12 Steps to Create an Effective Personal Development Plan

Without a personal development plan, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by the personal development industry.

It’s not your fault! There is a constant bombardment of Gurus telling us to sleep smarter, think less, read more, exercise faster, and breathe slower.

These ‘helpful’ personal development tips are everywhere, but in such a high volume, they often don’t help you ‘develop’ or ‘improve,’ they just make you want to curl up into a ball and cry. 

It’s not that all the advice is bad – although some of it is – it’s that you need a plan to make it more manageable. A personal development plan.

Lucky for you, I developed this 12-step guide so that you can create your own effective personal development plan. Good luck!

How To Create an Effective and Relaxed Personal Development Plan  

Step 1: Get Ready to Write a Few Notes

Open a new Google Doc, or prepare a fresh notebook to do some writing. If you choose to go with the ol-paper-and-pen technology, be prepared to move your personal development plan onto Google Docs later.

In the future, your personal development plan will need to be referenced and edited, so it makes sense to write it on a cloud-based Google doc.  

Step 2: Write Out Your Schedule

Schedules are crucial to personal development plans. In order to add to, change, or improve your life, you need to reference your schedule to make your plans and you need to follow your schedule to act on your plans. Without a written out and followed schedule, a personal development plan is difficult to create and near-impossible to follow.

In addition to schedules being crucial to personal development plans, I believe they are also crucial to our health and happiness. An overly strict and packed schedule leads to an inflexible and stressed person, and an overly loose and relaxed schedule leads to another type of person.

Of course, what constitutes as an overly strict and packed schedule for one person may be considered an overly loose and relaxed schedule to another. In other words, a ‘good schedule’ is somewhat subjective, but there are certainly best-practices and pitfalls to look out for.

Step 3: Write Down The Major Pillars of Your Life

The major pillars of your life are meant to represent the most important segments of your life, and the fact that you need to balance your time between all of them. For example, your work is an extremely important pillar of your life, but you need to balance it with your need to socialize and care for your health. Most of us can’t just work, work, work without it affecting our other pillars.   

Although most of the important pillars of our lives are similar, there are some areas where people will differ. Also, even if we have similar pillars in our lives, we all place a different value on certain pillars over others. For example, some people care more about work, and some people care more about family. 

As you write down your pillars, keep in mind which ones you find more important, but also keep in mind the importance of a balanced life.

Step 4: For Each Pillar In Your Life – Brainstorm All The Ways You Can Work to Develop that Pillar

Underneath each of your pillars, write down all the ways you can develop that pillar. These ideas are your goals. Also, feel free to branch your pillars into sub pillars. For example, my Work & Purpose pillar leads to the sub-pillars career, giving back, side income, and finance.  

Check out the goals I came up with for my pillars on page two of this Google Doc

Step 5:  From all of Your Ideas, Take Any That Are Easy, One-and-Done Tasks, and Move Them on to a Separate To-Do List. 

Some of the ways that you will develop your pillars are easy, one-and-done tasks. Take any of these tasks and put them on a separate to-do list.

Once there, try to get them done whenever you get the chance. Perhaps this will be the next time you go grocery shopping, or if it is an online to-do, the next time you do some online banking. 

I am not trying to imply that easy, one-and-done tasks are unimportant, quite the contrary. I believe writing them on a to-do list and planning to do them in tandem with your weekly and monthly to-dos is a great way to get them done. 

Scroll to the bottom of this Google Doc to see the easy-to-do list I ended up with.

Step 6: Look At All The Goals Under Your Pillars and Choose One Goal to Focus On.

Since acting on your personal development goals happens on top of everything else you are doing, I believe in focusing on one goal at a time. Obviously, in the run of a day, you are focusing and working on many goals at once, but what I’m talking about in this guide is acting on new, non-time-sensitive personal development without overburdening yourself. Personally, I find this strategy of focusing on one new goal at a time relaxed and manageable, but perhaps your standards or abilities are higher than mine and this one-at-a-time strategy is too slow for you.

I recommend focusing on one new personal-development goal at a time, but play it by year, and do what works for you.

Step 7: Once You Have Chosen Your One Goal to Focus On, Look Over All Your Goals Again and See If There Are Any Complimentary Items You Can Get Done at the Same Time. 

I know that I just harped on about the importance of only doing one project at a time, but sometimes two or more of your goals are so similar that you can get them done at the same time without overstretching yourself. 

For example, maybe you have a goal to meet new people and you have a goal to exercise more. Instead of trying to tackle these goals separately, you could just join a sport’s club. Two birds with one stone is a-okay.

