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An Introduction to Goal Planning 

To achieve a goal or a vision you must plan how to make it happen. You cannot 'do' a goal or a vision. Instead, you must do the things that enable it - usually several things, in several steps.

A goal without a plan remains just a goal - many people have visions, intentions, ideas, and dreams which never happen because they are not planned. Use these templates to help you achieve your goals:

Why is Goal Planning Useful?

Goal planning can be especially helpful in advancing your career and job hunting, or starting your own business, or becoming self-employed or freelance.

A good plan identifies causes and effects in achievable stages. These need not necessarily be very detailed or time-bound unless the aim requires it.

Having a clear aim begins to define the plan.

  • For example, a large-scale short-term aim requires a plan with detail and strict timescales, whereas a goal to achieve a personal life change within five-to-ten years requires much less detail and scheduling, provided the crucial causes and effects stages are identified.

How do I Structure a Goal Plan?

Plans can also be structured in different ways according to individual preferences and the various planning tools and methods which exist. Detailed people prefer detailed plans. Intuitive people prefer broader more flexible plans. 

  • The section on project management explains some of the common more complex planning methods. Also, see for example the SMART planning model, which provides an excellent simple basis for outline planning. 
  • The delegation tips also refer to SMART, and these pointers are helpful for setting objectives for yourself, aside from other people. Personal goal planning for yourself is rather like delegating responsibility to yourself, hence the relevance of the principles of delegation.

Choose a planning format that you are comfortable using - and adapt and develop it as you need.

  • There is no point in adopting a complex spreadsheet if you'll not enjoy using it. 
  • Conversely, if you want to analyse lots of details, then choose a format which will accommodate this.

Whatever planning format you prefer, all plans begin as a simple outline, like the planning template provided here.

Beyond this, you can add more detail and structure to suit your aims and preferences, but you must begin with a clear goal and an outline of what will make your goal happen.

Whatever the aim, all good plans tend to include:

  1. A clearly defined aim.
  2. Linked steps or stages or elements - resources, actions, knowledge, etc. - are the factors of cause and effect.
  3. Relevant and achievable proportions and timings (for steps, stages, elements)

Note that the overall aim or vision does not have to be limited or constrained. Where aims and visions are concerned virtually anything is possible - for an individual person or an organisation - provided the above goal planning criteria are used.

Here is a simple outline goal planning template and process, which can be used as the full planning method for certain personal aims, or as an initial outline planning tool for the most complex organisational vision.

  • It is structured in stages. You can add more stages and elements (in other words the factors which cause things to happen) as necessary.
  • If any element is too big to imagine realistically achieving in one go, then break it down into further elements.

Even the most ambitious goals and plans are achievable when broken down and given time.

A plan to achieve a goal or vision is normally best developed by working backwards from the aim.

  1. Ask yourself at each stage of the plan: "What must happen before this?"
  2. And then plan to achieve each element, working back in realistic bite-sized elements, to where you are today. 

Goal-Planning Method

  1. Write down your aim or vision. Describe it. Clearly define it so that a stranger could understand it and know what it means.
  2. Attach some measures or parameters or standards (scale, values, comparative references, etc) to prove that it is achieved.
  3. Commit to a timescale - even if it is five or ten years away.
  4. Then ask yourself and identify: What factors would directly cause the aim to be achieved? Insert these below. 

The Aim

Define your aim - clearly and measurably.

My aim/vision/goal: Measures: Timescale:

Direct Cause Factors 

Identify - clearly and measurably - the factors which would directly cause the aim to be achieved.

  1. Consider realistically and identify the factors which would cause the aim to be achieved.
  2. If necessary research this - you will only be kidding yourself if you guess or ignore an unavoidable aspect.
  3. Write these factors down and clearly define them, again so that even a stranger could understand them.
  4. If necessary add more rows.
  5. Attach measures or parameters or standards as necessary (scale, values, comparative references, etc).
  6. Attach timings.
  7. Then ask yourself and identify: What enabling factors must exist or be achieved for these level two causal factors to happen? Insert them below. 
Factors which will cause the aim to be achieved: Measures: Timescale:

Enabling Factors

Identify the factors - clearly and measurably - which will directly enable the direct causal factors to happen or exist. It is natural for causal factors to depend on a number of enabling factors. The plan, therefore, develops like the roots of a tree, or the tributaries of a river. The numbering is merely a suggestion. Your own plan will be different. Some plans may contain lots more factors and levels - some plans will contain far fewer.

  1. Consider realistically and identify the factors necessary to enable the causal factors.
  2. If necessary again research this.
  3. Write these factors down and clearly define them, again so that even a stranger could understand them.
  4. If necessary add more rows.
  5. You can improve the linkage of the factors through the levels by colour or number referencing.
  6. Attach measures or parameters or standards as necessary (scale, values, comparative references, etc).
  7. Attach timings.
  8. Then ask yourself and identify any earlier enabling factors which need to happen before level three. If so, add a fourth level and complete the enabling factors accordingly.
  9. When you have completed your plan, you can then start to work through the levels - from the bottom to the top.
  10. Adapt your plan as required - especially add new factors as you discover them, and plan how each can be achieved by incorporating them into this model.
  11. A natural way to develop this outline planning method is to use project management tools, such as Critical Path Analysis, a Gantt Chart, or the various computerised project tools now available. See the project management section. 
Factors enabling the level-two causal factors: Measures: Timescale:

 This is a sample template, not a fixed structure - adapt and develop the model to suit your own situation. Add more or remove factors and levels as you need.

You should add a fourth level if any third-level enabling factors are not already possessed and cannot easily be achieved.

  • Create your plan from top to bottom. Implement your plan from bottom to top.


  1. Start with a clear aim.
  2. Define it and understand what will cause it to be achieved.
  3. Break down these causal factors and identify what will enable these to happen.
  4. Ensure every listed item can be tracked back to achievable enabling factors - achievable in terms of size and time.
  5. Remember that causal and enabling factors come in all shapes and sizes. If necessary research what they are for your own aim.

Success is mostly based on understanding what is required for it, before setting out to achieve it.

For example, enabling factors can include:

  • Resources
  • Tools
  • Knowledge
  • Experience
  • Qualifications
  • Reputation
  • Contacts
  • Style
  • Skills
  • Decisions and commitments
  • Re-direction, re-allocation and prioritization
  • Attitude and outlook
  • Encouragement and support
  • Time and space
  • Maturity and wisdom
  • Energy and enthusiasm
  • Determination and persistence
  • Money and other assets
  • Mistakes and disasters - yes, mistakes and disasters can be very useful enablers, so it helps to see them in this way

Where you already possess an identified enabling factor, then re-direct and prioritise it 'upwards' towards your aim and the next relevant causal factor(s) in your plan. This can even apply for factors like money and time, where such enablers are often possessed but are currently misdirected or wasted. The decision and commitment to re-direct and prioritise become the enabling factor.

  • Conversely (and perhaps more commonly) if you do not possess a factor and cannot attain it easily then identify what will cause it to happen, and extend your plan to a prior level. Apply the logic of the planning method - identify the prior enabling factors, and extend the plan to a prior level.

Behind every factor lies a cause. When you approach any aim in this way it becomes achievable.

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