• tarahthornburg

How to Create a Custom Accountability System

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accountability before, but this topic is SO important for writers and creatives that I decided to record a podcast episode all around this topic.

This post airs today on The Fearless Creative podcast. If you’d rather read instead of listen, I’ve included the abridged transcript below.

If you do listen, please take a moment to subscribe and leave a review on Apple Podcasts, Google, Spotify, or your favorite podcatcher. (If you don’t know how to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, I’ve got a wonderful little cheat sheet here.)

And now for the transcript…

Welcome, welcome. Thank you for tuning in. Today I am going to be talking all about accountability: what it is, why it’s important, the different types of accountability, and how to create the perfect accountability system to bring your art to life and build your creative business.

One of the first people I told about the podcast was my friend Catie. She is currently in the process of getting her master’s degree, and she asked me to do an episode about creating accountability.

When she suggested that, I absolutely jumped on it because I think it’s so important for anyone who wants to start their own business — especially us creative types like writers and artists.

Accountability is the willingness to accept responsibility for our actions.

For our purposes here today, accountability basically means doing what you say you’re going to do, whether that’s finish your novel, get in the studio and paint, bust out a dozen necklaces to sell in your Etsy shop, or bring on a certain number of new freelance clients every month.

Accountability is so important for creative entrepreneurs to learn because when you’re running your own business, you are the only person who is making sure things get done. If you aren’t doing the work, your business isn’t going to grow, and your creative work isn’t going to reach as many people as you’d like. If you’re relying on your business for income, that’s going to suffer, too. So this is why we as creative entrepreneurs have to be so self-motivated. This begins and ends with accountability.

To me, accountability has two parts:

  1. the goal you set for yourself,

  2. and the system you have in place to hold you to that goal.

So when we make art or do anything creative, this idea of accountability can feel so nebulous because sometimes we do a lot of creating heavy lifting that doesn’t result in a finished product. I usually spend about three to five days planning a novel on paper, but sometimes I have to do a lot of ruminating and freewriting before I even have a real outline to show for my efforts.

Another reason creatives sometimes shy away from accountability is that they feel that setting specific goals or targets could make them feel restricted and actually inhibit their creativity. But that just isn’t true. If you show up to work at your craft at the same time every day, your muse will start to learn when to show up. I promise.

Now if you just want your writing or your art or your music to be a hobby, you don’t necessarily have to set goals. That’s okay. You’re allowed to have hobbies. For me, the ukulele is a hobby. I don’t make myself practice every day, which is why I’m not very good. I only do it when I want to. But my writing isn’t a hobby anymore. It’s a business. And if you want to generate income from your writing or your art, you have to treat it as a business.

Businesses — real businesses — all have targets they have to hit every week, every month, every quarter, and every year.

These targets don’t have to be financial. They might just be a number of days you spend in the studio or a number of words you write every week. Your goals will depend on what you do and where you are in your journey.

So the goal is the first component of accountability…your system to hold you to that goal is the second part. And the system that you need is going to depend entirely on your personality and the type of accountability you need.

There’s an excellent book out there that can help you determine what mix of accountability you need — it’s called The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin.

Now, according to Gretchen Rubin, there are four tendencies that people can have. You can be an Upholder, an Obliger, a Questioner, or a Rebel — and each of these tendencies requires a different mix of inner and outer accountability.

There are a lot of nuances to each of the tendencies but in a nutshell,

Upholders are very good at meeting their own inner expectations. If they set a personal goal for themselves, for instance, they will usually follow through.

Obligers need outer accountability to meet their goals. They are really good at following through on things if someone else is counting on them.

I am a Questioner, and Questioners really like research and customization. We tend to need justification for why something should be done, and once we have that, we like to create our own customized system for following through.

Rebels are identity-based. They don’t like to feel bound by inner or outer expectations, but they can be persuaded (or persuade themselves) to do something if they can be convinced that it reinforces their core values. (My husband is mostly a Rebel, but he also shows some Questioner and Upholder tendencies. Between the two of us questioning everything, it’s a wonder anything ever gets done.)

If you’re interested in learning your tendency, you can take Gretchen Rubin’s free quiz or pick up the book. The book is very helpful for learning how to work with your tendency (or the tendency of a person you live with.)

So now that you know that different people need different types of accountability, you may already have a feeling that you are missing that style of accountability that you really need. I’m going to go through some of the tactics I use to hold myself accountable…Remember, I’m a Questioner, so I have to have a good REASON to do something.

For me, knowing the “WHY” behind the “wha”t is so important. That “why” might be as simple as “I want to make more money this year so we can take a trip abroad.” I might try something completely new like a blog for writers JUST because I really want to. “Because I want to” is a valid why. In fact, it’s maybe one of the most effective reasons you can have.

I also love customization, so I am always fine-tuning what works best for me. You may want to apply some or all of these tactics depending on your tendency.

Number 1: Write down your goal. Did you know you are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goal if you write it down? It’s true.

One reason why writing it down is so effective is that it forces you to get clear about what you want.

Another reason is that writing your goal on paper actually creates a tiny measure of outer accountability…Once it’s in print, a lot of us feel that we will have failed if we do not follow through.