Step 8: Create Your Plan and Execute It

Once you have decided what personal-development goal you want to work on, schedule a bit of time to plan out how you are going to get it done. Also, don’t be afraid to do some research before you create an action plan. Maybe you need to read about developing new habits, or perhaps you read a blog about someone who has done what you are trying to do. Research is great, but try not to use it to procrastinate.

Now, once you have developed your plan, try to put it into action. If it doesn’t work, reflect on your mistakes and try again. Once you are satisfied that you are ready to move on from working on your chosen goal, move on to Step 9.

Step 9: Once You Complete Your Personal Development Goal – Wahoo! –  Add a Note To a New Page Called “Your Completed Goals Page.”  and Bask in the Intrinsic Reward of Your Accomplishment! You Deserve It!

Also, maybe you give yourself another reward, the ritual could act to empower action on future goals. For me, it is just another complicated step, but if you are someone who works well with reward systems, then maybe this is the step where you can add rewards to your personal development plan.  

Step 11: Revisit Your Pillars, Goals, and Easy-To-Do List on an Ongoing Basis

As time passes your values, priorities, and needs will change, and your pillars, goals, and to-do lists will need to change with them.  For example, I’ve gone from only sitting a few hours per day at work to sitting for most of the day. Naturally, because of this, I needed to create a new goal to counteract all my sitting. 

With something as concrete as sitting more, this is an easy step to act on. You just make a goal about sitting less or about counteracting the negatives of sitting. However, with shifting values and priorities it can call for deeper reflection. Just keep in mind that reflection is good, but too much reflection is not. Anyway, you’ll figure it out. 

Step 12: Start Working on Your Next Personal Development Goal. And Take All The Time You Need. 

Repeat the above steps, taking all the time you need. Some may use strict timelines and due dates to make sure they finish they act on their goals in a timely fashion, but be careful. This can backfire. We already live in such a high-octane, go-go-go society, and if you bring that energy into your personal life then you may be putting yourself at risk of burning out. 

It’s a tough call, and some of us may not have the privilege to take our time, but if you do have that privilege, I would recommend that you try to take a sustainable and enjoyable approach to your personal development plan.

Other Key Ideas to Consider When Creating Your Personal Development Plan

Identify Signs that You Should Seek Professional Help 

Dr. David Sack believes that most people can benefit from at least some therapy throughout their lives. I agree wholeheartedly. Therapists are highly trained professionals who have spent their lives having honest conversations with people about finding solutions to their problems. If you can’t learn anything from a therapist, that’s on you. 

Of course, without proper benefits, therapy can be overly expensive, and although online-therapy has helped make it more accessible, online therapy has its own drawbacks. 

Dr. David Sack also believes that there are 5 signs to look out for that signal that it is time to seek therapy. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, perhaps consider reaching out for help.

  1. Feeling sad, angry, or otherwise “not yourself.”
  2. Using drugs, sex, or food to cope
  3. You’ve lost something or someone important to you
  4. You’ve experienced something traumatic
  5. You no longer can do the thing you like to do. 

Read Dr. David Sack’s full article on the 5 Signs that Signal it is Time to Seek Therapy. 

If therapy is entirely inaccessible, check out these articles.

More Notes On My Schedule

Personal Development Plan Schedule

As you may notice from my schedule – after zooming in like crazy – it’s not that robust. I have a strict 10-6 work schedule, a lot of time for exercise and fun, and a set wake-up and bedtime routine. When I look at my schedule, I feel hopeful for the future, but not overwhelmed. My schedule provides me a good challenge, but not a burnout-inducing challenge. I think that if you feel the same way about your schedule, then you are in a good spot. Also, like me, you are probably privileged to have a good job and no kids.  

What you would not be able to notice from looking at my schedule is that it is a flexible schedule. Other than the rigid requirement to adhere to my work schedule, I focus on cutting myself slack whenever I need to. 

I believe that schedules are a great road map for how you would ideally like things to go, but ultimately, if you need to change it up on the fly, you should give yourself that ability. Sometimes it can be really difficult to give yourself a break, but when you need to, you will usually be much happier if you do.

If you find that following your schedule is impossible without constant stress breaks, consider changing your schedule. On the other hand, if you find that you are unchallenged by your schedule, you should also consider shaking it up a bit. 

Acknowledge That This Style of Personal Development Plan is Not For Everyone

I think this is as good a place as anywhere to acknowledge that this may not be the ‘ best ‘ type of personal development plan for you. It may not even be ‘generally best’ for the public at large – I am not qualified to say what is.  

All I can say is that thus far in my life, via trial and error, this plan is what works best for me. 

Again, as your constraints, beliefs, and values are different than mine, you may need to tweak some of the steps in this guide, or you may have more luck with a different, more-intense plan.

All the best,


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12 step personal development plan
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