Faced with a major project or challenge? You probably have a general idea of where you want to go, but it takes a strategy, a plan of the steps to take in order to reach that objective.

Planning is an investment. To plan wisely and well takes time, effort, patience‚ good research, and counsel—and for those of us who include a spiritual dimension, time in prayer—but a well-formed plan will pay for itself many times over.

There are many ways to create a strategy, but here are a few tried-and-proven principles:

1. Define your long-term objectives. 

What exactly do you hope to achieve? Spell out each objective in concrete, concise terms. For the greatest chance of success, narrow your focus to a few primary objectives. You can take on more or diversify later, as resources permit.

2. Set short-term goals. 

In order to reach your long-term objectives, stepping stones are needed along the way. These should be smaller goals that get you closer to the final destination. As much as possible, they should be detailed and specific, concrete and measurable.

Reaching large objectives takes time. Having a number of smaller goals will help keep your motivation level high, because you’ll see more tangible progress. And every time you tick off one of your smaller goals, you’ll be that much closer to your long-term objective.

3. Identify any obstacles. 

Once you have determined your long-term objectives and your short-term goals, take a look at any obstacles that stand in the way of achieving the results you’re after. If you are alert to potential problems, you can head them off by seeking out potential solutions.

4. Formulate a strategy. 

Once you have determined your long-term objectives and the short-term goals, it’s helpful to have a plan that includes specific tasks that will help you reach each of your short-term goals. Your plan should be realistic. A lofty plan may look impressive, but if it’s too complicated or difficult to implement, it will never get off the ground.

If your project involves working with others, assign the specific tasks to those who will be involved. Determine who will be responsible for each step and when they should have it done by. Accountability is vital to success.

5. Ask God for guidance. 

Once you’ve taken the preceding steps, ask God to confirm that you’re going in the right direction, that you have chosen the right priorities, that you haven’t overlooked anything crucial, and that your long-term objectives and your short-term goals are realistic. “Lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5–6. See also Proverbs 16:9)

6. Document the plan. 

Having a written plan clearly helps avoid things being forgotten or left undone. Good documentation is vital for follow-through, accountability, and gauging progress. Many people find it helpful to keep a project diary.

7. Execute! 

The most common pitfall of planning is failing to implement the plan. People invest in creating a great plan, and they have the best intentions for carrying it out. But things come up, life is busy, and they don’t follow through.

8. Pray it through.

Ask God for His help in bringing your project to fruition. “Ask and it shall be given you.” (Matthew 7:7. See also 1 John 5:14–15)

9. Monitor your progress. 

Set in place a means to monitor progress at regular intervals. Make sure that tasks are getting done when they’re supposed to and that progress is being made toward reaching your short-term goals. If you don’t stop regularly to check your “map” and see where you are, you’re less likely to stay on the road to success.

10. Expect the unexpected. 

Be flexible. Things rarely happen exactly as we imagine they will. As you monitor your progress, be prepared for new factors and adapt accordingly. If something comes up that makes it impossible to carry out a task as you had hoped‚ look around for alternatives. If something isn’t working, change it. Generally follow your plan, but don’t set it in stone.

11. Keep it simple. 

When you first plan something, it often looks simple enough. But as you go along, the project grows—either because you keep adding new ideas or because things are just more complicated than you thought—and usually some of both. Recognize when your plan is becoming overloaded‚ and determine what is necessary and what is not. Be willing to cut the frills and scale back on aspects that are just too costly in terms of resources.

12. Celebrate your successes. 

Don’t wait till you reach your long-term objectives before you celebrate; marking the completion of short-term goals generates satisfaction and excitement.