I always write down my goals for the New Year, but I also write monthly goals in my bullet journal, and I keep a running list of my big overarching goals in my writing notebook.

When I first started writing, I used the Goal Pyramid from Jillian Michael’s book Unlimited to break down my larger goal of writing a novel into monthly, weekly, and daily goals.

To get started, ask yourself: What is one step I can take today to move me closer to my goal?

Number 2: Create deadlines. If you are an Upholder, creating soft deadlines for yourself that nobody knows about may be plenty of motivation. But for most of us, a little outer accountability in the form of a hard deadline goes a long way.

Some authors I know give themselves an external deadline by booking an editor or putting their next book up for preorders. For me, as soon as I announce a deadline to my readers, it goes from being a soft deadline to a hard deadline.

Number 3: Record your progress. One of my favorite business phrases is that you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Most of us tend to overestimate how much we work if we don’t have a way to track it.

Back in January, they had a challenge at my yoga studio: If you attended 10 classes during the month, you got a free T-shirt. When it first started, I thought it would be so easy for me to get to 10 classes — I have a monthly membership, and I thought I must be attending at least that many classes every month. But once I was in the middle of January, I realized I hadn’t been as diligent as I thought about going to yoga three times a week. I did get my free T-shirt in the end, but I squeezed in my last class on January 31st.

To make sure I don’t get yoga blinders when it comes to my business, I use a writing log to track my progress on whatever I happen to be working on. I’ve used this since I wrote my very first novel. I record the number of words I write per day or how many chapters I edited in Google Sheets.

For me, this has become less about outer accountability and more about tracking my progress, but if you have a physical calendar hanging somewhere visible, I think it could create some great outer accountability.

Number 4: Find people who are excited about your work. For me, this has been such a motivator — especially as I’ve been building up to launching a nonfiction brand.

As creative entrepreneurs, the work we do can be isolating. Most of the time, it’s just me writing from my cave. I usually have my dogs and my cat for company, but I don’t get nearly enough human interaction. Even for us introverts, it can be so freeing to find people who care about the work we do and who are excited to experience it for themselves.

I don’t care if you’re just starting out and you’re still kind of embarrassed — SHOW OFF YOUR WORK. Pick your people wisely–aim for supportive friends with ZERO potential for professional jealousy. I’m not talking about gathering feedback. I’m talking about straight-up, shameless cheerleaders. You need those, too! I don’t care if it’s your mom or your boyfriend or your sister…just find those people.

You will be more motivated to hit your goals if you end up with a new painting to show them or a new chapter for them to read.

Number 5: Find an accountability partner or a mastermind group. My last tip is for those of you listening who are DEAD SERIOUS about crushing it in your business.

If your creative endeavor is still a hobby for you, you aren’t ready for this. But if you are ready to start earning income from your creative business, you need to find yourself an accountability partner or a mastermind group.

Obviously, this is another form of outer accountability.

  1. I personally rely on a mastermind group. It’s just me and three other female authors who write in my genre.

  2. We meet once a month over Google Hangouts, so it’s like we’re talking face-to-face.

  3. The four of us are industry peers. We’ve been in the game for about the same amount of time, we understand the ins and outs of each other’s businesses.

  4. We trade marketing strategies, bounce ideas off one another, and gather feedback.

  5. For me, if I tell them I’m going to do something, I feel the need to follow through.

If forming a mastermind group seems too difficult, you can still find this sort of outer accountability in an accountability partner. This is someone you are going to share your goals with and follow up with every week or every other week to make sure you are hitting your targets. I don’t think this person has to be in the same creative field, but I do think that this person should be kind of a hard-ass.

You know who that is. Maybe it’s the friend of yours that you were always competing with in high school. Maybe it’s your old co-worker who kind of comes off as slightly abrasive but genuinely cares about you.

Find this person, ask them to be your accountability partner, and decide how often you plan to check in.

Number 6: Celebrate. This is the part that I’m actually the worst at, but I am working on doing this more. Whenever you set a goal and accomplish it, you need to take some time to celebrate your achievement. If you’re a good friend, you can also bring your accountability partner along.

Go out to a nice dinner, open a bottle of wine, take a little vacation — do something to mark the close of a project or celebrate an important milestone.

Sometimes, if I have a super productive workweek, I like to knock off early on a Friday and take myself to one of my favorite stores or go on a hike with my dogs.

One lesson I’m learning is that no one is going to celebrate for you, so you have to celebrate yourself. Plus, everyone loves having an occasion for wine or a nice dinner, so no one is going to argue with you.

These are the strategies I use as part of my accountability system. I hope that you identified some that you could use to achieve the goals you have for your own creative business.

If you have some fabulous accountability tips to share, I would LOVE to hear them.

If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share it with a friend. We are a new podcast and growing a community on iTunes is super important. It helps other creatives like you find their home away from home in the vast wilderness of the Interwebs.

See you next time…and happy creating!

Did you enjoy this transcript? Why not subscribe to the podcast so you can hear my soothing radio voice? You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts here

Photo by Startaê Team

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