These days most of us have a lot on our plate. When we have multiple commitments, it can be challenging to consistently invest in all the things that are important to us. If we're not careful, we can fall into a reactive mode where we are constantly dealing with things that seem urgent, and not finding the time, energy, or focus to be proactive in the areas that aren't being "squeaky wheels" — at least until they reach urgent status too!
The trouble is, some things that are important to us aren't going to squeak as loudly. The commitments that we have at work, for example, are supported by all the structures that promote their fulfillment — weekly meetings with supervisors or team members, timelines, deadlines, evaluations, etc. — keep these things front and center. For many other areas of our lives, however, we have to build our own support structures.
That's where an accountability buddy comes in.
If you haven't had, been, or heard of an accountability buddy, the idea is simple. An accountability buddy is someone with whom you have an agreement to keep each other on track for taking actions in a specific area of your life. Having an arrangement like this is one way to keep your less "squeaky" commitments on your radar and make sure they get the attention that you want them to get.
Here are six suggestions for being a great accountability buddy:
1) Commit to a regular time to check in and put it on your calendar. — This simple step acknowledges the status that you are giving this partnership. You are making an agreement to provide time, energy, and focus for one another. Knowing that you will be able to count on each other builds trust, and gives weight to the work that you are doing tougher. Most folks find a weekly check-in to be helpful, but you can organize it however it works for you.
2) Choose a way that you want to be in touch. — There are several things to consider here. Emails and texts provide great flexibility, but little interaction. Many folks find that a real-time conversation creates additional benefits because it brings opportunities to motivate and support one another that aren't available with written communications. Decide what you prefer, and be willing to adapt if needed.
3) Create a structure for each check-in and stick to it. — As you design your partnership, it's important to get clear about how you and your buddy can support one another best. Typically, a productive check-in will include an update of what each buddy has accomplished, sharing ideas and resources related to the areas that each buddy is working on, and committing to specific action steps before the next check-in. Decide how long you will allow for your check in. It doesn't have to take a long time. Fifteen minutes is a great place to start.
4) Focus on positive action. — Make an agreement up front not to allow one another to complain or talk negatively about yourselves. We all are prone to discouragement, self-criticism, and blaming undesired results on others or external circumstances. It is powerful to acknowledge what is so, but it is wise to be mindful of the meaning or "story" that you give to your experiences. If you or your buddy notices the other engaging in negative story-telling, give one another permission to refocus the conversation with a question like "So, what's your next step?" (Note: This is another reason that setting a time limit is helpful!)
5) Ask for what you need. — An accountability buddy partnership is based on a commitment to empowering one another. This partnership can only be effective if you are both willing to own and verbalize your own wants and needs, and expect the same from your buddy. If your buddy isn't giving you what you need, make a request. If you've made a request, and your buddy can't accept it — or accepts it, but then doesn't follow-through, then be willing to end the accountability agreement. Then, figure out how to get your needs met in another way.
6) Don't give unsolicited advice. — We all want to be helpful. In my experience, however, the most helpful things that you can do for someone is to listen to them deeply, and give them space to find their own answers or ask for what they need. When we jump in and try to "save" someone, we diminish their opportunity to build their self-awareness and power. We may even create resistance or resentment because — let's face it — nobody likes to be told what to do! If you and your buddy have already granted one another permission to give feedback ahead of time, then that is fine. Otherwise, I recommend that you ask permission first. Saying something like: "Would you like some feedback (ideas? resources? etc.)?" or "Do you want to brainstorm some solutions?" is a great way to make sure that you aren't overstepping the boundaries of the relationship that you've designed.
Having and being an accountability buddy is a great strategy to build support, motivation, and momentum. Have you had or been an accountability buddy? What worked or didn't work about that relationship? Please share your feedback with us in the comments below!