The Only Sure Way to
Make Real Progress This Year

Sometimes it’s hard to know what you should be focusing on …

Should you pick a niche? Take that new course on that hot copywriting opportunity? Beef up your skills? Or write a letter to send to that new source of clients? It can feel like you’re constantly taking two steps back for every step you take forward.

So if you’re feeling frustrated from not making the money you want while you hear stories about other people breaking six figures and living the life that you dreamed of then you’ll want to read what I have to say …

Because today I’m going to give you a step-by-step strategy that can ensure you’ll stop that cycle and make this year your most profitable ever.

Not only that, you’ll become more focused, productive and confident. Plus when you apply this strategy, you’re sure to move into the top earners in your field.

Seem like a big promise to make?

It’s not.

This simple but critical strategy is one that top income earners consistently use. I’ll lay it all out for you in just a minute, but first I want to demonstrate the importance of what I’m about to tell you by asking you to consider the following …

How much time do you spend preparing for a party or other event at your house?

Based on my experience, I’m guessing quite a few hours. On the extreme side, you might even invest weeks for a big event like the one my husband and I throw every year called Music on the Marsh. This year we easily spent 60 hours painting, doing home renovations, cleaning, working in the yard, creating invitations, planning a menu, preparing food, building a stage for a live guitar performance and setting up sound equipment.

Now answer this--how many hours do you spend making a plan to achieve your goals? An hour? A day? A weekend? Most people I know take an hour or so to jot down their goals …

Granted the party I described was more elaborate than most of the parties I throw—my point is that you put a lot of time and effort to prepare for this one evening, but how many hours do you spend planning for every day of your life.

Now I know you’ve heard this before … that is how important it is to write down your goals. And there’s a good reason for that. It works! But without a written action plan, it’s easy to get caught up going task to task, feeling unfocused and overwhelmed. When you’re unfocused, your output reflects that and it will never get any better if you don’t make a change.

But when you invest the time to create a written action plan, you’ll have every step laid out. Soon you’ll easily stay focused and avoid getting side-tracked on every “next best thing” you read about that can “make your business better.” In essence, you’ll stop asking “what else can I do” and instead look at your plan and know what you need to do next.

In fact, making a clear, written plan for your goals can help you work less hard. And add “share your goals with a friend” to that and this could very well be the key to your leaping into living the writer’s lifestyle. Sound too simple to be true?

Consider the results from a goal study made by Psychology professor, Dr. Gail Matthews, at the Dominican University that demonstrated that writing down your goals and action plan and sharing it with a friend significantly enhances goal achievement.

In this study, participants were placed in one of five groups. Group 1 was asked just to think about their goals.

Groups 2-5 were asked to write down their goals and then rate them.

Group 3 was also asked to formulate an action plan.

Group 4 was asked to write an action plan and send it to a friend.

And Group 5 was asked to write an action plan, send it to a friend and email a progress report to his friend weekly.

The results showed that the individuals in Group 1 only accomplished 43 percent of their stated goals. Those in groups 2-5 accomplished a mean average of 64% of their stated goals. Those in Group 5 were the most successful, with an average 76 percent of their goals accomplished.

But the real kicker was this:

The people who wrote down their goals and action plan, sent their written plan to a friend and then sent weekly updates to that friend were on average 33% more successful in accomplishing their stated goals than those who merely formulated goals.

Note the second part of that statement says “and action plan.” Here are twelve steps to create your own written action plan to accomplish your goals this year.

Step one: Take five minutes to write 10 things you want to happen in the next 12 months. Making a quick list like this first helps you to identify what you want most by tapping into your top-of-mind awareness.

Step two: Write down everything you’d like to achieve and prioritize them. Now that you know your top priorities, write down everything else you’d like to achieve and put them in order of importance. This might include smaller goals like read one book a month.

Step three: Turn your goals into SMART goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-focused and Time-bound. Rewrite your goals so each goal fits these parameters. For instance, if your goal is to quit your job and become a full-time free-lancer, your newly rewritten goal may read, “Attain enough retainer clients to make $75,000 by the end of November, 2011.”

