Getting Uncomfortable Week 6: Accountability

Ideas to increase accountability when it's self-imposed

6 minutes
Haley Stomp

How do you hold yourself accountable to do things? Do you have deadlines, managers, reminders, timers, beeps, buzzes and the occasional bop? Are you holding yourself accountable for things you want, or you mostly living within milestones someone else has created for you? What if no one is holding you accountable but you?

I spent some time last week pondering and testing the hypothesis that I can increase my motivation with more accountability.

The Pondering

What is accountability without motivation? What is motivation without accountability? Like Joni Mitchell, I’ve seen both sides now.

With my past corporate roles, balancing work and family, every minute mattered. Every minute was scheduled. I was a master of efficiency, economy, and time management innovation. I did in 30 minutes what some people plan a whole day around. I was like the pig mom on Sing with a system of pulleys and string, making a million things happen at once. One hiccup and the whole thing fell into a giant mess, and that mess meant I failed.

Where was accountability coming from all those years? Looking back, I was both internally holding myself accountability, coupled with the external standards and accountability from a long cast of characters in my life: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, babysitters, the nosy neighbor lady, cousins, friends, Teen magazine, managers, doctors, police, spouses, kids, social media, relatives from the grave, your cats who want to eat on time. Phew! That’s a lot of pressure to get your shtuff done, keep your shtuff in line and prove people wrong or right. There was and is no lack of others holding us accountable for one thing or another.

When you’re in a leadership position, everyone around you is holding you accountable. The higher you rise, the more people expect, the more people need you. It can be so rewarding, but also so much to carry, especially if no one taught you to set boundaries. How I wish I had known this sooner.

So, what happens when one day you step back and let it all fall to the ground, when you stop trying to control it all and be everything all at once to everyone?

Accountability Without Motivation

Maybe it was a mid-life crisis, for sure it was burnout and some parts that damn pandemic, but I spent the better part of the last two years resetting expectations for myself. I’d hit a point with miles of accountability and responsibility, all the “-ilities”, with a lack of sight to why I was doing it anymore. I remember thinking I was like Julia Roberts in Pretty Women (albeit a different profession) with all the money but no one to help me.

The Unpaid Work

I gave up the money. I did some tough work to learn to listen to what I want, what matters most to me. I give a lot less “f’s” what other people think now, and I’ve been designing my own path forward. I have no boss, no meetings that I don’t schedule, no one gives me an annual review, unless you count the continuous feedback from my family on my cooking.

If I want to watch Netflix or eat chocolate or take pictures of birds all day, I can, at least temporarily. The thing is, I’ve found that does not make me happy and there are birds ruining our siding, so more money would be nice.

Having little responsibility or accountability is not a good goal. Trust me on this one.

My need for increased productivity is a sign that my recovery from burnout has reached a natural end. I have graduated from the unpaid work, ready to reap the benefits.

Motivation Without Accountability

If you’ve followed any of my blogging, you know I’ve done a lot of dreaming about my next career move. One day I’m a travel writer or a recording artist and the next day I’m running a serious consulting business. I made significant progress narrowing it down last year and continue to — sifting and eliminating to create focus and momentum. One could enjoy this process of considering where to go and never really get traction to go anywhere. It’s a good thing I like to go places.

Adding More Accountability

Now that I’m pointed in the right direction and things are snowballing in a good way, I’m adding more accountability to pick up the pace. It takes work and courage to create a new normal on my own terms. You must be brave enough to just try things. There is no one to tell you if you’re doing it right or not. You must trust the experiment to tell you and don’t do it all alone. Find your community of people who are in the same boat.

Here’s what I’m doing to increase accountability and productivity:

1. Study Hall: My career coach and I have study hall every Monday morning. It has made a huge difference. We get on a video call, exchange a few tidbits about our weekend and commit to each other what we plan to get accomplished in an hour. It seems we have an unwritten rule not to tell each other until the last minute if we can’t join, because then the other person is already ready to go and can work anyway. You can do this with anyone at any time. Schedule it on your calendars and show up for each other.

2. Hire a coach: It’s OK to pay for accountability. Maybe you need accountability to make a change or complete a goal. I have two coaches — a career coach and a writing coach. Both provide tremendous accountability and support. Sometimes an unbiased push or a fresh perspective is what you need.

3. To Do List: For many years, I used a typed “to do” list, categorized, prioritized, and compartmentalized. If the system “ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I look at and edit it every day. Crossing stuff off is still one of the best work highs.

4. Accountability partners: I have a good friend growing her own business and my brother is leading growth of a new business. With these two accountability partners, we have an agreement to reach out to each other when we are stuck. It works every time. It’s a gift to find someone, or two (!), with whom you can be brutally honest about how you’re feeling and who you know runs into the same hurdles.

5. Schedule the next meeting: With several people I’m in frequent contact with, we set the next meeting at the end of the current one to keep the ball rolling. This can be done with recurring meetings also. What matters is that you already have it on the calendar.

6. Calendly: I use this technology to improve the speed of scheduling meetings with others. It saves a lot of back-and-forth emails to find a time that works.

7. Start a weekly blog: This is a commitment I have to myself to improve my writing and provides accountability and content for LinkedIn on a regular basis, not to mention has led to so many meaningful conversations and connections.

8. Putting more restraints on my calendar: Whether it’s adding a class, or a lunch meeting, or time blocked out to work, I’m tightening things back up. Having these guiderails has kept me on the path to increased productivity.

9. Putting more accountability on others: The more I share responsibility of household things with my family, the less distractions and excuses I have to delay work opportunities, and it’s good for my kids to share more of the load.

Too Much, Too Little, Just Right

I am aware that not everyone has a lack of accountability problem. In fact, many probably have too much accountability. I would challenge you to consider what ways you can lighten the load. You don’t have to go “scorched earth” to make improvements. Consider being accountable to yourself for what really matters to you. Prioritize something you want to accomplish. Do you have an accountability partner you can text when you can’t imagine facing the day? Are you struggling to make a decision and could use some paid advice? What are you waiting for? I’ll meet you in the middle of this Goldilocks challenge so we can celebrate the right balance of productivity, somewhere between over-caffeinated bear and sleepy cub.