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Creating an effective personal development plan doesn’t require anything more from you than a pen, paper, and some time.
I’ve studied how to set goals, how to learn effectively, and entrepreneurship for my personal benefit over the years, and I recently realized that there’s a common thread that runs between them. They each come down to creating a plan for improvement, taking actions, and upgrading your plan as you go.
More formally, the steps are:
- Assess where you are now
- Aim where you’d like to be
- Strategize a plan to get there
Whether you want to increase your skills to get a raise, start a side hustle, learn to communicate more effectively, or just learn something new for fun, your development plan can help you get from where are you now to where you’d like to be. An effective personal development plan has the power to help you achieve your goals in every sphere of your life.
There are a lot of benefits to creating your own plan for self-improvement. Since your plan is self-driven, you get to focus on whatever aspects of your life you want: professional development, relationship skills, and any other interests you have. It’s up to you.
The best part? It’s quite simple. You already have everything you need to get started with your development plan right away.
3 Simple Steps to Create an Effective Personal Development Plan
Stated simply, personal development is making the effort to upgrade your thought processes, your habits, and your skills.
We’re all invested in our own self-development whether or not we formalize the goals we have in our heads. But the act of creating a plan for our own growth gives us the clarity we might lack if we only have some vague ideas for “improvement”.
The 3 steps to create an effective plan are:
- Assess – where are you now?
- Aim – where do want to be?
- Strategize – how will you get there?
Before we get to the first step, I recommend knowing your primary, overarching goal for each area of your life you want to improve.
For example, if you’re focusing on your career, is your primary goal increased financial freedom? Is it work that satisfies you? Or perhaps it’s finding a job that provides you more personal time to pursue other interests.
Being clear on your primary goal will help you make better decisions about where you focus and apply effort to gain new skills, and you’ll know when you’ve achieved your goal in any given sphere.
In the first step, you assess where you are right now in all the different spheres of your life — family, relationships, career, etc.
The benefit of this step is that you get a good idea of both your strengths, your weaknesses, and your overall satisfaction in a given area.
Just be honest about how you think and feel right now. There’s nothing objective about this step, and by being completely honest with yourself about your current situation and your satisfaction you give yourself the best chance of creating an effective plan for improvement that focuses on the right things.
The assessment step is a good time to ask yourself a few questions. And each sphere (career, relationships, hobbies, health) will have its own answers. Here are a few questions to get you started:
- What interests you most about this area of your life?
- What do you enjoy doing?
- What are you currently good at in this area?
- What skills do you believe you need to develop?
- How can you do more of what’s already working?
Sometimes, depending on the sphere and the issue in question, it may be better to double down on your strengths instead of spending time trying to improve your weakest areas.
Once you know where you are and you have an idea of which areas of your life you’d like to improve, you’ll have a better idea of where you want to be.
Your assessment in step 1 will help you choose a direction to aim towards. You know where you are and have a good idea of what interest and motivates you, so you can consciously decide where you want to be.
In this step, you simply decide where to focus your efforts to gain the largest perceived value based on your primary goals in each sphere.
Because your time and energy are limited, it helps to use your overarching goal as the deciding factor in where to prioritize. But don’t stress about choosing the absolute perfect direction. You’ll gain more clarity as you go, and you can always reassess and make changes. I talk about managing expectations and dealing with fears below.
Now that you have a direction you’d like to head towards, it’s time to set goals and put strategies in place to achieve those goals.
This step is all about making a plan for how to focus your time and efforts and make consistent progress towards your goals.
How do you set goals?
A common acronym used for setting effective goals (credited to George T. Doran) is SMART. SMART goals are:
Here are some questions you can ask to get started with strategizing how to achieve your goals:
- What specific skills will you develop?
- How will you measure your progress?
- What specific actions will you take?
- What are realistic timeframes for achieving your goals?
- What benefits do you expect by reaching your goals?
When it comes to setting “realistic” goals, don’t be afraid to set big goals. Because you’re creating your own development plan, you can always make changes based on the feedback you get as you make progress.
There’s a quote about accomplishment and timelines that’s often attributed to Bill Gates (along with several others) and has a variety of forms and contexts. But here is my favorite version and attribution:
“…we overestimate what can be accomplished in the short term and underestimate what can be accomplished in the long term.” – Raymond Kurzweil, The Future of Libraries, Part 2: The End of Books
I might be taking a bit of creative license with the context of that quote, but I believe it can be applied to your personal achievements: don’t focus too much on immediate progress. Instead, play the long game by making consistent short-term efforts.
