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How to Keep Yourself Accountable

by Dan Parsons

At some point, we all start our day with great intentions only to fritter away the hours with nothing to show for it. We plan to write 3,000 words but end up scrolling social media. Or we map out a marketing campaign but clean out the attic when we should be executing it. The human brain is a paradox – smart enough to plan ahead but even smarter when talking itself out of those plans.

This behaviour is normal – indeed, it’s what makes us interesting – but self-sabotage can cause problems if you let it become a habit. People do it all the time, losing sight of their author ambitions as lost days spiral into months. Yet those same people find the time to move mountains at their nine-to-fives, striking six-figure deals and launching products in a timely manner. So why can they take great strides in work – which they often claim to hate – but not when writing their book?

The simple answer: accountability.

Many of us are people-pleasers, happy to cast aside our own goals but incapable of letting down a family member or manager at work after we have promised to help them. If that sentiment resonates with you then you might want to incorporate accountability practices into your writing lifestyle to add rocket fuel to your progress. Sound good? Read on for a brief selection of the best ways to make yourself more accountable as a writer.

TRACK YOUR DAY

Being self-aware is often a good way to start. That’s because many people don’t realise how much time they waste in a day. For example, you might wake up and plan to write 3,000 words. Yet by 4 pm you realise you’ve only managed 800. So, what happened? Well, you spent 20 minutes reading the newspaper and chatting about some “crazy” local news story to your neighbour. You also “checked” Twitter for an hour. Then when you sat down for lunch, you turned on the TV so that you had something to watch while eating. That turned into a 2-hour binge, despite you finishing your meal in 10 minutes. All of these missteps are easily forgotten if you don’t take the time to analyse your day.

To combat unexplained time-loss, try writing down all of the things you do from the moment you wake up to the minute you stop working for the day – even the minor stuff like cleaning your teeth or walking for 15 minutes to buy bread at a nearby corner shop. The act of writing it down forces you to admit exactly what you’ve done with your time. What you’ll encounter is one of two scenarios: you’ll either reveal all the pockets of time you’ve squandered or you’ll have a super-productive day because you’re suddenly aware of where you’re spending each precious second.

VOCALISE YOUR INTENTIONS

Spoken words are powerful, so much so that scientific studies of track runners have found that those who tell themselves they can complete athletic goals show higher levels of endurance than those who don’t do it – and the principle extends to other disciplines. Two factors are key to making this strategy work for you: positivity and certainty. Negativity will have the opposite effect so you have to frame your thoughts in a positive light. Likewise, certainty is key. None of this, “I’ll try to write 1,000 words by lunchtime.” You have to say, “I will write 1,000 words by lunchtime.” The promise enables you to visualise the glory of the outcome and makes you more motivated to make it happen.

The accountability comes into it when you involve other people. When it comes to announcing your goals, however, science is more conflicted because those who fail publicly sometimes lose the motivation to try again. There is, though, a simple way to avoid this potential negative outcome. All you need to do is choose an achievable goal and be careful who you tell. Support plays a big part in generating motivation, so it’s vital that you only share your goal with positive influences. Many writers choose other writers because they share a common goal and are less likely to mock their efforts than well-meaning family or friends who don’t understand how much negativity can affect their work. If you vocalise positive intentions to yourself while surrounding yourselves with supporters all geared towards helping you achieve a reasonable goal, this strategy will make you far more likely to succeed.

SET TIMED GOALS

Parkinson’s law states that a task takes just as long as the time allotted to it. As such, if you give yourself the whole day to complete your writing, you will procrastinate for much of it and take hours to reach your last word, or never get there at all. However, if you only give yourself a short window of time, the sense of urgency will drive you to finish your wordcount goal faster. Even then, though, imposing a close deadline isn’t always enough to get you working. After all, you can overshoot a deadline when you know it’s self-imposed, right?

This notion changes if you sandwich the time you’ve blocked out for work between activities that include other people. You could pick to organise drinks with friends or decide on a family outing. The nature of the activity doesn’t matter as long as you commit to it and tell the people involved that you’ll join them at a specific time after finishing your wordcount or goal for the day. Knowing you’re locked into another activity will energise you to complete your work on time because you will miss the opportunity completely if you don’t do it right away.

GET AN ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER

Another great tip for staying accountable to your goals is to get an accountability partner – someone who has similar goals and who will also benefit from your support. By sharing your goals every morning or on the same day each week, you can keep each other on track, both understanding exactly what needs to be done and how much it means to the other person. Many rapid-release authors who publish several books per year buddy up in this way, sometimes even writing together physically or via a video conference to keep each other motivated.

Again, you need to choose your partner carefully because a negative one who doesn’t take the system seriously can be detrimental. However, done well, the influence of a productive partner and the positive, competitive spirit they bring to conversations can provide you with the extra push you need to complete your work. If you form a group of partners, you can even enhance the experience by including forfeits for those who struggle to hit their goals and incentives for those who smash them. How you structure the experience is up to you. What’s important is that you motivate each other to keep going.

ENGINEER CONSEQUENCES

Ask a man to fasten his parachute and he might spend 20 minutes fiddling with the straps. Throw the chute into his arms and kick him out of a plane door, however, and you’ll find he can do it in seconds. It’s a universal truth: nothing motivates you like a deadline with consequences. And it’s the same for writers. Penning a novel in a month sounds impossible but you’d find a way to get it done if you had a gun to your head because the consequences would be too scary to ignore.

Nobody’s recommending that you put yourself in actual danger to get your book written, but there are alternative ways to create consequences that can be just as effective. For example, there are apps like StickK or Beeminder. These hold your money hostage and to donate it to a charity you don’t support if you fail to hit your goal by a predetermined deadline. Alternatively, you could set a pre-order date for your latest work-in-progress on Amazon. Doing so will enable your readers to pre-order your book while you’re writing it, the catch being that you have to finish it on time or risk angering those readers and Amazon if you miss the pre-order.

There are plenty of ways to keep yourself accountable. Some come are high-risk, others less intense. Whichever you decide to incorporate into your accountability routine, always keep in mind that not every strategy works for everyone. While some people burn with productive energy at the sight of a deadline, others freeze under the pressure. Consider your process a series of experiments. Start small and keep trying because, eventually, you will find an accountability strategy that works for you.

Daniel Parsons

Daniel Parsons

Dan Parsons is the bestselling author of multiple series. His Creative Business books for authors and other entrepreneurs contains several international bestsellers. Meanwhile, his fantasy and horror series, published under Daniel Parsons, have topped charts around the world and been used to promote a major Hollywood movie. For more information on writing, networking, and building your creative business, check out all of Dan’s non-fiction books here.