One of the major obstacles to achieving personal improvement goals is the lack of a good action plan. Developing good action plans is not hard, but you need to learn how to do it efficiently. The result should be an effective road map to get you to your goal. Here's how to put a personal improvement plan (PIP) together.

CLEARLY STATE YOUR GOAL

A clear goal is needed to start the process. A goal should state what you hope to accomplish and by when it should be achieved. Here are a few examples: (1) I will lose 20 lbs by June 30th; (2) I will work up to doing five 45-minute aerobic walks a week by August 1st; (3) I will add 1,000 new words to my vocabulary within 12 months. Once you have your goal or goals clearly specified you are ready to develop your action plan(s).

IDENTIFY THE MAIN TASKS NEEDED TO ACCOMPLISH THE GOAL

Each goal needs a separate action plan because the tasks required to get to each goal may be unique. This step is where your knowledge and creativity are engaged to come up with interesting and motivating strategies or tasks that will make you successful. You also may need to do some research or even possibly require help from a professional such as a personal trainer. Spell out the critical tasks along with any budget if required, and the timing for each task. See the example in step 3. Remember this: you must make allocating time to perform your tasks a high priority in your daily life.

PREPARE A LOG TO RECORD YOUR ACTION PLAN AND PROGRESS

Written records are critical to success in developing and adhering to action plans. A log can also be an important motivational tool. Here's an example of a fitness action plan recorded in a log. Goal: Add five pounds of muscle in the New Year (12 months). Tasks, Budget and Timing: (1) Join a gym in week 1, $400 for the year and get a benchmark measure of body fat percentage; (2) Hire a Personal Trainer to establish resistance (strength) training routines and a safe progression, $150 for three sessions; (3) Do resistance training at the gym on two or three non-consecutive days of the week; (4) Get updates on your body fat percentage quarterly to determine the increases in your lean body mass (due to adding muscle). Note well: you don't have to develop plans that cost money!

MONITOR THE PROGRESS OF YOUR ACTION PLAN

Use the log you have prepared to track the progress of your plan toward your goal. If progress is slower than anticipated you could either modify your goal by making it more modest, or add more tasks to increase activities, or increase the pace of existing tasks. So you can apply your reason and imagination to close any gap that develops between goal and progress. Seeing real progress being made is highly motivating for sticking with it!

BUILD ON THE SUCCESS OF YOUR ACTION PLAN

Personal success is not only fulfilling, it's also motivating for additional improvement. Build on your success as soon as possible by creating additional goals for you to strive for. Once you get on a roll keep it going!

OVERCOME OBSTACLES AND SETBACKS TO YOUR ACTION PLAN

You probably will encounter obstacles and have setbacks. That's OK. We're all human. Just get back on that improvement horse and ride it to the finish line. Never give up! Draw on support from family and friends, too, to help keep you on track and motivated.

See the Resources section for related personal improvement topics and strategies.