Creating an Accountability System
An accountability system can be as simple as keeping a list of everything you want to do on a piece of paper and crossing each item out as you complete the task. At the end of a day or a week, some people simply transfer the remaining items to another piece of paper.
The importance of writing your plan down can’t be overestimated. As social research scientists Cialdini and Goldstein found in Change Anything, simply writing down your plan increases your chances of success by 30 percent or more.
And research by psychologists Febbraro and Clum on self-regulatory components in Clinical Psychology Review found that self-monitoring positively affected mental health. (What’s not to love about increasing your chances for success and feeling better at the same time? )
If you want an accountability system that’s more permanent than a list, a somewhat more complicated system could be keeping a table like the one I used to complete this writing project.
My own writing coach Rosanne Bane recommended choosing initial commitments that are so easy to complete that you might “trip over” them and be successful. In writing terms that meant I wrote at least 15 minutes a day. I could also choose another target (like working an hour a day) but I agreed not to beat myself up if I didn’t reach it. The 15 minutes was all I committed to do.
After being successful at the 15 minutes a day on a routine basis (a few months), I upgraded. I chose to spend one hour a day on each of my projects. So I created a table.
For my accountability table, I created columns for date, the time commitment (from what hour to what hour), the actual time I began and ended, what I completed in that time, and how I felt about it and/or the reward I gave myself.
Most of the time I only wrote down the time I wrote, and what I did. What I’ve discovered is also helpful is writing down what I need to work on next.
So, for instance, if I come to the end of the hour (and I don’t feel like working more) and a new challenge has arrived that I don’t want to forget, I write it down.
“Need to write something about x.”
“Need to make sure changes are reflected in my outline.”
While I use this system for writing, my clients have also used it for things like: job searches (researching them, writing cover letters, and re-doing resumes), cold-calling, developing a reading habit. Virtually any habit you would like to develop can be aided by developing a written accountability system.
Using a Support Buddy
Having a volunteer support person with whom you share your S.M.A.R.T. goals is another way to enhance accountability. Sharing your commitments with another person can be very powerful. Robert Cialdini in his classic book Influence shares the example of how powerful a commitment can be.
Researchers staged a robbery at a beach. In one situation the pretend victims simply left their belongings and took a walk. In another situation the pretend victims asked nearby people to keep on eye on their things.
In the situation where the belongings were simply left, only 4/20 people would try to stop a robbery.
But in the situation where people were asked to keep an eye on the belongings, 19/20 people attempted to stop the robbery.
Asking people to commit and telling someone else you will commit is a powerful incentive to follow through.