A new year brings with it a fresh opportunity for us to improve whatever’s not quite right in our lives…to work for the things we believe will make us better at work and at home, and to shed any bad habits that are holding us back.

But none of that will happen without a solid plan for how to make it happen!

So make planning your top priority in 2020.

No matter how thoughtfully you have chosen your New Year’s resolutions, you are, unfortunately, almost guaranteed to fail…unless you also create a strategy, with specific action items, to make them happen.

If you’re resolving to get fit, for example, are you figuring that you will maybe, probably, eventually join a gym—maybe that one your neighbor goes to? If you want to start saving money, are you pretty sure your company’s financial planning guy is coming to see everybody some time in the first quarter of the coming year?

That’s not a plan.

Here’s a plan:

I resolve to get fit in 2020 and here’s how I’m going to do that, starting today:

  1. Go to Corner Gym on Hillside Avenue after work this Monday, and buy a three-month membership.
  2. At the same time, sign up for three sessions with a Personal Trainer for next week, to learn how to use the gym equipment and set my fitness goals.
  3. Start taking BootCamp classes this week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 5:45 to 6:45 p.m. Schedule it in my calendar and never skip.
  4. Create a meal plan for myself today that includes lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and no unhealthy carbs or sweets. Go to the grocery store after the gym on Monday and stock up on healthy ingredients.
  5. Limit take-out and dessert to once a week, starting now.

Your list might include more or different action items. Your goals might be financial, work or relationship-focused instead. No matter what your goals or your strategy for achieving them, here are five ways to make a plan that will help guarantee your success:

  1. Write it down. Simply knowing what you want to do isn’t as effective as committing it to paper. Plus, writing a plan helps you think it through more thoroughly.
  2. Make your plan public-ish. Print it out and post a copy in your bathroom and on your refrigerator, where you’ll see it several times a day. Make a mini-copy for your desk at work and post it someplace where you’ll see it but others won’t. And reveal it to your closest friends, your partner and your kids, if you have them. They’ll root for you, and may even join you on your journey, if their goals are the same.
  3. Assign yourself deadlines, but make them realistic. “Join Hillside Gym on Monday after work” is completely doable. “Lose 15 pounds in four weeks” isn’t. And that’s not a plan, it’s a goal. How are you going to lose that weight?
  4. Build in some flexibility. Sure, make your Tuesday/Thursday BootCamp class non-negotiable, but if your wedding anniversary happens to fall on a class day this year, skip class just one time. Try to make up the missed class on Wednesday or Friday.
  5. Track your progress and adjust your goals regularly. If you’re seeing great results, it might be time for a plan to step it up. If you’re not progressing, maybe a less-rigid plan would be more realistic for you.

Happy 2020 to you! I wish you success in reaching your goals this year, and every year.