TIP: Use present statements. For example, if your goal is “make a $100,000 this year,” then write out “I am earning $100,000 per year.”

Step four: Make a detailed action plan for each goal. To do this, you’ll need to:

  • Write down everything you can think of to do to achieve your goal.
  • Identify all the obstacles you might encounter to reaching your goal. (Include ideas on how you can overcome these.)
  • Make a list of any additional skills or knowledge you will need to acquire.
  • Put together a list of people whose help or cooperation you’ll need.
  • List the resources you’ll need to achieve each goal.

TIP: Block out enough time to work on nothing but your action plan. I can’t stress this enough. And confess that at times I’ve felt I should be doing something else like writing, learning or getting clients. But this is more important. Besides if you can’t make time to write down a plan for your goals, how will you ever find time to achieve them?

Consider turning this into a reward for yourself by building a relaxing goal-setting weekend into your plan for next year. I have a few friends who do this. One friend rents a cabin in the woods. She spends two days hiking, reading, meditating and goal planning. Another friend plans a goal-planning weekend with her husband, mixing a romantic get-away with yearly planning. Once home, they not only have their action plan for the year but feel refreshed and ready to tackle their plan.

Step five: Organize your action plan for each goal. Prioritize by what is more important and what is less important. Then put things in order of what you need to do before you can do something else.

Step six: Set deadlines. Set a deadline to achieve each step in your action plan. By setting small, practical steps with deadlines that take you towards your goals, you’ll see real progress. If you miss a deadline, just re-adjust and update your plan.

TIP: To make this easier, start with your yearly goals first, then break deadlines down like this: six month goals, quarterly goals, monthly goals, weekly goals, and daily goals.

Step seven: Create a yearly calendar for your plan. Once you’ve made your action plan, transfer the details of your plan to a yearly fold-out calendar. You can get one from Franklin Covey for $2.95. It’s a great tool for long range planning and gives you a way to see everything at once.

TIP: Don’t clutter this calendar up. Use this for your action plan steps only.

Step eight: Invest in the resources you need to make a change. Often when you want to make a change it requires resources. For example, if you want to get more clients, you might have to invest in a course on how to do this or stamps and mailing supplies to launch a direct response campaign. Have realistic expectations about what you need and make that investment.

Step nine: Visualize success. Visualizing how good it will feel to achieve your goals can be very powerful. In fact, this has worked for me over and over. For example, a little over three years ago while visiting an acquaintance’s house I decided I wanted the same view she had. Nine months later I was moving into a house just a few houses down the street from her—with that same view. A picture of that view kept me focused on my dream. Not only did it motivate me but it made it easier to know the steps I needed to take. For instance, it helped me narrow my search. And when a foreclosure came up on this woman’s street, it was very easy for me to take the steps necessary to win the bid. Why? Because I immediately knew I wanted it and had a plan to get it where others had to think about it and couldn’t act as quickly.

To help you visualize better, you might want to create a vision or dream board. Pictures from magazines of your dream vacation, house or kitchen, taking pictures of the view you want, writing statements about what you want, or photos of rolls of cash and a person who is slim and healthy looking. These are all ideas of what you might include on your vision board.

TIP: For an easy and fun way to create one of these use Oprah’s free O-Dream board. Choose from different backgrounds, import your own pictures or choose from a library of images they’ve compiled, and create text statements for your board. Then you can visit it online or print it out and hang it up.

Step ten: Make a public commitment to your goals. Find a supportive friend or a copywriting buddy who is willing to act as your accountability partner. Send your written goals and action plan to your partner along with committing to email a quick progress report to him each week. The Dominican University study found that making a public commitment like this significantly increases your accomplishments over those who only wrote action plans or didn’t write goals.

Step eleven: Take Action. Work your plan and expect to be successful. If you fall off your plan, don’t beat yourself up. Just re-group, adjust your plan accordingly and keep at it.

