How to Make Great Progress Using Accountability

If you won't do it for yourself, do it for me!

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #490

image of productive people being held accountable

My name is Stever Robbins, and I am self-employed. As a self-employed doobie, I’m my own boss. There’s no one but me to hold me accountable for getting the right things done at the right times. Unfortunately, my boss is a really nice guy. Too nice. He’s very understanding. Too understanding. Multiple responsibilities sometimes collide. For example, someone on the internet is wrong, and I simply must correct them, instead of writing the client proposal that’s due. There goes an hour of my day, and my boss, darn him, doesn’t say a word.

Over the years, I’ve tried setting appointments with myself. I break them. I’ve tried rewarding myself with Oreo Ice Cream cake. It melted. I even tried punishments, only to discover that being covered in olive oil and tickled with Ostrich feathers was actually… kinda hot.

What Works is People

Throughout all the procrastination, the delays, the distractions, and the interruptions, I’ve noticed one thing that happens over and over: people take precedence.

When I’m interrupted, I generally drop what I’m doing to take care of the interruption. Why? Because the interruption almost always comes from a 'people.' 

When there’s a two-hour time block on my schedule for a meeting with myself to work on an important project, and in comes a request for a meeting that preempts it, I take the incoming meeting. Why? Because it’s a people. (Yes. The singular 'people.')

It’s known that our brains are hard-wired to recognize human faces. We are also hard-wired to behave in ways that make society work. We reciprocate when people give us gifts, we learn through imitation, and we click the Like button when we see a little picture of our friend next to an advertisement for treating grease stains. Maybe, just maybe, we are also hardwired to fulfill social obligations in a way that’s more powerful than willpower.

Use People for Hourly Accountability

If you want to have a phenomenally productive day, you can engage other people to make it happen. There’s a really simple format. Make some friends. Get somewhere between three and ten of them to join you for a super-productive day. Then get a group conference line. I use Uberconference.com.

At the same time each hour, call into the conference line, and have each of you share what you did the previous hour, and what you plan to do the next hour. Then hop off the line and go do it. There should be no judgment during the checkins. No brainstorming what to do differently if someone didn’t meet their last hour’s goal. Just be present and accountable. Live. I call these Do-It Days and run them for free several times a year. 

Use People for Punishment/Reward Accountability

You can also engage your people in helping you with rewards and punishments. Rewards and punishments didn’t work for me because I did them alone. Sure, I had Oreo Ice Cream Cake, olive oil, and feathers to motivate me. But without another people there, it was way too easy to skimp on the rewards and punishments. Witnesses would have made a difference.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.