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Tackling a big project? You need an accountability buddy

Social pressure can be helpful when you find your motivation to finish a massive project waning.

Tackling a big project? You need an accountability buddy
[Source illustration: Dmitrii_Guzhanin/iStock]

The hardest projects to complete are big ones that require a lot of sustained effort over a period of time in order to see results. Writing a book, completing a report, or expanding your network of potential clients are all tasks that have this character. The most difficult parts of these tasks come in what I like to call the “chewy middle” of the project. It can be easy to get started—there is great excitement at the front end of a project. As you get close to completing the goal, you are motivated to get it done. But, once you’re well past the beginning and the end is nowhere in sight, it can be hard to keep making progress.

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That’s where social pressure can be helpful. Human beings are a social species. We have dominated planet earth because of our ability to cooperate. As a result, we are wired to want to help each other achieve our goals. It is worthwhile taking advantage of that when you find your motivation to finish a project waning.

That is where an accountability buddy can come in. You can empower a colleague to help you continue progressing on a project. There are several ways this can work.

You buddy might be someone working toward a similar goal. If you’re a writer, you can hang out with another writer who is also working on a long-term project. If the two of you work in parallel, you can spur each other to keep working—even on days when you’d rather not. This also works with exercise. It is easy to decide you’re not going to go for your run when you’re tired in the morning. It is harder to call your buddy to tell them you’re cancelling a run you were planning to do together.

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Your buddy might be someone you permit to nag you about your progress. In this case, you are expecting regular check-ins with your buddy who will want to know what you have accomplished since the last time you talked. You can’t just tell your buddy that you got some stuff done. You’re going to have to give them some details.

There are two nice facets of this approach. One is that you will be motivated to have enough to tell your buddy at your next meeting. The second is that you’ll get a concrete reminder of how much you have accomplished from one visit to the next.

If your motivation is really lagging, you might want to go the extra step and sign a commitment contract. The idea behind the commitment contract is that you are promising a buddy that you’ll do a certain amount of work. If you don’t get that work done, then you actually have to pay money to your buddy (or give them something else of value). A particularly effective form of the commitment contract obligates your buddy to take the money they get from you and to give it to a charity you hate.

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It is important to remember that accountability buddies are most effective at helping you keep a project moving when it is in danger of stalling. The power of your buddy will wane over time. If you really hate working on the project, it will simply get harder to make progress on it at all.

So, while you’re working on the project, look for aspects of it that you actually enjoy. After all, the hardest things to complete are the ones for which what you want to do conflicts with what you believe you should do. If you can learn to enjoy the things that you also should be doing, then you can remove that conflict.

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