How To Create an Action Plan You'll Actually Follow - A Clinician's Guide To Getting Stuff Done


A few months ago, I was working with a client who couldn’t seem to make progress on the goals she had set for herself. Together, we had done a ton of mindset work and she had very clear ideas on her purpose and why she wanted a to grow her private practice.

Honestly, I was so impressed with the progress this client had made in her beliefs about being a successful practice owner that I was surprised that she still struggled to get started. This woman lacked nothing in the desire department and her fire burned bright.

We kept exploring her concerns from different angles; and, as it often goes, in our final sessions together we finally had our breakthrough

We went back through our work together with a fine tooth comb. She proved to herself that she had set her goals and found chunks of time to devote to accomplishing them. However, when it came to sitting down during this predetermined work time, all she felt was lost. 

She has done all of the work I had asked her to and then some, she knew exactly why she wanted to be in private practice and she was firm on her purpose. She could explain anything about her business to anyone with ease, but her struggle to get started goes to show that having the right mindset is only part of the equation of starting a successful practice.

As we went back over everything she had accomplished we finally recognized that she was paralyzed by the idea of getting so much done to grow her caseload. She as overwhelmed by the amount of things to do that she didn't know where to start.  

You see, she needed a step-by-step guide to follow to make sure she was using the little bit of time she had in a way that was actually going to get her closer to her dreams. 

So we created an action plan.

This dilemma is really not all that uncommon. I work with so many therapists who have brilliant business ideas. They know their niche and are ready to market to them, but when it comes to sitting down and making it happen they get overwhelmed.

Perhaps they fall into a few of the pitfalls we've already talked about: unattainable goals, ideas that are too big or too small, focusing on results based on someone else’s requirements. Or, they just need a bit of a nudge to get going.

But once we work through all of these hurdles, some clinicians still need to know exactly what to do when. They need a road map. If this sounds like you, you’re in luck. Bust out your cartographer tools – or maybe just a pen and paper – cause today we're gonna make our map.

How to Create An Action Plan that Actually Works

The key to creating an action plan that actually works is to start at the end and work backwards. 

Do this for me... picture your ultimate vision and think of the thing that would have to happen immediately before in order for your vision to come true. Ok, now think of the thing that would have to happen immediately before that… 

See what I’m getting at? 

I know for a lot of you this might feel counterintuitive. Like, why would I work backwards if I don’t even know how to start from where I am.

Well, the reason for this is we can get über motivated by our big picture.

Take this for example: perhaps your personal dream is to design your entire house so that it could look like it belongs on HGTV. I bet you can picture it. The absolute perfect paint colors, beautiful, functional furniture, tons of storage, and the cutest knick-knacks. But, when you look around your current living room you see this mornings breakfast dishes, and maybe a pile or five of laundry. 

It can be really hard for us to connect the dots between our current reality and our ideal situation if we imagine starting from right where we’re at. But, if we work backwards we can see each piece and how they all fit together. 

What’s the last thing they always do on an HGTV design show? They stage the house. They arrange the furniture all Feng Shui-like and place all the décor in perfect positions. Ok, so what was the step immediately before that?

We don’t necessarily see this part on TV, but they probably made a few mock-ups of the layout so they could pick the best one, and before that they had to pick out all the furniture and décor, and before that they had to measure to see what size pieces they would need, and before that they installed the flooring, and before that they bought the flooring, and before that... 

You can see what I’m saying and how each piece of the puzzle is essential for the next one to fall in place. They fit on top of each other nicely and neatly and there are no gaps. That is another benefit of using an approach that works backwards. You are a lot less likely to forget a necessary step in the process of reaching your goal. 

Imagine if those HGTV contractors forgot a major step. Like the foreman knew the hardwood was going to take two weeks to arrive, but he forgot to order it and now the crew can’t install the cabinets or appliances on time and the whole project is derailed. Had he worked from an action plan, it's unlikely this mistake would have happened.

Applying This to Your Practice

So now that we've all fantasized about our dream homes for the last 15 minutes, how can we take this principle and apply it to growing our practices?

First, we need to get really clear on where it is we want to go. Spend some time visualizing exactly where you want to be client-wise in 12 months time. Make the picture so clear in your mind that you begin to believe it's actually happening. It can help to bring in your other senses and imagine what you might hear, smell, and feel emotionally if this was your reality.

Next, ask yourself these three hypothetical questions

  1. What choices did I have to make to get here?

  2. What factors went into these choices?

  3. What obstacles did I have to overcome to get here?

The answers to these questions will help you brainstorm all of the possible routes to your end goal. You can then pick the path that best suits your needs and your goals. If you continue on the path you'll ultimately end up at the beginning where you're currently waiting to get started.

The key here though is to be as specific as possible. The more specific, the more clearly defined your path will become. Vague answers will only give you vague directions. Kinda like the old guy at the gas station that tells you to turn left up at the mountain that sorta looks like a thumb... no street names and no mile markers. 

So don't try to go backwards from 10... 9... 8, go from 10... 9.9... 9.8... and you'll see results.

The whole concept is like a funnel that forces you downward from your biggest dream to where you are in this exact moment.

Maybe you see couples and you want to expand into retreats and workshops. Or maybe you are ready to fill your first group. Regardless, of your business model, you can create an action plan to cut through the overwhelm and knew exactly where to start to grow your practice.

Let's pretend that your ultimate goal in 12 months is to have a full individual caseload and bring on your first contractor. To you this means expanding beyond what you're capable of by yourself.

Some of the things you would have had to figure out were:

  • How many clients you need to be full

  • The final fee of your sessions

  • The cost of hiring on an associate

  • The amount of time your new hire will work

  • Where to find additional clients to fill your associate's schedule

You can see that by reverse planning from your ultimate goal you can get closer and closer to the beginning and figure out the exact directions you need to take to get there.

This is often a huge turning point in my work with clinicians. This is the exact place when they have their ah-ha moments. When they realize that their dreams really are possible and that they have exactly what it takes to make them happen. And that’s exactly what I want for you.

I'd love to know more about your private practice goals and what reverse planning your strategy would look like for you.