It took me three-and-a-half years to finish writing my first book, The Inner Gym. And if it wasn’t for my iron-clad accountability plan that I put into place after year three, I’d probably still be working on it.
If you’re like me, and you sincerely want to follow through on your passion projects, but you keep coming up with a lot of "important" excuses, then you may also benefit from this simple approach to getting things done.
Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Identify what you want to accomplish.
Have you been dreaming of writing your book? Starting a garden? Getting rid of the clutter in your house? Meditating every day for a year?
Whatever it is, pick just one goal and break it down into smaller, bite-sized goals. For me, the most realistic plan for finishing my book came from starting with the end result — a completed book — and reverse-engineering the tasks back to the beginning.
This led to the creation of smaller goals such as two or three substantive edits (though it ended up being many more), a few copy edits, formatting, cover design, etc. Once I had all of the tasks that needed to be completed, I gained a better sense for how long it would take. Then I gave myself a realistic deadline: six months from the start date.
Step 2: Decide how much it's worth to you.
Place a value on completing your tasks. In other words, if you failed to get it done, and you had to pay a fine, what fine would be too much? For my book, I figured that under no circumstances would I be willing to part with $5000 if I didn’t finish it. Knowing that $5000 was on the line, I would do whatever it took to finish writing my book.
If the proposition of losing money a few hundred or thousand dollars is not enough to keep you motivated, up the ante. If that still doesn’t incentivize you to finish, then consider what else would motivate you: spending an excessive amount of time volunteering? Working for a political party whose views you disagree with? Donating money to the NRA (this only works if you're a pacifist)? Cutting off your hair?
Everybody has a line they don’t want to cross. Find a self-imposed penalty that would make you think twice about quitting.
Step 3: Identify a friend to be your trustee.
Find an impartial friend, family member, or group of friends to act as your trustee, to hold your money in escrow. If money is involved, this person or group should ideally be unbiased and financially stable.
Step 4: Write up a contract between you and your trustee.
I’m not a lawyer, but your contract could read something like this:
Accountability Plan for Light Watkins
The following task is to be completed by October 31, 2015, or John Smith has permission to (and agrees to) deposit the attached check for $5000 with no option for a refund:
Light Watkins agrees to have a formatted, print-ready file of The Inner Gym: Phase 2 ready to send to the editor by the deadline.
Side note: You could even list your weekly or monthly goals with specified dates, to avoid waiting until the last minute.
Step 5: Write your post-dated check.
Post-date a check for the day of your deadline, stick it into an envelope, along with a copy of the contract, and hand it over or mail it to your trustee.
This only works if you write a check for an amount that you actually have in your bank account. No tricks. No angles — this is an agreement by you and for you. If you followed steps 1 to 4, this money should never leave your account.
Obviously, if you end up hospitalized for the majority of the time, your trustee should be someone who will take that into consideration. But they should also be someone who will not buy into your B.S. excuses (and we all have the ability to B.S. ourselves).
Step 6: Get to work.
Now that you have some skin in the game, you will discover a lot more time and motivation you didn’t think you had before, in order to complete your goal.
Every time I’ve implemented this accountability plan, I’ve completed my task ahead of schedule, because I didn’t want to chance waiting until the last minute and not be ready.It’s a powerful tool that works 100% of the time (in my experience). Again, there are many other ways to be held accountable that don’t involve the potential loss of money, but for those people who are deathly afraid of losing money, there may be no greater motivation to finish your goal.
Photo courtesy of the author