When you put a plan in writing, it is much more likely to come to fruition than if you just “wing it,” says April-Lynn Levitt, coach with the Personal Coach in Oakville, Ont. The act of planning — and reminding yourself of that plan — can be effective in keeping you on your desired career trajectory.

There are no strict rules for creating a career development plan, Levitt says. The point of the exercise is to map out your ambitions and develop the actions or strategies you can employ to achieve those goals. Formats can vary from a structured report to a vision board to a written narrative of how you’d like your future to unfold.

Here are four tips for creating a career development plan:

1. Create a vision
Take the long-term view on your professional and personal goals, and map out where you hope to be in the next three, five or 10 years, Levitt says. By linking personal goals (such as buying a house) with career goals, you’ll be more motivated to reach them, Levitt says.

Be descriptive in your image of the future, Levitt adds. For example, you might ask yourself: what does my future office look like? How many people will be on my team? And, what type of clients will I have?

2. Work backwards
Once you’ve written down your ambitions, think of the steps required to reach those goals. If you are modelling your career after a role model, consider what designations or skills that person has developed to reach their current status, Levitt says. If your role model is an excellent public speaker, for example, you might list joining a Toastmaster’s group as a step that would help you to become a more dynamic presenter.

3. Share your development plan
By showing a friend, family member, mentor or manager your goals, you’ll find yourself more accountable to achieving them, Levitt says. Rookies will often work with their managers on sales goals, but they are less likely to discuss where they see themselves in 10 years. Sharing a development plan is one way of ensuring those conversations occur to keep you on track.

4. Be open to change
“Life is going to throw you some curveballs,” Levitt says, “so you’re going to have to adapt as circumstances change.”

For example, you might be offered a job in a new city or encounter unexpected turns in your family life. So, while you should have a plan in place, it must be flexible, or else you’ll find yourself unnecessarily disheartened when your road map changes.

Check in with your plan every few years, Levitt says, and make tweaks as your career progresses and new goals arise.

This is part of an occasional series featuring tips for rookie advisors.