An obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.Definition of accountability; Merriam-Webster Dictionary
What’s the point of Accountability?
Accountability lies inherent within every action we take because we are ultimately responsible for our actions, whether we are willing to take responsibility or for those actions or not. The point of accountability is to be aware of it and to make use of it rather than be a victim of it.
Do we need Accountability?
Whether we need accountability or not, it remains baked-in. You might instead ask whether we need to make use of it? My answer is: why not? I see accountability as a tool that we can utilise, far beyond its dormant qualities.
At all times, we have the luxury of raising both our internal and external accountability to a conscious level, and it is at this level that we will finally get things done.
Conscious accountability reduces our choices. Without conscious accountability, we have this choice: to do or not to do. With conscious accountability, we have a different choice: success or disappoint someone? There is far greater leverage with conscious accountability, so when you really need to get something done, I argue that you will be foolish not to benefit from it. Do you think you need conscious accountability? Do you think you can function effectively without it?
What’s Internal vs External Accountability?
Accountability is often thought of as being applied as an external force, but it comes from the inside-out as well as from the outside-in. As a disciplinarian, my favourite saying, Accountability hurts! referred only to the external forces (literally) that would help to change a behaviour or adjust an unwanted attitude.
In truth, you need both internal and external accountability, at a conscious level, to get the most from yourself.
From the Inside…
Internal accountability means that you are taking ownership of your credibility. It is a form of responsibility; not only for the actions you take, but also for the outcomes of those actions. It springs from being true to your values and from acting according to your word. When you promise something, your internal accountability is activated in the fulfilment of that promise.
From the Outside…
External accountability is when a force or a person other than yourself assumes some responsibility for your actions. [Here, I might remind you that it is unwise to allow an external force to be solely responsible for your actions. At any time, you have some conscious part in your actions, and so you must not give your power completely to another.]
Still, this external force can be instrumental in adding leverage to your feeling of commitment, where you feel that there is little choice but to act on it because of social pressure or an environment that expects you to take a certain action.
How Do I Get More Accountability in My Life?
The trite answer would be to get a Discipline Coach, who would encourage you to make use of your internal accountability in addition to the benefits of, shall we say, stimulating external accountability. However, as this is not always possible, I will instead give you a whole lot of ideas to make use of.
You will notice that I have written a lot about internal accountability. This is because you must activate your internal leverage in conjunction with anything external if you want real results. When internal accountability is missing, you are lacking the fire of inspiration that leads to self-generated action.
I experienced this first-hand when I once took on a client who expected me to push and guide them in every action and to motivate them constantly. This person had no internal compulsion to take action, nor any seeming interest in doing so. They wanted only external accountability, but this did not work in isolation. This person showed no credibility in their goal-seeking because they did not seem to care about getting what they wanted unless I cared about it more than they did. It was exhausting and ultimately ineffective. For this reason, I will only work with a client who assumes internal accountability at the same time that I am providing external accountability.
How to Make Use of Your Internal Accountability
Remember, this stuff is already hard-wired within you. I’m simply showing you how to break it into steps you can follow so that you can make better use of it.
Find Your Intention
It’s easy to find your intention. Simply think about what you want to get done. Think in a big picture way. When you get clear on what you want, your internal accountability will get all fired up.
- Ask yourself: What is the big picture that I’m striving for?
- Write down the 3 main things you’d like to accomplish this month towards that big picture.
- Keep these things as a record of your intention for the month.
Keep A Master List
This will be a working document that you can use for weeks at a time. It is a type of brain-dump that reminds you of everything you need to do. Rather than being overwhelming, it can be soothing to see everything written down in one place so that you don’t forget anything you’re meant to do. Don’t worry, we’ll also chunk it down into manageable pieces.
- Get a big piece of paper & a pen.
- Write down all the things you know you need to do. Include every item that is weighing on your mind – big or small. Keep adding to this list over several days.
- Break down large items into smaller sets of actions, eg. ‘Renovate kitchen’ can be broken into at least 10 smaller action items such as ‘remove old cabinets, paint walls, install new cabinets,’ etc.
- Group the items into similar themes, eg. fitness/work/household/family/money/health/hobby.
- Write out the master list on a fresh piece of paper. Better still, type it and save it for later editing. Clump items according to their category. Put checkboxes next to each item. Print it out.
- Note the most important items in each category (these will be the first things you take action on).
- Put the list somewhere you can access it frequently, such as tucked into your diary, or standing up on your desk in an obvious way.
- Over time, check off these master list items as you complete them. It is incredibly satisfying to check those little boxes!
- After a month, review and add to your Master List, or delete things that are unnecessary.
My gift to you: A Master List that you may print for your own use. Simply click on the Download button below to access the PDF.
Keep a Schedule
When you write things down in your diary/calendar as appointments, you have a greater chance of doing them. Look at your diary or calendar each day to keep track of the items you MUST complete.
- Use your diary/calendar to maintain a daily schedule.
- Track your success by reviewing your daily schedule and asking yourself: Did each action item happen? How close was I to completing them all? What more do I need to do to accomplish these things?
Focus on 3 Main Things
Decide on 3 main action items that you need to achieve each day, keeping in mind the big picture outcome you are striving for. Make sure they are realistic actions for each day. You may pull items from the Master List as needed.
