Over the past few months, I have been focused on growing myself personally and professionally. One huge theme that keeps coming forward as I try hone in on my quest to live a fulfilled life is the idea of accountability. Accountability is without question my most valuable asset as I am able to grow personally and professionally, experience fulfillment everyday, and get one step closer to live the life I want.
In the traditional definition, accountability is when you are required to explain actions or decisions to someone else or where you are required to be responsible for something. By the nature of its definition, we are led to believe that accountability is an external motivation where you are expected to do something for someone else, rather than the idea that accountability functions from within. For me, I find this so frustrating. This is the exact reason why so many people grow to hate their job. It is this mindset of, ‘action / reaction’ that we are so used to rather than the mindset that if I do this, I will be closer to achieving what I want for my life. Classic glass half empty vs glass half full mentality.
Creating an environment that is open to vulnerability and honesty is essential to truthfully embed accountability. To be truly accountable to others, you need to first be accountable to yourself. You need to be honest with yourself about what you want to do with your life and what you are able to do with your life. I think part of why some people struggle with this may be attached to their ego and their belief that they need to be someone specific to someone else. This image they have created in their head has made it impossible to say no even when you know the ‘ask’ is taking you off track. Believe it or not, saying no is the most empowering thing in the world. Simply saying yes to everything with a lack of ability to actually execute turns you into someone whose word is worth-nothing. Ask yourself, what are you ACTUALLY able to accomplish? Focus less on the many and more on the few.
In Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism, he states that,
[t]he way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage.1
His approach states that their is greater good in focusing on your five core tasks / goals / objectives and getting rid of the rest. By spreading yourself across multiple tasks at any given time, you are actually achieving much less. For myself, this couldn’t ring more true. I enjoy learning and doing many things and being that I am currently going through a transition, I grab and gravitate toward anything that peaks my interest. Think of a cat chasing a string. That was me – and sometimes still is me. I think any creative deals with this from time to time.
Now for the naysayers that don’t believe it is possible to cut down the amount of tasks / business objectives, I ask you this, has your business spent a day breaking down their top five values? Are they rated from most important to least? If so, how does each task rate within those top five values? How many of these tasks drive towards your top two values? How many are value four or five stragglers? The goal of these questions are to really understand where your time is going. If you are spending more time on tasks related to your lower ranked values, you may want to consider whether or not that really achieves your business objectives. If not, you know what to do!
The power of accountability isn’t in the idea of letting someone else down. It isn’t about what you don’t do. It is about what you DO – and it is about what you desire to do. Accountability is something that requires commitment and a desire to grow as a person continuously.
For me to bring balance and structure to this scatterbrain approach outlined above, I used accountability. To do this, I first developed a long term strategy. Many people call this your five or ten year plans. When you have a clear idea where you are headed, you are able to more easily make decisions that impact how you spend your time and helps you determine what work to focus on. For people who work for a corporation (or something similar) with job duties, it is important that you have a clear path you want to take to grow with the business or you have put some thought into what that ideal life looks like without the given job.
For people that are just struggling to make ends meet, this ones for you. I know it may feel that you barely have enough time to get the essentials done to ensure your bills are paid and couldn’t think of how you could even start to clear the headspace to start thinking about this. However, by simply reading this post, you are taking your first step towards designing the life you want to live. You are taking accountability for your current position and actively looking for support through the journey. Developing a five and ten year plan only takes about an hour to start the process.
Developing a Long Term Plan
Developing a long term plan doesn’t need to be a daunting task. It is there to bring clarity, not confusion. To get started, think about what type of change you are looking for. Is there something you have always wanted to do? Is there something you would rather be doing? I’m not meaning goals like, ‘I want to be the next Casey Neistat‘. Rather, what are YOUR personal goals? What are your financial goals? Think about the ‘fun’ things you want in your life. Do you have a desire to travel the world? To skydive? To eat at a Michelin star restaurant? Think about your family goals as well. The goal is to have a list to help guide you through the decisions you make every day.
