Reach Your Goals With a Personal Development Plan

A woman with a pencil in her mouth is hard at work on her computer
Writing Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Blend Images / Getty Images

Any goal is easier to attain when you have a plan. A personal development plan lets you customize the steps you will take to progress in any direction, and for any reason. Whether you want to be a better employee or get a raise/promotion, this plan will help you set yourself achievable goals.

Creating a Structure

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 do. 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 example below, with eight rows and as many columns as you have goals. You can hand draw it, or create one in your favorite software program. Make each box bigger than the examples below, so you can write a paragraph or two in it. Flexible box sizes are easier to make in a software program. Then, write your SMART goals in the top row of boxes.

Using software to make a file on your computer is easier to place "out of sight, out of mind," which is dangerous! If you create your table with a computer program, print it out to tuck into your planner or pin to your bulletin board. Keep it visible.

Fill in the Blanks

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

  • 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?
  • Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities to Develop: Exactly what do you want to develop? Be specific, because the more accurately you describe what you want, the more likely that your results will match your dreams.
  • Developmental Activities: What are you going to do to make your aim a reality? Be specific here, too, about the actual steps necessary to reach your goal.
  • Resources/Support Needed: What will you need by way of resources? Do you need help from your boss or teacher? Do you need books? An online course? If your needs are complicated, consider adding a ninth row to detail how or where you'll get these resources.
  • Potential Obstacles: What could get in your way? How will you overcome those obstacles? Knowing the worst that can happen allows you to prepare for it.
  • Date of Completion: Every goal needs a deadline, or it could get put off indefinitely. Choose a realistic date to make it across the finish line in a reasonable timeframe.
  • Measurement of Success: How will you know you've completed your goal? How will you measure success? What will victory look like? A graduation gown? A new job? A more confident you?

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

Good luck!

Example Personal Development Plan

Development GoalsGoal 1Goal 2Goal 3
Benefits   
Knowledge, Skills, Abilities Develop   
Developmental Activities   
Resources/Support Needed   
Potential Obstacles   
Date of Completion   
Measurement of Success