How to Develop Your Diabetes Action Plan

Learn how S.M.A.R.T goal setting can help you stay on top of your diabetes management.

physician talking to patients

Medically reviewed in December 2022

Updated on December 1, 2022

Managing diabetes requires care, commitment, and planning. With your diagnosis, it’s helpful to create an action plan that is specific to you.

To develop this plan, you’ll work with your healthcare provider (HCP) to decide which goals are best for you and how you’ll reach them. Here are some tips to get you started.

Be S.M.A.R.T.

To manage your diabetes in the way that’s best for you, try setting some personal “S.M.A.R.T.” goals:

  • Specific: Decide exactly what you want to achieve and how that will look. For example, you might say, “I will walk 4,000 steps (about 2 miles) every other evening on a route I map through my neighborhood.”
  • Measurable: Find a way to measure your progress so that you’ll know when you’ve hit your goal. Try, “I will use a smartphone app to track my steps and the days I walk.”
  • Attainable: Make sure you have what you need to achieve your goal. If some element is missing, figure out how you’ll acquire it. In other words, “I will use the health app that comes with my smartphone or download another app that tracks steps. I’ll also buy good, supportive walking shoes.”
  • Realistic: Your goal needs to be something you know you can achieve, and you need to feel a commitment to it, not just an obligation. That could translate to a statement like, “Committing to exercise as a lifestyle change is important to me, and this plan will help me achieve that change.”
  • Time-bound: No open windows here. Set a realistic timeline or deadline for yourself for meeting your goal. As in, “By the end of the first week, I will have walked 12,000 steps.”

What kinds of goals should you include?

The key areas for goal setting to manage your diabetes and blood sugar levels are:

  • Healthy eating
  • Regular physical activity
  • Medication adherence, such as taking your medication as prescribed by your HCP
  • Checking blood sugar
  • Developing problem-solving plans
  • Reducing risks associated with having diabetes
  • Mental health, such as coping with your diagnosis and its management

These seven areas of management are what the Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists (ADCES) calls the ADCES7 Self-Care Behaviors.

Talk with your HCP about appropriate aims in each of these areas. Everyone’s needs will differ, and your plan should put the “personal” in personalized management.

Remember not to overlook the mental health, or coping, aspects of your plan. Getting a diabetes diagnosis can be unsettling or even shocking, so be sure to include goals related to maintaining a healthy outlook and getting support when you need it.

And you don’t need to set big goals for each of these. You can create small steps and short-term targets. For example, a reasonable goal might be, “Eat two servings of vegetables every day this week.” Then re-evaluate how your plan has worked for you as you reach each deadline.

A special case: illness

The best-laid plans can go awry when illness strikes, and your diabetes management plan isn’t immune to this possibility.

Of course, you do have some control over your wellness and you should do your best to stay current with screenings and preventive care that are recommended for your age, health history, and sex. These steps can include regular blood pressure checks, screening for breast and colon cancer, and ensuring that your vaccinations are up to date.

But even the most careful attention to such details can’t completely protect you from diseases like the common cold. That’s why you’ll need a plan B for what to do if viral or other illness strikes. This kind of planning falls under the “problem-solving” area of your management plan. 

A sick-day plan might involve more frequent blood glucose checks, a commitment to maintain your food intake, increased liquid intake (sugar-free, of course), and notes about what should trigger a call to your HCP. As with all parts of your management plan, the sick-day steps should be developed in coordination with your HCP.

Evaluating your success

Each time you reach a deadline, it’s a good idea to pause and look back at cases where you met your goal—or fell a little short. If you came up short, look at the factors that interfered with your progress and see what you can do to reduce those obstacles for your next steps. Talk to your HCP about ideas for adjusting a goal or minimizing roadblocks.

These moments of self-evaluation are also your time to establish your next set of goals, in partnership with your HCP.

You’ll also need to commit to reproducing your earlier successes. The process of managing diabetes is an ongoing one. Maintaining the beneficial changes you make in your lifestyle is key, and refreshing your goals as you assess your progress can help.

Lastly, don’t forget to reward yourself for meeting your goals. Include in your plan some small but special indulgences for achieving your aims, such as a long, quiet bath, or a nice (healthy) dinner out.

Article sources open article sources

SAMHSA. Setting Goals and Developing Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound Objectives. Accessed December 1, 2022.
Nguyen-Vaselaar HT. 847-P: Goal-Setting Behavior for Physical Activity in Diabetics: A Quality Improvement Project. Diabetes. 2021;70(Supplement_1).
Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists. The Framework for Optimal Self-Management. Accessed December 1, 2022.
American Diabetes Association. Eating right doesn’t have to be boring. Accessed December 1, 2022.
American Diabetes Association. It’s a great time to get moving. Accessed December 1, 2022.
Joslin Diabetes. Joslin Diabetes Center’s Clinical Guidelines for Management of Adults with Diabetes. Approved February 13, 2020.
American Diabetes Association. Where Do I Begin with Type 2? Accessed December 1, 2022.
American Diabetes Association. Blood glucose can make all the difference. Accessed December 1, 2022.
American Diabetes Association. Problem Solving to Improve Diabetes Management. Accessed December 1, 2022.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes: Prevent Diabetes Complications. Last reviewed November 3, 2022.
American Diabetes Association. Understanding diabetes and mental health. Accessed December 1, 2022.
Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists & Kolb L. An effective model of diabetes care and education: the ADCES7 Self-Care Behaviors. The Science of Diabetes Self-Management and Care. 2021;47(1), 30-53.
American Diabetes Association. Flu and Pneumonia Shots. Accessed December 1, 2022.
NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Managing Diabetes. Last reviewed December 2016.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes: Managing Sick Days. Page last reviewed February 28, 2022.
Abbott. What to Know: The Flu and Diabetes. November 13, 2018.
Petry NM, Cengiz E, et al. Incentivizing behaviour change to improve diabetes care. Diabetes Obes Metab. 2013 Dec;15(12):1071-6. 
LSU Health. Changing Behaviors to Help Self-Manage Diabetes. Accessed December 1, 2022.

Featured Content


5 Tips for Coping With Type 2 Diabetes

Learn helpful tips for handling the emotional and psychological challenges of diabetes.

How to Build Your Diabetes Healthcare Team

Diabetes healthcare specialists like endocrinologists, dietitians and more—all play an important role in your health.

Video: My Type 2 Diabetes Journey

Mitch is a type 2 diabetes patient who has found success managing diabetes with injectable medications.

What You Need to Know about Insulin

Learn, step by step, about the basics of insulin and the types of therapies that are available today.

5 Strategies for Healthier Habits with Type 2 Diabetes

Try these tips to help develop a healthy routine and stay on track with managing type 2 diabetes.