How to Set Up an Effective System of Personal Accountability — And Reverse-Engineer Your Success
*Shudder*, there’s that word… accountability.
It’s a word many of us have been conditioned to feel uncomfortable with because it suggests we must be providing results. It means we must open the curtains on our process and own up to any potential shortcomings.
Hit your goal for the week? Great, you can walk into your meeting like a boss for some empty praise all without making any measurable improvement.
Failed horribly? Just what you needed, let’s start off the week defeated and discouraged.
The thing is, we’ve been looking at accountability all wrong. Accountability, by its very nature, is a personal endeavor. As the definition implies, it’s about being responsible for our own actions. And only we can ever be responsible for our own actions, not someone else.
When we fall off track, we know it. When we succeed, we feel it. When we just miss our goal, we feel the burn and know we need to do better. What we then do with this information is what accountability is all about, not what someone else thinks about or does to us.
The price of greatness is responsibility.
– Winston Churchill (more Winston Churchill quotes)
There’s no doubt about it, accountability works and it can be incredibly useful. The thing is, while grouping together with like-minded individuals or in teams within a business is highly useful for group goal tracking and motivation (among other things), it’s not so much for personal accountability.
This old system of “accountability” has two main problems:
- It doesn’t breed self-reliance
- It discourages group members and can actually negatively impact results
The problem with this old system of accountability, where you’d get together in a team or group and announce whether you hit your target or not, why not (if you didn’t), and have your team leader grill you for a while, is that it doesn’t breed any form of self-reliance in the individual.
In such a system you’re conditioned to depend on others to tell you how you’re doing and reprimand you, as opposed to doing this yourself and creating an effective system that allows you to become self-motivating and self-reliant over time. This is what real personal accountability allows us to develop within ourselves over time and it’s critical to our individual success.
In addition, these kinds of group grillings just end up discouraging team members most of the time when they don’t hit their goals, meaning that if you didn’t hit your target you spend the rest of your week having to fight uphill against discouragement and a sense of defeat.
In contrast, with a personal system of accountability, you can always wipe the slate clean and start over, which motivates you to do better next time instead of causing you to feel defeated.
So then, what does an effective system for personal accountability look like? How can we possibly – reliably – remain accountable to ourselves when we fall off track or don’t hit our goals?
Over the past several years, I’ve developed a pretty streamlined system for staying accountable to myself and on-track with my goals. Let me break it down step by step:
1. Set your quarterly goals
I work based partly off of a 12-Week Year system, so if you haven’t read the book, I’d highly recommend it.
In addition, this system assumes you have established long-term goals. If you haven’t taken the time to create your vision yet and detail your major goal (or goals), take time to do that before anything else.
Once you have that done, it’s time to start reverse engineering. Start by taking that goal, whether it’s a one-year, five-year, ten-year goal or further, and chart a course working backward to achieve it.
The idea is that you want to work your way down so far that you can estimate an effective 3-month goal every quarter that, pieced together, will over time allow you to achieve your goal once that year, five years, ten years, or longer is up.
For example, if you want to build a successful digital design agency and have a dream of buying a cabin somewhere in the mountains like Aspin and you gave yourself five years to achieve these goals, estimate what you would need to accomplish each year to reach your goal.
Once you know that, you can break down that first quarter based on the bigger picture, literally giving you a roadmap to achieving your goal.
2. Create your weekly system and track production
Next, break down that quarter into weekly chunks doing exactly the same thing we just did for your major goal. It’s important at this point that you need to make sure to distill these quarterly goals down to their primary tasks. For example, if you’re trying to read X amount of books, then pages read is a primary task.
Once you’ve gotten all your primary tasks together based on those major goals, you’ll have a crystal clear idea of what you need to do each and every week to eventually reach those goals.
This is great because it helps break down the mental barrier that develops when we set big goals. Oftentimes, we set goals that are so big we don’t even believe that we can accomplish them ourselves. However, if you reverse engineer in this way those goals suddenly become real possibilities.
As a side note, keep in mind that if you work on these goals full-time, you may want to have a daily list as well that breaks down those weekly tasks on an hourly basis each day.
So, on this weekly sheet, whether you keep it in a notebook or on a program like Evernote, write down this information in order:
- Your quarterly goals: Just rewrite them as-is, you want to keep them top-of-mind at all times.
- You primary tasks: Whether it’s checkmarks, bubbles, or whatever you want, have a way to track this visually day-by-day.
- Your weekly schedule: Take those primary tasks and distribute them out to the days of the week reasonably based on your schedule. Over time, you’ll get better and more effective at doing this and this system will really help maximize your productivity.
The last part of your weekly sheet, and an integral part of this personal accountability and goal tracking system, is your weekly assessment.
3. Assess yourself weekly
Now that the foundation has been laid, the last thing left to do is to assess yourself each week based on how close you came to hitting your weekly goals.
The system I use for grading myself is pretty arbitrary. It doesn’t have to be an exact science, what’s important is simply that you:
- Compare how you’ve done from week-to-week
- Look over your performance and note down potential improvements
Have a line for each goal with an empty space for that goal’s grade and an area for comments. This area of your weekly sheet stays empty until the end of the week where you’ll write down a grade based on each goal individually, then a master goal averaged out. Below that, you’ll write any relevant comments and note down potential improvements.
This step is the heart of my accountability system. Provided you stick with it, this system ensures you never truly fall off track. You can’t ever gauge with one-hundred percent accuracy if your reverse engineering was completely accurate and things can and will change over time, but with this system, you can adjust and pivot over time to become more accurate and stay on track.
Accountability is a personal process. It’s about taking responsibility for your own success as opposed to depending on others to motivate us. If you’re dedicated to reaching your long-term goals, a system such as this may be exactly what you need to refine your process and stay on track.
Take it, make it your own, and use it to reach new heights.