In our last post we discussed how to develop SMART goals - goals which are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based. Now we have to break those goals down into actionable steps. We call these strategies.
A strategy is just like a goal in that the strategy must meet the SMART criteria, but there are a couple of clear differences. First, a goal is a big picture idea. Something that may take a lot of work to accomplish. A strategy on the other hand is a small step towards accomplishing that goal. These are the baby steps that we take. The things that we do each day or each week to chip away at that big goal. These are the items on our "To Do" list. Second, a goal is something that you want to accomplish. It's the what. But a strategy tells you what's involved in accomplishing that goal. It's the how.
Let's return to the example we used in the post about goals: "I will pay off my credit card debt so that the total of my credit card balance at the end of year does not equal more than $7,500." That's a pretty commendable goal. As you can see, paying down the credit card is a big goal - something that we'd like to accomplish over the course of the year. It tells us what we want to do. But it doesn't tell us anything about how that credit card debt will be paid off. Time for the strategies to come into play.
I like to begin strategy development by simply brainstorming. You can do this in a variety of ways such as:
- Make a list
- Write ideas on post-it notes and cover your wall
- Write ideas on index cards and put them in a large stack
- Draw a mind map
- Locate ways others have accomplished this goal
- Solicit ideas from friends, family, or advisors
Don't limit yourself as you brainstorm. Any idea you have or come across - write it down. Even if you think it's a bad idea. Why would you write down a bad idea? Because it may be the idea that inspires the right idea. Keep generating strategies until you can't come up with anymore options.
Now it's time to prioritize the strategies. Sort through them all. You may want to rank order them, sort them into categories, or evaluate their practicality. Create a discard pile. These are the strategies that you've decided aren't right for you. Before discarding a strategy, first evaluate to decide if you could alter the strategy to make it a better fit. If not, send it packing.
Once you've narrowed down the strategies, it's time to ask yourself the key question. If I implement these strategies, will I accomplish my goal? If the answer is yes, it's time to add these strategies to your plan. Repeat this process for each goal that you've set for yourself.
Before you hit "print" on your document, take a moment to review the entire plan carefully. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does my plan help me to fulfill my mission statement?
- Are my values reflected in this plan?
- Did I utilize the assessment results (if I have them) in my plan?
- Are my priorities reflected here?
- Will my goals help me accomplish my priorities and my mission?
- Do the strategies I identified lead me to accomplish my goals?
- How do I feel when I read this plan? Am I energized? Excited? Overwhelmed? Sad?
Always keep in mind that this plan is a living document. You can make modifications! Maybe you get laid off, find out you are having a baby, or you get a promotion! Life isn't a streamlined document. It twists and turns and has ups and downs. You can adapt the plan to fit you and your life along the way.
Periodically you'll want to evaluate your progress. I like to sit down with my plan quarterly and take stock through a focusing session with myself. That's the time where I determine if I've made as much progress as I'd like to, if I need to change any strategies, or if I need to speed up or slow down the pace. I find that it helps me to refocus and recommit to my goals over the next three months. It also helps keep me engaged so I don't pick up my plan in September and try to knock out the whole thing in a couple of months! It can be very helpful to have a coach help you through those sessions. A coach can be your accountability partner - someone to keep you on track and follow up on all the things you wanted to accomplish. A coach can problem solve with you, encourage you, and motivate you to stay on track.
Congratulations! Your plan is complete. Now it's time to get out there and put it in action. Best of luck as you have the most productive "resolution" ever.
This post is the sixth and last in a series of posts about personal strategic plans.