The key to achieving your larger goals is to use the power of compound interest. Focus on your goals consistently and you’ll reap the benefits of continuous personal development. Everything compounds.
The Benefits of a Personal Development Plan
There are many benefits to creating a plan for self-growth, and I think they all boil down to these primary two:
- You gain self-awareness
- You gain clarity
Taking the time to ask yourself questions and plan your life can only lead to knowing and understanding yourself better.
Just learning what motivates you can help you focus on the things that will bring you the most satisfaction, and it can save you from wasting time and energy on the things that may seem important but don’t provide an actual benefit to your life.
Because your development plan is self-driven, you don’t have to worry about someone else judging your thoughts and feelings or inserting their own agenda. Be honest with yourself about what you want out of your life, your relationships, your career, and your finances.
Do you ever feel like you have so many choices that it’s difficult to decide what to do, and you end up making default, easy decisions?
This is a real phenomenon called Decision Fatigue. When we have too many competing decisions to make, we tend to shut down and make the easiest decision — which is not necessarily the best decision.
One great benefit of creating a plan for self-growth is that you decide what’s important to you and then you get to focus on just those things. This helps you say “no” to everything that doesn’t feed directly into your self-guided plan for success and life satisfaction. This kind of clarity gives you a level of focus that’s very hard to achieve if you don’t have a clear goal and desired outcome for yourself.
By using the SMART goals you create in step 3 above, you can more easily ignore the noise that distracts you and instead focus on the things that truly matter to you. No more decision fatigue when it comes to self-improvement.
Managing Expectations, Changes, and Fears
Any time you introduce changes into your life, especially if have high hopes for positive outcomes, you may build up expectations that just cannot map to reality in the way you want.
Perhaps your free time is more limited than you thought — often by things that are actually important — and it takes you longer to make progress than you initially thought.
Or maybe it’s taking you longer to wrap your head around a new skill than you expected.
You’re making changes, and it’s expected that there will be a learning curve for perfecting your process.
Your Plan Doesn’t Have to be Perfect
Creating your development plan and improving yourself is an iterative process. You don’t have to “get it right” the first time. You can always go back through the steps once you’ve created a plan, taken some action, and learned what works for you and what doesn’t.
Just get started. The sooner you begin, the sooner you’ll get feedback and have a realistic idea of how to change course. There’s a saying that you can’t steer a ship that’s not moving. I’m not a sailor, but I think this saying has a reasonable application to your self-development. It’s easier to make changes when you know what is or isn’t working, and you only find that out by taking action.
Don’t be afraid of taking some missteps. Even if you go down a less-than-ideal path, you’re miles ahead of where you’d be if you had never started.
And it’s okay to change your plans. In fact, it’s preferable to make a change than to stick with a well-laid plan that isn’t working. Maybe your interests have shifted, or maybe you realized a skill you thought was important no longer fits into your overall goal. You’re dynamic, so let your plan be dynamic as well.
An effective personal development plan is a frame for you to build on, not a cage.
This is a message Scott Young shares in his book, Ultralearning. Don’t be afraid of mistakes and making changes. Learning is a dynamic process. When something isn’t working, just modify your plan and keep going.
Ultralearning is an excellent book on mastering skills quickly and efficiently, and it covers how to create a solid plan for building new skills. To learn more, check out my Ultralearning review.
You can create an effective personal development plan in just a few simple steps:
By making the effort to assess where you are, aim where you’d like to be, and strategize a plan for getting there, you set yourself up for success. Your plan will help you achieve your goals much faster by providing you self-awareness and clarity.
A plan will help you focus and stay consistent. Compound interest works in all spheres of our lives, not just financially. Consistent daily effort is the best way to make your goals a reality. It’s the consistency that’s key. Don’t focus on the time chunks themselves. If you can do 15 minutes, that’s great! By focusing even 15 minutes daily on developing a skill, you’re laying a foundation for all your future success.
Remember to get started as soon as you’ve strategized. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll get precious feedback to know whether to stay the course or make changes. You can’t steer a ship that isn’t moving.
When building your plan for self-growth, remember that your development is not limited to any particular sphere. Rather, your life is made up of the sum total of your skills and your ability to navigate the obstacles and opportunities in all the spheres of your life.
Your self-growth can be focused on your work, relationships, making money, learning, a hobby, and your health. Pick the areas that matter most to you and get started.