!One of the advantages of being disorganized is that one is always having surprising discoveries.
Winnie the Pooh
- 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!
When the going gets tough, the tough get going!
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
Supportive text messages can double the chance of someone successfully quitting smoking, according to a study published in The Lancet Over 10% of smokers who received encouraging texts such as "you can do it" had quit after six months, but only 4.9% who did not have the same support gave up. Dr Caroline Free, who led the trial said: "Text messages are a very convenient way for smokers to receive support to quit. People described txt2stop as being like having a friend encouraging them or an angel on their shoulder." Similar text messages could be used to help people modify other behaviour.Put "Eat Chocolate" at the top of your daily to-do list. That way you can be sure that you'll accomplish at least one of your tasks.
From the excellent Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Professor Robert Cialdini
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
- STEP 1: Some nice chocolate
- STEP 2: More chocolate!
- STEP 3: Time in gym to burn off chocolate!
- STEP 4: Book by favourite author
- COMPLETION: Meal out with friends to celebrate!
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.
EXAMPLE COMPLETED ACTION PLAN
MY OBJECTIVE IS: To choose my future career!
TO ACHIEVE THIS I NEED TO:
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?
Now write your own action plan ......
MY OBJECTIVE IS:
TO ACHIEVE THIS I NEED TO:
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 3 |
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
Back to the Skills Menu
Creating an Action Plan for Academic Essay Writing
Writing an academic essay is much easier when you create an action plan that involves careful planning and preparation. The first thing is to ensure you understand the assignment and what is expected of you. Next, you must choose a topic if a specific one is not assigned. After that, you can work through the following process to develop a plan that guides you through completing an essay assignment.
- Map out your initial thoughts
- Research the topic
- Outline your essay
- Write the rough draft
- Proofread, edit and revise rough draft
- Finalize and write final draft
Develop an action plan for your academic essay by creating a goal date for each step in the process.
Map out your initial thoughts
The next step in creating the plan for an academic essay is putting your initial thoughts to paper, or mapping them out to establish what you already know. Grab a piece of paper, and write down everything that comes to mind on the topic. Do not attempt to edit your thoughts; write everything that comes to mind. Doing this allows you to establish the following:
- What you know about the topic
- Aspects of the topic that need more development
- Whether you need to do additional research
Research the topic
If your topic requires research, start by deciding what types of sources you need. Take notes as you go through sources, and record bibliographic information to avoid plagiarism. You are likely to end up with more notes than you eventually end up using in your paper, but you want to avoid not taking enough notes and finding yourself without enough information.
Outline your academic essay
Between writing down your initial thoughts and conducting research (if necessary), you are prepared to create an outline for an academic essay. The level of details you put into the outline is subjective; the important components of the outline include the following:
- Focus of each paragraph by creating one section of the outline for each
- Sources (if any) you intend to use
- Analysis or interpretation as it is necessary
Essentially, the outline serves as a map as you write the rough draft of your academic essay.