To some people, traditional accountability sounds kind of icky.
Commit to taking certain actions? Have someone check to make sure you’ve done your homework? Get nagged? Be embarrassed? Feel guilty?
No, thank you.
If you’re one of these people, but you’d like some structure and momentum on a project, you may want to check out these creative accountability structures.
They can be powerful and effective, yet they’re gentler, kinder, easier, and/or more flexible than traditional accountability.
You may be surprised to find an approach that doesn’t completely turn your stomach.
The options we’ll be looking at are (using my quirky naming system):
- accountability with options — agreeing to do one of a list of things
- “give it a try” accountability — only agreeing to try something
- baby steps accountability — agreeing to do something that’s very small and very easy to do
- “do it only if you enjoy it” policy — only agreeing to do things that are fun for you
- soft accountability — talking about your project without committing to action
- non-judgmental accountability — working with someone who’s accepting and kind when you don’t do your assignments.
Accountability with options
Accountability with options works well for people who feel trapped if they’re required to do a specific thing at a specific time.
These fine folks don’t like feeling forced to do things, but they sometimes want a bit of structure to help them move forward on a project.
With this approach, instead of committing to take particular actions, you’re given a menu of options. You’re free to choose whichever one appeals to you.
You don’t feel too trapped because you don’t have to do anything in particular, but you get some structure and encouragement to keep moving on a project.
The menu of options can have a variety of different kinds of actions, so you can choose something that suits your mood.
For an example of accountability with options, let’s look at our imaginary friend Fred, who’s begun working on a crime novel with the support of a writing coach.
Fred and his coach come up with these options:
- write a rough draft of Chapter Two,
- edit Chapter One,
- research how forensics labs handle tests for uncommon poisons,
- come up with 20 choices for a title for the book, and
- create an outline of the book’s major plot points.
He’s expected to do at least one by their next meeting, but he’s free to choose whatever he feels inspired to do.
If a person is super-twitchy about commitments, these two caveats can be added:
- if you feel like doing something that’s not on the list, you’re free to do that, instead, and
- if you don’t feel like doing anything at all, then you don’t have to do anything at all.
“Give it a try” accountability
A fave of mine, “give it a try” accountability is an invitation to see if you sincerely enjoy doing something, rather than a requirement to force yourself to do something whether you like it or not.
In this form of accountability, you only commit to giving something a try.
If you like it, you do more of it.
If not, you’ve fulfilled your commitment by giving it a try.
The try may involve doing something for a short amount of time.
For example, you may commit to going to a networking event and staying ten minutes. If you want to leave after ten minutes, you’re outta there.
For an even gentler approach, the try can involve just putting yourself in a position where you can do the activity if you choose to.
For example, you commit to getting dressed in networking-worthy clothes, driving to the place where a networking event is being held, and sitting in the parking lot for a few moments.
Once you’re there, if you feel like going into the networking event, great.
If not, you leave.
I love this approach because it lets you discover what you honestly want and involves little or no forcing, while traditional accountability is all about forcing yourself to do something whether you want to or not.
Baby steps accountability
With baby steps accountability, you only commit to taking one teeny, tiny step at a time.
The steps are super small.
So minor that they seem trivial, almost too easy.
This creates a process that’s so natural and effortless, you may not feel you’re doing anything.
But dripping water can wear a stone down over time. And small, easy actions can create big results over time.
As another bonus, you’re not likely to slack, since your assignments are so easy.
If this approach appeals to you, you can read more about baby steps to succeess.
“Do it only if you enjoy it” policy
Another way to make sure accountability is about joy and not pain is to have a policy of only doing actions that you enjoy.
The first part of this approach involves you and your accountability coach designing your projects so you’ll actually enjoy the actions involved.
It may take extra time and require some creativity to do this.
But I’ve found if you make it a priority, you often (but not always) can do it.
I’d rather spend time initially coming up with a plan that will be fun for me than spending time later trying to force myself to do something that I don’t want to do.
The second part of this approach is that you only do an action if it seems enjoyable when it’s time to do it.
It’s quite common for something to seem easy, fun, no big deal when you’re talking with your coach about it.
When you’re talking to your coach, you’re excited, energetic, pumped up.
Everything seems easy.
When it’s time to actually do it, you may not feel the same way.
If it seems like a drag, you don’t do it.
You just go to your next coaching session with a bit more information about what does and doesn’t work for you.
You and your coach keep rejiggering the plan until it rates high on the fun-o-meter.
This isn’t really accountability at all, but it can be as effective as accountability at getting you to do things you truly want to do.
Here’s the method:
Step one: Discuss your project with someone regularly.
You don’t commit to taking specific actions or report what you’ve done. There’s no expectation that you’ll do anything at all. There’s certainly no schedule or projected timeline for completing the project.
The conversation brings the project to the forefront of your mind and creates some energy and momentum around it.
Your natural enthusiasm for the project leads you into the right actions at the right time for you.
The cool thing about this approach is that the action you take is organic and real. It flows from your honest love of the project, not from forcing or pressure or fear of judgment.
To me, this sort of relationship with your accountability partner or coach feels more adult and respectful than a relationship where your accountability partner or coach nags you and checks to make sure you’ve done your homework.
This approach is for people who want some structure for their projects but aren’t into being judged or feeling embarrassed.
You find an accountability partner or coach who’s non-judgmental.
Someone who’s kind, sweet, and supportive.
Someone who won’t embarrass you or make you feel bad when you slack.
No condescending looks. No lectures. No awkward pauses after say you didn’t do your assignments.
With a person like this, accountability can be a more gentle, respectful, positive experience.
Next, we’ll take a look at accountability in coaching and the pros and cons of bringing this potent tool into your coaching relationship.