How Accountability Can Change Everything
Accountability as support, motivation, and presence
Let’s Talk Accountability
I started my coaching business because I couldn’t find a coach who offered what I was seeking as a PhD student with a dissertation to write, a chronic illness to manage, and multiple jobs to work.
Maybe you’ll resonate with how I felt:
Overwhelmed by overlapping deadlines and complex projects
Stretched so thin that you feel like you’re working all the time but treading water
Passionate about accomplishing your goals but unsure what to do first
In this state, “accountability” can be an interesting word.
It might inspire feelings of stress, anxiety, or exhaustion. When you’re already feeling overtaxed, the idea of being accountable to someone might even bring up feelings of dread.
Or, maybe you thrive when you know that folks are expecting you to complete something by a particular deadline. Maybe accountability helps you feel encouraged and fuels your productivity sessions.
Perhaps you feel conflicted about accountability, you don’t have strong feelings, or you aren’t sure what accountability brings up for you personally.
That’s okay! Wherever you’re at with the concept is valid. Together, let’s curiously explore three ways that accountability can improve your personal productivity practices while limiting overwhelm.
Accountability as Support, Presence, and Motivation
Accountability as Support
Some of the best feedback I’ve received from my coaching clients has been about the ways I’ve held space for their humanity. From cheering them on as they progressed on their goals at their own pace to accounting for their physical and emotional needs when we create timelines, my #1 goal is offering support.
When it works well, accountability is a tool that supports you in taking actions that align with your values and goals. When you know that someone is in your corner, you might feel more confident in your ability to hit an agreed-upon deadline or to experiment with a new approach.
Accountability as Presence
One of my fondest memories from graduate school was meeting my classmates at the Smith College library to write our final term papers in the quiet reading room. We weren’t Smith students, but the library was within walking distance of our apartments. I loved brewing a thermos of tea, camping out at a long wooden table under a green banker’s light, and tapping on my laptop alongside my pals all day and all night.
This is a method called “body doubling.” It sounds a bit sci-fi, but it just means having someone nearby while you’re working on tasks—particularly aversive ones that you struggle to complete on your own. To increase focus and momentum, you can practice accountability as presence by co-working with your friends on Zoom or attending free or paid co-working sessions online.
Accountability as Motivation
Setting up external accountability can be a good motivator to take a first step when you feel stuck. This is why I often ask my coaching clients to identify tasks they’d like to complete by the time we meet for our next coaching call.
When you’re setting up accountability for your goals, it may be helpful to start small, particularly if the task feels challenging. Instead of saying, “I’m going to write 5,000 words this week,” you might plan to do three Pomodoro writing sessions a week. Using a tracker (like my 100 Pomodoros in One Month worksheet) can motivate you to get the ball rolling. Even if you’re not sharing your results with others, checking off a box or coloring in a tomato in the worksheet might give you an extra boost. This practice is called “gamifying” because you’re turning the task into a little game you can win.
Some of My Favorite Ways to Use Accountability
Monthly calls with my coach
Co-working with friends
Using my bullet journal
Signing up for online classes where I need to be on camera
Sharing Notion boards with my Virtual Assistant, Sabrina
Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies
Habits researcher Gretchen Rubin wrote a book called The Four Tendencies (& you can take the quiz on her website) that explores four key ways folks respond to expectations. Here’s a brief overview of the terms in Rubin’s words:
Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations—“Discipline is my freedom”
Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense; essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations—“I’ll comply—if you convince me why”
Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves—“You can count on me; and I’m counting on you to count on me”
Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike—“You can’t make me, and neither can I”
Neither of these tendencies is better than the other, and I have friends and clients who are each of them. I personally identify with the Obliger tendency. I joke that I’m an Obliger Sun, Upholder Rising, because folks generally assume I’m an Upholder. I know I respond best when I have external accountability, so I set up my personal productivity practices with that in mind.
And this is why I started my coaching business — as a PhD student, I had so much going on and I needed regular accountability to help me prioritize and make progress on my overlapping goals.
Success & Accountability Coaching
If you’re craving supportive and motivating accountability, I’m currently accepting new coaching clients for Success & Accountability Coaching. This is great for folks who’d like to hit a milestone or complete a goal in the next three to nine months.
Through coaching calls, detailed notes, comprehensive to-do lists, and weekly accountability emails, I support folks in progressing on goals while developing personalized productivity, prioritization, and time management toolkits.
This approach has been known to help busy people get unstuck and make their dreams come true while prioritizing self-compassion, overcoming toxic productivity culture, and working with their natural energy cycles.
If you’re curious about coaching, I welcome you to book a 30-minute call to chat.
Small Things that Made Me Big Happy
>> I’ve been enjoying a cupcake with sprinkles and a cup of coffee in the afternoon. I found a keto mix that’s gluten-free and surprisingly good! I look forward to my afternoon delight and it’s been fun planning what task I want to do while I enjoy my treat.
Image description: A cup of coffee in a chartreuse “Drippy Pots” mug by Brian Giniewski and a yellow cupcake with white frosting and rainbow sprinkles.
Updates and Recommendations
>> I finally watched Everything Everywhere All at Once and it was really as good as everyone says it is. I laughed, I was amazed, and I cried, even when I wasn’t 100% sure why I was crying. I’m excited to watch it again with someone who hasn’t seen it so I can witness their process of taking it in.
>> My favorite recent read and listen has been Natasha Lipman’s Substack “The Rest Room.” I got a LOT out of her podcast episode “On Convalescence and Chronic Illness” and I’m looking forward to engaging with more of her content.
I hope that you’re having an amazing shortest month of the year and that you’re enjoying your day. As always, I welcome you to reach out by replying to this email!
Hi, I’m Dr. Kate Henry!
I'm a Productivity Coach and researcher who specializes sustainable and well-being-oriented productivity. If you’re curious about working with me, please book a free 30-minute call via the button bellow to discuss how I can help you to achieve your goals. Want to know more? Check out the links below!
100+ free blog posts at my blog, The Tending Year
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Intentionally Productive Scholars Program for undergraduates