A Simple Accountability System You Can Start Today

There are complicated productivity systems and there are simple ones. Both can be effective, but simple ones are much easier to stick to.

Somewhere in the end of my travels abroad this year I fell off the productivity train. Not entirely, but I had reverted back to “doing what needs to be done” instead of “being productive”. I would write blog posts with some regularity, but it was more treading water than a swimming forward.

I try not to micromanage my productivity. It naturally ebbs and flows, which is fine. Sometimes I need to think rather than do, and other times I feel like I’m in a trance, my hands typing at a hundred words a minute without any conscious thought. But this was different. When two week passed without any spurts of productivity, I decided that I was just being lazy.

Todd felt the same way, so we came up with a very simple system. Here are the rules:

1. Each day we e-mail each other the key tasks we’re going to accomplish. My tasks are typically things like “write a blog post”, “package old phone and ship it”, “format book”, “proofread one more time”.

2. If we fail to do the tasks we said we’d do, the other person gets to pick a girl for the other to try to pick up.

3. If one person feels like the other person’s tasks are inappropriately easy, they bring it up.

4. There are no exceptions. Tasks must be sent every day of the week, including holidays and vacations.

That’s it. I don’t necessarily like the concept of associating talking to girls with punishment, but in practice it’s not like that. It’s all in good fun and the idea is to pick someone who is challenging or awkward to approach. Plus, it’s good for you. I didn’t want the punishment to be something that wouldn’t be constructive. The girl thing is pretty good because when you’re up late, thinking about skipping on your tasks, you imagine being at your friend’s mercy, and you get it done.

We’ve been doing this for weeks now, and it’s been great. Life Nomadic wouldn’t be released if we hadn’t started it. Only one day has been missed between both of us, and we’ve both gotten more done than we would have otherwise.

Here are the four main reasons I think this works:

  • Every day is a productive day. One day off can become two days off, which morphs into three days. Next thing you know, you’ve spent a week without actually doing anything noteworthy.
  • It makes you think about what needs to get done. Rather than just work to stay busy, I think about what my most pressing tasks are each day.
  • Building momentum is the key to getting things done. I almost always do more than I say I’m going to do, and I’m sure Todd does too. The tasks are my minimum threshold for having a productive day, but I find that once I do them I’m fired up about working, so I keep the ball rolling and do a lot more.
  • It forces you to small chunk. I won’t ever write down a task like “Write Life Nomadic Book”, so I don’t think of huge tasks like that. Instead I think about a manageable chunk of the project that I can complete that day. This makes productivity a lot more accessible.

I’m sure we’ll make tweaks to our system some day, but for now it’s working very well. I’ve been productive every day since we’ve started, and feel great about it. You might expect that it makes it hard to relax, but I find the opposite. If I want to take it easy one day I just do my tasks early and then enjoy my day, knowing that I’ve already done what needs to be done.

If you don’t have a local friend that you can do this with, feel free to use the tynan.net forums to find someone. You won’t be able to do the pickup thing remotely, but I’m sure you can figure something else out.

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