Using a Personal Development Plan to Reach Your Goals

Woman with pencil in mouth, working on computer.

Writing Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Blend Images / Getty Images

A goal is so much easier to reach when you have a plan, one that is customized for you personally with a personal development plan. Whether you want to be a better employee or get a raise/promotion—whatever the reason—this plan will help you set achievable goals for yourself.

Creating a Personal Development Plan

Start with a fresh document or a blank piece of paper. Label it Personal Development Plan, or Individual Development Plan if you like.

Create a table like the one shown below, with as many columns as you have goals and eight rows. You can hand draw it, or create one in your favorite software program.

A hand-drawn personal development plan in the back of your planner will be handy for glancing at during the day, and there's something quaint about seeing the plan within your own wiggly lines. The world is not a perfect place, and your plan won't be perfect either. That's okay! Plans should evolve as you evolve.

You'll want to make the boxes large enough to write a paragraph or two in, of course. Ours are smaller simply for illustration purposes. Flexible box sizes are easier in a software program, but the danger is the "out of sight, out of mind" issue. If you use a software program to create your table, be sure to print it out and tuck it in your planner, or pin it to your bulletin board. Put it where you'll see it.

Write your goals in the top boxes, and be sure to make them SMART goals.

In the first column of each row, write in the following:

  1. Benefits: Write down what you hope to gain by succeeding at this goal. A raise? An internship? The ability to do something you've always wanted to do? Simple satisfaction?
  2. Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities to be Developed: Exactly what is it you want to develop? Be specific here. The more accurately you can describe what you want, the more likely it is that your results will match your dream.
  1. Developmental Activities: What are you going to do to make your goal a reality? Be specific here, too, about the actual steps necessary to reach your goal.
  2. Resources/Support Needed: What will you need by way of resources? If your needs are complicated, you might add another row to detail how or where you'll get these resources. Do you need help from your boss or teacher? Do you need books? An online course?
  3. Potential Obstacles: What could get in your way? How will you take care of the obstacles you might encounter? Knowing the worst that can happen allows you to be prepared if it does indeed happen.
  4. Date of Completion: Every goal needs a deadline or it could get put off indefinitely. Choose a completion date. Make it realistic and you'll be more likely to finish in time.
  5. Measurement of Success: How will you know you've succeeded? What will success look like? A graduation gown?  A new job? A more confident you?

Add an extra line for your signature and make it a contract to yourself. If you're creating this plan as an employee and plan to discuss it with your employer, add a line for your supervisor's signature. Doing so will make it more likely you'll get the support you need from work. Many employers offer ​tuition assistance if your plan includes going back to school, so be sure to ask about it.

Good luck!

Personal Development Plan Example

Development GoalsGoal 1Goal 2Goal 3
Knowledge, Skills, Abilities to be Developed   
Developmental Activities   
Resources/Support Needed   
Potential Obstacles   
Date for Completion   
Measurement of Success