Do you dream about where you want to be in a year’s time? What about in five or ten years? Maybe you want to advance in your career or buy a home. Perhaps you want to complete a professional degree.

No matter your goals, the key to success is a personal development plan.

A personal development plan lays out exactly what you want to achieve and the steps to take to achieve it. It makes what may seem impossible completely attainable. Not only will it help you focus on your goals, but it will also keep you aware of the progress you’ve made.

The good news? Creating your own personal development plan is very easy and can be completed in a few simple steps.

Step 1: Determine Your Goal

Having a long-term goal is crucial for your focus and motivation. Without a goal, you have no plan. Now is the time to write down all the goals you’d ideally like to achieve in the future.

Common long-term goals include:

  • Run a marathon
  • Save for retirement
  • Buy a house
  • Start a business
  • Complete a degree

Although it can be difficult, try to make your goals as detailed as possible. The more detailed and S.M.A.R.T. these goals are, the less daunting and more achievable they will be. Keep in mind that while goals are meant to keep you focused and motivated, they can always change as needed.

Step 2: Look to the Future

Now that you have a goal in mind, you need to understand its value. What will this goal bring to your life? If you have an answer, write it down — this is important for staying motivated in the years to come.

Perhaps your goal is to go back to school. The value, then, would be gaining new knowledge and skills. If you want to open a small business, the value would be gaining independence in your work and finances. The more detailed your goal, the better off you’ll be.

If you find you’re having difficulty determining how a goal is valuable or will improve your life, it can be helpful to go back to your original list. You might’ve overlooked a goal that’s more important to you.

Once you’ve written your answer down, save it with your development plan. This will serve as a reminder later on about why you’re working so hard.

Step 3: Break Down Your Goal

Even though you might not accomplish your goal for 10 years, it’s essential to start working now. To prevent feeling overwhelmed, break down your large goal into smaller, shorter-term goals. These are known as objectives.

These small goals should be realistic and attainable so you don’t set yourself up for failure. Break each goal down into steps by writing a to-do list, and keep it as detailed as possible. This includes creating a designated timeframe for when you need to finish each step on the checklist. Having due dates is a great way to keep yourself accountable.

For example, if a goal of yours is to relocate, consider the factors in owning versus renting a home. Break down your objectives for this goal. How much will you need to save? When can you start the home buying process? What features are you looking for?

Once you’ve decided what your goals are, it’s time to number them in order of importance. Number one should be the task or objective you feel is most time-sensitive and important to you.

By breaking down your large goals into small, short-term objectives, you can better track your progress and feel accomplished about how far you’ve come.

Step 4: Set a Deadline

We already discussed the importance of a deadline for your short-term goals — but what about your number-one long-term goal? It can be hard to determine precisely when you should set a deadline that’s 10 years away, but it’s necessary to have a timeframe in mind.

Look back to your breakdown of short-term goals to understand exactly how much work you will need to complete. How much time will you need to check each item off your list? Once you have an answer in mind, set a realistic deadline to strive for.

While this deadline doesn’t have to be set in stone — since setbacks are always on the horizon and should be planned for — it’s a great tool to stay motivated and better manage your time.

Your Personal Development Plan

A personal development plan is an excellent tool for assessing your goals, determining what’s most valuable to you and creating a plan to take action. Life can be a whirlwind, but a customized development plan will help you stay on track, motivated and optimistic about the future.