Be as specific as possible and identify the most important value / goal on each list. Make a unique list for each item and identify the goals attached to each of the important elements in your life. From here, the goal is to narrow your focus and start laying out an action plan leading up to the five or ten year mark with a high level action plan guiding you towards success. My current ten year plan is to maintain a work-life balance, be creatively fulfilled, continue to educate, and be physically and emotionally healthy.
Once you have taken the time to create the high level goals / list, the next step is to then do one small thing a day that gets you closer to what you are setting out to do. If you simply look at the bigger goals and see how far away you are from accomplishing the goals, it will feel crazy overwhelming and it will feel like it is a completely unattainable goal. Oftentimes, this manifests in stress.
One of my more specific, bigger goals is to write and direct a feature film. Now instead of agonizing about what it will take to facilitate this, I’ve restructured my thought process on this. I’ve decided that the first actionable step towards this goal is to improve my life – to start with writing my own story. In turn, I will have a blueprint to create this film. I will have the tools and framework to make the process possible. It isn’t about breaking down each task – like raising money, securing cast or crew, it is about restructuring how my brain works.
Now this sounds all well in good but what the hell does that even mean? Well for me, this means setting realistic timelines, creating checklists that show I am making small victories towards my larger goals and making small improvements to set me up for success in the long run. Currently, my biggest hurdle is accountability. What has been holding me back at the moment is not holding myself accountable to my bigger goals. I lost sight of my ten year plan. I became complacent and stopped watching for the new objectives that were coming my way. I became complacent in what I did day to day because what I was doing was easy. I wasn’t creating work that made me feel creatively fulfilled.
Perhaps the most important result of accountability is trust, which is essential in any relationship. I needed to trust that each small victory led me closer to my bigger goals. Being accountable to something means that you’re willing to make commitments and be responsible for your own actions. McKeown states that,
[c]reating an essential intent is hard. It takes courage, insight, and foresight to see what activities and efforts will add up to your single highest point of contribution. It takes asking tough questions, making real trade-offs, and exercising serious discipline to cut out the competing priorities that distract us from our true intention.2
When things become second nature, I sometimes stop pushing to learn and stop taking risks. My mind disconnects from the task at hand and a lack of clarity pulls me away from my true passion. I feel complacent and content and closer to my ten year plan. However, the complete opposite thing may actually be happening. Re-evaluating your goals and looking to see how each step is impacting your larger goals is always important. These check-stops are imperative to ensure you don’t go too far down the rabbit hole on only one of your goals. The key with this is in understanding how this one goal fits into the bigger picture.
I often find myself on edge when I am not growing as a person. When this happens, I know I am chasing one of my goals too hard and ignoring the others. For me, this is my check-stop. To help combat this, I use daily accountability in combination with big picture accountability (ten year plan) to ensure I stay on track.
Daily accountability helps you drive towards your bigger goals. It is that small spark that keeps you motivated and inspired and the key to feeling fulfilled at the end of the day even when you feel you are a million miles from your future goals.
1. Create and maintain a calendar.
To get started, establish a routine. For any routine to truly take hold, you need to commit to at least twenty-one consecutive days. In Shirzad Chamine’s book, Positive Intelligence, he references a study that stated that twenty-one days were needed in order for habits to form and old ones to fade away. The study suggested that,
it takes twenty-one days for patients to cease feeling phantom sensations in amputated limbs. With further research, he concluded that it takes twenty-one days to create a new habit and postulated that it takes that long for new neural pathways to be built and old ones to atrophy.3
Routines go hand and hand with accountability. To help ensure you stay on track, create and maintain a calendar for yourself. The key is that when you schedule things in your calendar, these items can’t move. If you find that you don’t have enough time in the slot you created, simply create next action steps within the last ten minutes of the block and schedule the next steps into your calendar for another date to continue the progress.