- Each evening, write 3 main actions in your diary or calendar to complete the following day. Your intention is that these 3 things WILL be done the next day.
Review Your Performance
It’s all very well to say you’ll do certain things each day, but you need to check in with yourself to make sure you did those things. When you review, you renew. Renew your intentions, your inspirations and your commitments by reviewing your performance as a regular habit.
- Every evening, look at whether you completed your 3 main actions for the day. Can you honestly check them off?
- Ask yourself, What could I have done better/differently? Can I make these actions more doable?
- Move any leftover actions into the next day’s actions in your diary/calendar.
Do one thing at a time. Always. Science shows that when we try to ‘multitask’ we are merely switching very quickly from one thing to another, and in actuality, we lose a lot of concentration and productivity during these cumulative focus pivots. Instead, complete one job at a time with singular focus and you’ll achieve far more each day.
Commit to doing one task at a time. Block out time for it. Aim to get it done within that time window. Use the Pomodoro technique: eg. Set a 25 minute period to get one thing done (use the alarm on your phone), then take a 5 minute break. Work in 30 minute chunks of time and you’ll get more done in a day, I promise.
When you are aware of how you spend you time, you’ll also be aware of how you waste it.
- For one whole day, keep track of each 30 mins that passes from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed.
- Notice what you did in each 30 minute period and where you wasted time.
- Aim to improve your use of time where it counts.
Get Your Procrasti-Actions Working for You
Not all procrastination is bad. Many of us like to pretend that we are gainfully employed and taking action when we are actually avoiding something, so I’m calling it procrasti-action rather than procrastination. Procrasti-cleaning can be useful. So is procrasti-exercise.
Meanwhile, procrasti-bation or procrasti-Netflix is less useful (yet oh so fun). The trick is to know when you are allowing yourself to do one thing in order to avoid doing something more important or urgent.
- Identify your main procrasti-actions, whether good or bad. Write down at least 6.
- Be self-aware. When you find yourself avoiding a task by procrasti-actioning, stop and ask yourself whether this is a good use of your time.
- Decide that you are a person who gets the important work (the 3 main things) done first.
- Use one of your procrasti-actions as a reward AFTER you get the main things done.
- Take measures to prevent any unwanted procrasti-behaviours, eg. delete social media or game apps from your phone to prevent their frequent use.
- Practise this new way of living day-to-day, where you get your work done FIRST before any procrasti-rewards are allowed.
Don’t say yes to everything. When you stretch yourself too thin, your best self is not available to anyone. Be smart about how much you take on and learn to politely say no to certain things.
- Ask yourself: Have I taken on too much in some areas? What should I reduce?
- Reduce those extra commitments. When new, excessive offers come up, learn to say, ‘Thank you for thinking of me, but I can’t take part in that right now; best of luck with it.’
Ask for help when you truly need it rather than pretending to know what to do. Admit to mistakes when they happen and show that you learnt from them. Your credibility will grow and you will be seen as someone with a great deal of personal accountability and trustworthiness.
1. Ask yourself: When did I last own up to a mistake I made? What mistakes have I avoided taking responsibility for?
2. Ask yourself: When did I last ask for help? Is there anything I need help with now?
Raise your habits to the level of conscious awareness. Take a close look at them. Take ownership of both the good and the bad habits. Decide to build healthy habits to support you and eliminate those that do not.
1. Write down your top 5 bad habits.
2. Answer this: What can you do to eliminate/change these bad habits?
3. Write down the top 5 healthy habits you’d like to have.
4. Answer this: What can you do to start/maintain these healthy habits?
Make Use of External Accountability
Following is a list of action items to help you get more external accountability, or leverage, with the actions you know you need to follow through on. This external accountability will act to support your internal resolve to be held accountable to yourself.
You may pick and choose from any of these ideas:
Get an accountability buddy who is also working on a similar goal/activity. You can do the activity together in person, or use video chat to do it from afar together, or simply check in with each other’s progress on a regular basis. Particularly useful for fitness or study goals.
Sign up with a coach/therapist/personal trainer/teacher/mentor – especially useful when you have a specific area you wish to work on.
Find someone you respect and admire…someone you’d be ashamed to fail in front of. Ask them to hold you accountable to your goal.
Join a targeted support group – particularly useful if you are dealing with an addictive or destructive behaviour, eg. AA meetings.
Join an online membership of like-minded people.
Take part in something that has a group element, such as fitness classes at the gym, as it’s harder to quit when others are working out alongside you.
Think of your boss/manager as an accountability partner at work (if applicable) and choose to accept any challenges they set for you in a responsible way.
Set an agreement with a work colleague to hold each other accountable to a work-related goal (again, if applicable).
Make a clear statement on your Facebook page about your intentions.
State your goals in a Facebook group in which you are a member.
Use your social connections for extra leverage – ask friends, relatives and others in your social networks to ask you how your project/goal is progressing every time they see you.
Put Skin in the Game ($$$)
Invest in your accountability in some way, either with money or time or charitable commitment, so that you feel compelled to continue with that activity.
And, the obvious: get a Discipline Coach to keep you on track!
Now that you have the above ideas, pick a few actions to try out so that you have internal and external accountability working in the background of your success.