TIP: Replace hard-nosed discipline with self-compassion. It’s normal to start off excited and gung-ho. But when your enthusiasm wears off some, it’s easy to have a set-back. When that occurs a common tendency is to self-criticize. That inner critic can get louder and louder—causing self-doubt to take over. Eventually this self-doubt can lead to giving up on your goals. This year, don’t be so hard on yourself. Give yourself some compassion when you have a set-back, then re-adjust. You’ll find it easier to get back on track and keep moving forward.

Step twelve: Replenish motivation daily. Zig Ziglar says, "People often tell me that motivation doesn't last, and I tell them that bathing doesn't either. That's why I recommend it daily." It’s hard to stay self-motivated. Find sources that will give you a shot of motivation every day. That might mean reading an inspirational passage everyday or visiting AWAI’s Wall of Fame or listening to motivational speakers on your iPod. Find whatever it is that works for you and build time into your plan to seek motivation from your source every day.

TIP: Write your goals every day. Don’t just read your goals everyday, write them out everyday. There is something potent and motivating about writing, “I am living the writer’s life and earning $100,000 a year” each and every day.

This may seem like a lot of effort to write out a detailed plan. But ask yourself, if you can spend many hours preparing for a four hour party, don’t you think it’s worth at least that much time to plan for an entire year? Rather than thinking you’re too busy and don’t have the time, think, “I make an action plan because I’m way too busy to be unfocused and not reach my goals again.” Making the effort to create an action plan, write your goals out every day and spend a few minutes on motivation along with sending your weekly progress to an accountability partner will help you unclutter your life and free up your time so you can achieve more.

Make this year the one that you break the six figure mark as a copywriter … or move into that new house … or take that vacation you’ve been dreaming about and so on.

Everything great ever accomplished in this world was done by people who set goals and then worked to achieve them. Don't let another year slip by where you feel unfocused and never seem to get closer to where you really want to be in life. Make a list of your goals and put together your goal action plan to share with a friend today.

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Published: January 28, 2011

13 Responses to “The Only Sure Way to Make Real Progress This Year”

  1. This is a great article, Cindy. I finally blocked out the time to read it and work through it and have compiled my goals and lists and 'how-to' plans and it has all become so much clearer. Why is it so hard to do this without directions???

    Again, thanks!


  2. Thanks for this, Cindy. Your steps and tips are clear and doable! I have a couple of other tips that I like, from elsewhere, and I have added them to yours. This makes for a good solid strategy with ways to keep me on track. My time to 'really' plan (i.e. write down all the details that you mention above instead of skimming the surface) is set aside. Now I need a partner to work with.

    Guest (Ann)

  3. What a wonderful article, Cindy. I've been struggling some, even with written goals. My action plan needs work, and so does the DAILY motivation!

    This will help keep me on track!


    Guest (Melanie)

  4. Glad this helped you ladies! I can't wait to hear about your success this year. Ann--it took me awhile to find the right person to work with, but at first I just asked a really good friend if I could send her my progress each week and that worked great and kept me on track.

    Guest (Cindy Cyr)

  5. What a wonderful article.This what i really need to move forward.As of today i will surely restart setting my goals and put them into serious action.


  6. @Wallvi...Thank you! I think you'll be pleased with yourself when you start doing this...Personally I feel good at the end of each week when I write my list and send it off...makes me realize I am making forward progress even during those rough times.

    Guest (Cindy Cyr)

  7. Thank you Cindy! I have a question. Do you think newbies like me should get clients before we finish the program (six figure)? It's one of my goals.


  8. Thank you for an excellently written, informative article. Brings back memories of the Army's "backwards planning", but much better planned and fleshed out.


  9. This is great stuff because it has always been the problem. A laid out plan that you work on everyday is the key. That is my goal this year and I am sure it will leap-frog me.

    Guest (Paul Idriss)

  10. Cindy,

    Thank you very much for your clear step-by-step process to writing your goals then breaking them down into doable pieces.

    Finally, someone has explained to me what they meant about writing down your goals... so simply. "Take 5 minutes to write down 10 things you want to have happen in the next 12 months." "Those are your goals."

    I could never figure out what my goals were! Go figure. So simple.

    I printed this article to make sure to follow it and each of its steps.

    Thanks again, Cindy, mj.

    Guest (mj)

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