The only exception to this rule of calendar inflexibility is reading. If I feel I am stuck on a given task and spinning circles, I will spend some time reading to reground rather than turning to a social platform. This is a great way to keep your momentum going. For me, my day is only over when all calendar events for that day are completed or at least one step closer to completion. As you get more experience with this, you will get much more accurate about how much time is needed for a given task and you will be able to start being more specific as to what task is scheduled in the given time block.My classic move to make myself feel productive was to schedule items in my calendar with no accountability. I would schedule the items in and feel good that I was in theory one step closer because at least the task was in my calendar. The problem was that I would have no problem taking those scheduled events and moving them to the next day. To justify this move, I would say to myself that as long as I accomplish something else in that time slot that it doesn’t matter that I moved it. This avoidance technique was my enemy and is what created the stress I was feeling. By holding to your schedule, you are able to ensure accountability.
When starting to implement and organize my calendar, I always start with the top value items first and schedule those in. Once those are in the calendar, I then look to secondary values to fill in the gaps. There are many great strategies outlined in Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Work Week or David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. If you haven’t read either or these, I highly recommend them.
If you don’t take control of your calendar and to-do list, someone else will!
Personally, I have created a top list of elements to include in my work week that get me closer to my goals. They include staying true to my calendar schedule outlined everyday, write a blog post a day (weekdays), work out once a day, eat three meals a day, drink lots of water, cut out drinking at home, no tv / movies at home unless a documentary, go filming at least once a week and release one film per week. Obviously these are just some things that hit my calendar and don’t include tasks that make me money for the most part but they are all items that hit on my top two values. You will also noticed I included a couple of ‘DO NOTS’ on that list to. The goal of doing that is to ensure I keep coming back to that and look to fill the time I used to spend doing those things with other elements that fill the gaps from removing those items from my life.
2. Create a system that works for you.
The next thing that is important to establish is a system that works for you that keeps you organized. This works directly with the implementation of a calendar. I used to use a complex system across multiple platforms as a way to compartmentalize things but ended up using none of the platforms because they were too bloated. I realized that the key to a successful system is in its simplicity. I use ASANA and a calendar for my system.
3. Create a distraction-free environment.
I can’t stress enough the importance of a distraction-free environment both physically and digitally. If you find yourself turning to facebook or other social platforms when you should be working, considered using extensions such as this one as a way to curb the habit if you are struggling. In your physical space, make sure you are in a space you want to work in and excited to spend time in.
4. Be honest.
Being clear and honest about what you are able to actually accomplish is important to ensure you are able to stay accountable to yourself. When you implement the strategies above, it may be difficult at the start as you may have issues with time allocation but as you start to get used to this system, you will do a much better job at allotting the correct amount of time for the given task with clear action steps that don’t leave you guessing.
5. Do not let up; Consistency is key.
Lastly, consistency through this will be the difference between good intentions and absolute execution. Obstacles and unexpected circumstances will come up that try get in your way but taking those challenges head on and knowing they are coming will help to ensure you can get over the tougher moments.
Accountability in Business
The last section I want to bring full circle is accountability in business. By reframing the way you look at accountability, you will have the tools to bring to the workplace that looks at the subject as if your glass is half full. By focusing and rewiring, you will be able to bring a system and mindset that will have you driving towards success. Use the ‘no’ approach when applicable and make this an option by allowing the value conversation to happen. When you have the clear objectives in everyone’s mind, you will be able to tell the kind truth. You will have an environment where hard things don’t have to be said harshly. You will be able to love your job again and at the same time, be driving towards your bigger goals.
Bigger Picture AccountabilIty
One of the best quotes in the book, Essentialism was McKeown’s statement that lip service is one thing, action is another. He stated that,
[a]nyone can talk about the importance of focusing on the things that matter most – and many people do – but to see people who are to live it is rare.4
For me, I want to lead by example in that no matter who you are, no matter where you are in your life, accountability is one thing that anyone can achieve. Through simple goals and a desire to design your life, anything is possible. The only person keeping you from your best self is yourself. Enjoy the process. Embrace the change. We are all in this together. Let’s do this!
 McKeown, G (2014) Essentialism (p. 7). New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group.
 McKeown, G (2014) Essentialism (p. 129). New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group.
 Chamin, S (2016) Positive Intelligence (p. 111). Austin, TX: Greenleaf Book Group Press.
 McKeown, G (2014) Essentialism (p. 132). New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group.