I’m not the only one who starts making my to do list by adding one or two things I’ve already done and crossing them off, am I?

I didn’t think so…

Have you ever thought about why so many of us do this? Are we just trying to trick ourselves into feeling more productive than we actually are? I think we do it because it feels good to accomplish things. It gives us a boost of energy to check something off as done. And when we start off a day or a project this way, it feels like we’re giving ourselves a little bit of a head start.

This little boost can also help you move toward a goal if you know how to use it to your advantage. But, first you need to create the items to be checked off along the way – your action plan.

Planning is an often overlooked key to success. It can be tedious and time consuming. When you’re excited to get started, it can feel like an unnecessary delay. Sometimes, it can even feel like the source of overwhelm or confusion.

But, the value of making a plan can’t be overstated. Not only does it create clarity in your efforts and prevent you from wasting time, it can be essential to helping you maintain momentum – and if you have big goals to accomplish you need to make momentum your friend. If you’re ready to plan out your goal and capture the momentum from making steady progress, here are a few tips to get you started.

1. Make Each Step Small and Specific

Even those of us who enjoy planning can struggle with making our plans and action steps small and specific, but to really make the most of momentum you have to tackle this head on. Big, fuzzy plans can feel good, and may even be energizing for a while, but before long you’ll find yourself struggling to know when you’re really making progress.

If you find yourself having a hard time with getting specific, ask yourself what’s the smallest thing you can to do make progress. Is it making a phone call? Blocking off time on your calendar to work on another action step? Researching what action to take next? Answering a specific question in order to make a decision? The purpose is to get to a point where you do ONE THING and cross it off the list. Build momentum.

2. Celebrate Each Step as It’s Completed

Buzzing through a plan by always looking at the next step can seem like a great way to motivate yourself. But in reality, never taking the time to celebrate what you’ve done can be draining. Especially if you’re working toward a stretch or long-term goal, it can be a complete derailer.

The better approach is to take a minute to celebrate each step you take toward success. Even if you don’t do anything more than give yourself a mental pat on the back, this little break and appreciation of your own efforts will go a long way to fueling your progress as you move forward. Then, you can turn your attention back to the plan knowing that you have what it takes to get there.

3. Don’t Be Afraid of Recalibrating

One reason many of us avoid planning is because we feel like we can’t create a plan that is right on the front end. We feel like making a plan that we later have to adjust is a failure. But nothing could be further from the truth.

The point in making a plan is not to guess correctly which steps you’ll need to take to achieve your goal. The point is to have a baseline from which to make adjustments. These adjustments are not failures – they are chances to learn grow and improve. So if you find yourself recalibrating as you move through your plan, don’t worry. Just adjust and keep moving.

4. Measure Your Progress

Most of us are much harder on ourselves than we need to be. We try to push and shove ourselves to success. But, we never stop to see how much progress we’ve made. Having a clear and specific plan can make measuring your progress much simpler. As you move toward a goal, be sure to pause and look back over all you’ve accomplished.

Like celebrating each individual success, measuring progress can be extremely energizing as you move forward. It’s a reminder of how far you’ve come, how much you’ve learned, and perhaps most importantly, that you are capable of continuing to move forward.

Achieving your biggest goals becomes much more manageable if you can capture momentum and feel like you’re making steady progress. Doing that is much simpler if you have a clearly designed plan. If you have a big goal in mind, stop making excuses and start planning today!