If you want some accountability in your life, even after reading my What is accountability? discussion, working with an accountability partner can be a good way to go.It’s free and flexible, and you can tailor the relationship to fit your situation and personality.
Many accountability partnerships don’t last too long
Accountability partnerships are easy to start, but from my observations, many accountability partnerships don’t last a long time.
After the initial enthusiasm wears off, at least one partner decides that having someone hold you accountable is sort of a drag.
Or the chemistry isn’t there. Or at least one person realizes he isn’t all that committed to his project.
In this article, we’ll look at ways to be smart about setting up your relationship with your accountability partner, given that accountability partnerships often fizzle out.
Some of this material comes from my observations of accountability partnerships that do and don’t work, and some of it comes from my personal experiences. I hope my mistakes can be of some benefit to you.
Choose your partner wisely
Your odds of success go up significantly if you choose a partner who’s a good fit for you.
Someone with whom you feel comfortable, but not too comfortable.
Someone you trust and with whom you enjoy talking.
Someone whose feedback you find helpful.
Where do you find such a person?
Let’s start with places not to look: pretty much all the people you’d naturally turn to, like friends, romantic partners, and family members.
Why not family and romantic partners?
An accountability partner is essentially someone who nags you to do stuff.
Is nagging something you want more of in your family and romantic relationships?
I didn’t think so.
How about friends?
Friendships are also no place for nagging, guilt, pressure, judgment, or any of the other things that come with accountability.
Friends are about support and acceptance. Hanging out. Enjoying the time you spend together.
Holding someone to his commitments just doesn’t fit with the vibe and dynamics of friendship.
And having a friend for an accountability partner is generally not that effective.
You’ll be comfortable slacking on your homework and canceling meetings, and so will your friend. It usuaully doesn’t take long for the accountability thing to fall apart and you to go back to hanging out in pure friendship.
Where do you find an accountability partner?
Your best bet generally is to find someone you don’t know too well.
Ideally, you’d be comfortable talking with him, but not too comfortable. You don’t want it to be easy for you to cancel accountability meetings or slack on your assignments.
Three promising sources are:
- someone on the periphery of your social circles (e.g. a friend of a friend or someone you’ve seen around but don’t know too well),
- someone you meet in a relevant group or class, and
- people who meet in online groups and forums that deal with your kind of project.
Set things up so they work for both of you
The beauty of an accountability partnership is that you can tailor it so that it works for both of you.
You choose how often you meet, how long your meetings last, and what you do during the meetings.
I know a pair of accountability partners who talk to each other for 15 minutes every weekday morning and commit to taking specific actions that day. Then they e-mail each other at night to report on what they’ve done.
Hard core, but it works for them.
A very common setup is for accountability partners to meet once a week, for half an hour to an hour, though I know accountability partners who have monster sessions once a month that last two or three hours.
You can meet online, on the phone, or in person. Use Skype, chat, IM, or whatever else works for you.
Pay attention to red flags
At the beginning of most relationships, it’s natural to want to see the good and ignore the bad.
(Groan if you know what I’m talking about here.)
You can save yourself some headaches by paying attention to the red flags at the beginning.
Take seriously anything that makes you uncomfortable, gives you concern, or makes you think that you and the other person won’t work well together.
Start with a trial period
When you start out, you can set it up as a trial to see if you are a good fit for each other.
You can agree to check in after, say, two weeks or a month and see if both of you are interested in continuing.
It’s less awkward to end things during a trial period than if you’ve both fully committed and all excited about it.
Yes, the rejection will still sting if one person wants to continue and the other doesn’t, even during a trial period, but not as much as if you’d planned on sticking with it for the long haul. And the situation is much less awkward for everyone.
Adjust as you go
It’s likely that you guys will want to change some things after you’ve been working together for a bit.
For example, you may want to change the frequency or length of meetings or what kinds of support you do and don’t give each other.
If you set it up from the beginning that you’re going to adjust the relationship as it goes, it’s more comfortable for each person to make suggestions and requests.
Make it easy to leave
You don’t want someone feeling trapped in the relationship, whether that person is you or your partner.
You and your partner can discuss the issue in advance and set things up so that you both feel comfortable leaving if it isn’t working.
When you realize it’s wrong, leave gracefully — and quickly
When you realize an accountability partner isn’t right for you, it’s generally best for all concerned if you leave gracefully — and quickly.
If you stay when you want out, your discomfort and resentment can build. The situation can get more and more unpleasant for both of you, and leaving can get harder.
When you tell the other person you’re leaving, you may be tempted to explain why. That may seem like a good and honorable thing to do.
In reality, it often just makes the other person feel bad, starts an argument, and adds more pain for you and the other person.
We’ll take a look at the place I turn on the rare occasions when I want some accountability in my life — accountability software. I’m excited to share my two favorite accountability sites with you.