Woman learning to play guitar for her personal development plan

How to Write a Personal Development Plan

Updated September 22, 2022 . AmFam Team

Creating a personal development plan can help you stay on track to achieving your goals and dreams. Learn how to make one from American Family.

Everyone has personal goals and dreams they want to achieve. Whether your dreams are focused on self-improvement, personal growth or career advancement, they can sometimes be challenging. Creating a personal development plan can be an important and effective way to realize your personal goals — and cultivate a growth mindset, which is a must when you're pursuing your dreams.

What Is a Personal Development Plan?

A personal development plan is an action plan that can help you:
  • Clearly outline your goals
  • Define the steps needed to achieve your goals
  • Track your progress toward your goals
  • Recognize challenges you may encounter
  • Identify your strengths and areas for improvement
  • Increase your motivation
  • Improve your sense of purpose

Keep reading to learn more about why you should make a personal development plan and how to get started!

Why Should You Make a Personal Development Plan?

A personal development plan can help you organize and focus your efforts so the  goals you want to accomplish can  become a reality. A personal development plan can help you:

  • Stay motivated to continue working toward your personal goals
  • Provide you with a greater sense of self-awareness by helping you become clearer about what you want to accomplish
  • Save time because it's your personalized action plan

How to Make a Personal Development Plan

A personal development plan typically consists of writing out nine steps:

  1. Setting your goals
  2. Prioritizing your goals
  3. Establishing timelines
  4. Knowing your strengths
  5. Recognizing challenges
  6. Taking advantage of opportunities
  7. Learning new skills
  8. Leaning on others for support
  9. Tracking your progress

By crafting a detailed plan using these nine steps, you’ll know exactly what needs to be done as you work toward completing your dreams. Let’s break down what makes up each of the nine steps:

1. Set your goals

The first step in creating your personal development plan — and achieving your dreams — is setting your goals. This starts with writing your goals down and defining what exactly they are. Long-term goals lend themselves well to a personal development plan because they can take time to accomplish. It can be easier to manage long-term goals when you detail the steps you need to take to achieve them. Consider making a personal development plan for long-term goals like:

  • Getting promoted to a senior position at work
  • Completing your first marathon
  • Improving your diet
  • Learning an instrument
  • Publishing an article in a professional journal

One effective way to set goals is to follow the SMART goal methodology. SMART goals are:

S – Specific: What, exactly, do you want to accomplish? 
M – Measurable: How will you measure your progress as you work toward completing your goal? 
A – Achievable: What you can realistically achieve, and what skills will you need to reach your goal?  
R – Relevant: Why do you want to accomplish your goal now? Does it align with your other goals? 
T – Time-sensitive: What deadlines will you set, and how will you hold yourself accountable for meeting them? 

The SMART process can help you clarify the purpose of your goals and may even boost your productivity. Learn more about SMART goals below and download this worksheet (Opens in a new tab)to help set your goals.

2. Prioritize your goals

Trying to achieve all your goals at once is the shortest path to feeling overwhelmed. Prioritizing your goals is all about deciding which one you want to focus on, and figuring out what makes the most sense for you.

For example, if you want to climb the company ladder, you may want to consider prioritizing career goals like improving your public speaking abilities or learning effective leadership skills.

3. Set timelines

Once you've prioritized your goals, it's time to set deadlines. Timelines are a key component when building a personal development plan, as they can keep you accountable and help increase the likelihood of you achieving your goals.

Write out your estimated deadline for completing your goals — keep it realistic! That means you need to consider your schedule and establish a reasonable amount of time to accomplish each goal. Often it takes more time to complete a goal than you realize, so take that into account. And be sure to reward yourself — once you’ve completed the goal — as an added incentive.

4. Know your strengths

In this step, you’ll outline the skills and strengths you have that can help you accomplish your goals.

Write out and answer these questions to get started:

  • What are my biggest strengths?
  • What am I good at?
  • What skills do I already possess that will help me achieve my goals?

Struggling with these questions? Ask a friend or family member to answer these questions about you. Chances are they’ll have insight you may not have considered.

5. Recognize challenges

Next, ask yourself what may keep you from attaining your goals. By identifying possible roadblocks and thinking about how you can avoid or stop them, you can save a lot of time down the line.

Ask yourself these key questions:

  • What may prevent me from completing my goals?
  • How can I avoid these distractions?
  • Could any of my habits keep me from achieving my goals?
  • How can I stop indulging these habits?

6. Take advantage of opportunities

Be sure to take advantage of any opportunities that may help you achieve your goal faster. For example, if you’re working on a career goal, commit yourself to attending events or seminars — either in person or virtually —  that you’ve always wanted to attend. These opportunities may just be the extra boost of help you need.

7. Learn new skills

Achieving something you’ve never done before often means learning something new. Once you’ve listed the strengths and skills you already have, do your best to identify the skills or knowledge you’ll need to learn to complete your goals. This may require a little research but doing so now will mean less work later.

Now that you’ve written down the skills you’ll need, try answering these questions to make your plan more actionable:

  • Can I learn these skills online?
  • Will learning these skills require additional schooling?
  • How long will it take to master these skills?
  • How can I stay focused and ensure I’ll ace these target skills?

8. Lean on others for support

A great way to stay on track while working to achieve your goals is to share your goals with others. Having someone to help you along the way or offer words of wisdom can make a huge difference and keep your goals viable. Take time to jot down everyone you can think of who may be willing to help you along the way. Friends, family, coworkers — often your support network is larger than you think!

9. Keep track of your personal development progress

The last step in creating your personal development plan is making sure you track your progress towards completing your goals. Write down any milestones, important updates or lessons learned as your dreams get closer to becoming reality.

Revisit your personal development plan often and be sure to note if anything isn’t going well. Identify challenges and work on ways to improve the process. This step can be difficult, but it's a key part of your personal development journey.

Learn More About How to Set Goals and Achieve Them

Now that you know how to make a personal development plan, take the time to make your own. With hard work, dedication and a plan in place, you’ll be prepared to achieve those lofty goals that are so important to you.

Want even more strategies for making your dreams a reality? Learn about how to set goals and join the dream movement today for additional resources and guidance.

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