Last Friday night around 6:30 p.m., I was feeling pretty relaxed. I’d used the slack I leave in my schedule on Fridays to finish my work for the week. My husband came back a few hours earlier than I expected from a business trip and surprised me by taking our three kids shopping. I’m rarely alone in our house, so this was quite a treat. I had poured myself a glass of wine and grabbed a copy of Better Homes and Gardens when I decided to check my email.
What I saw sent my Friday evening in a different direction.
Atop my inbox? An email from my accountability partner. This fellow journalist and I made a pact earlier this year to hold each other to our professional goals. She was working on pitching big stories to major publications. This is the kind of thing that always falls to the bottom of the priority list because it takes time and you don’t get paid unless someone accepts the story idea. While my friend has had cover stories in major business publications, she’d like more. They raise her profile and bring her new opportunities.
She sent me an energetic email outlining the work she’d done that week researching story ideas. She had a pitch ready to go Monday morning. So how was I doing on the project I’d asked to be held accountable for—namely, writing 1,000 words of fiction each week?
I almost groaned out loud. I’d neglected to put "write 1,000 words" on my to-do list, and consequently, I hadn’t done it. I immediately started outlining the excuses I’d write to my friend about why I was 1,000 words shy of my target. It had been a busy few days. I’d been traveling, I had various deadlines, one of my kids had been to the doctor, and . . .
I stopped. The whole point of our accountability partnership was to force things to the top of the to-do list that would naturally fall to the bottom. I could take time to write her my excuses—or I could use that time to write the words I was supposed to write.
So I spent the next 45 minutes doing just that. Most of the scene I wrote is worthless. But I got a few new ideas that might work in a different form. And, once I put some mental energy into writing my 1,000 words, the fiction project was back on top of my mind. I spent some time over the weekend pondering other ideas for it, and where my fiction writing time would fit in the following week’s schedule.
I know for sure that if my friend hadn’t sent that note, I would have spent those 45 minutes reading about arranging purple kale in ceramic pots which—while visually arresting—is not something I will ever actually do. Thanks to our accountability arrangement, I instead spent that time doing something that did matter to me. When you’ve got big dreams and a busy schedule, that’s how things get done.
How do you keep yourself accountable? Let us know in the comments, please.
[Image: Flickr user Lig Ynnek]