For me, accountability means you do what you say you’re going to do on your own or you get help to do what you say you’re going to do, whether that is taking planned action toward a goal, following through on something you committed to, or turning an idea into an actionable task.
Sounds easy, right? Well, not always… many people with ADHD struggle with accountability, and productivity in general. This is because accountability and productivity require organization, diligence, and focus - three things that are hard for the ADHD brain.
Accountability Boosts Productivity
Productivity is one of the biggest struggles that I see, for just about everyone that I’ve ever worked with who has ADHD. And it’s not limited to job and work. People also struggle to be productive at home, in relationships, even with things they’re passionate about - clear evidence that output and end-results are not related at all to intention or ability.
This is where accountability comes in. Accountability tactics help people with ADHD to stay on task and finish what they start. They help them organize their time, focus their energy, and be more efficient in their efforts.
But as I said earlier, accountability doesn’t come naturally to the ADHD brain either. So that’s why I wanted to ask my network of people with ADHD this question:
What is your most effective strategy for holding yourself accountable, either on your own or by enlisting other people?
And they came back with some great tips and tools that they use to build accountability into their life.
How to Build Accountability
As you can see, my network of people with ADHD identified two (yes, only two) main ways to build accountability in your life: Find an Accountability Partner and Schedule/Plan Your Time.
Having a partner to hold you accountable for your tasks and goals was by far the most popular response to this quiz. But even within this category, there were important distinctions in the advice given. Based on people’s responses, it was clear that people use different people for accountability in different areas of life.
Accountability Partners at Work
Several people shared stories of using a co-worker to help them be accountable at work. Some people turned to a peer, while others worked with a direct report or assistant to help them stay on task. In either case, it can be helpful having someone who is familiar with your role and your company to help stay accountable at work. Hold regular in-person or virtual meetings with your accountability partner to review your task lists, calendar or planning, or progress toward a project goal. Often, this is a win-win, as you can act as accountability partner to your partner as well!
Accountability Partners at Home
Other people use friends, family members, or spouses as their accountability partner. As one respondent put it, “I have to say my daily goals and my long-term goals out loud, to my husband, on a daily basis. I don’t always get everything done, but I do have to think about it everyday.”
Professional Accountability Partners
People also discussed working with professional coaches to hold them accountable. They described connecting with their coach on the phone, via email, or by text, on a regular basis so that the coach knows what they are working on. This is helpful because a coach can not only help you stay accountable, they can also help you work through whatever barriers might be getting in the way of your progress.
Group Accountability Partners
Participation in a group meeting, such as a weight loss group or a business-planning group, was also mentioned as a good way to stay accountable. By meeting with a group of people who are working toward the same goal as you, you have a built-in support system to help motivate you and cheer you on. In groups like this, you often share your goals and commit to taking certain actions during the week. Sometimes knowing you have to report on your progress to the group at the next meeting is enough to jump start your motivation. In fact, check out this article to read more about group coaching and how it can help you boost your accountability and increase your productivity.
Schedule & Plan
Learning how to build projects and tasks into your day was the second biggest piece of advice given. Almost 1/4 of people who responded said that they use some sort of calendar, notebook, or scheduling tool to structure their day.
The key to success in using these tools and devices is to plan ahead, which helps you organize your time and prioritize your tasks.As one person said, in order to achieve a goal they make it a “must do” high-priority task and block out time in their calendar every day to focus on it until it is completed. They said that they make this time “untouchable”, meaning that it takes priority over everything else during that chunk of time.
Another person shared their whole calendar system with us to demonstrate the detail used to plan and track work every day. According to this respondent, they sketch out the following lists on two pieces of paper: Appointments, Priorities Today, Billable Time, Goals this Week. They used this worksheet every morning to plan out their time each day and then send it to their accountability partner, making use of that technique, too!
Though there were many different approaches to scheduling and planning ahead, everybody agreed on one thing: they use their calendar or planner every single day to structure their time, which makes sense to me. Knowing the process it takes to create a habit, I am fairly confident this to ensure that using this highly effective tool becomes routine and second nature to them.
(Want to read more about planning to plan? Check out Planning to Plan: A Guide for the Adult with ADHD.)
Deadlines seemed to be a small but mighty technique used by people with ADHD to help them maintain accountability. It wasn’t a popular response, but it is a very powerful approach. By establishing deadlines for a task, you create a sense of urgency in your brain. This is like having a megaphone in your head telling your brain to “FOCUS FOCUS FOCUS!”
One person said that setting a deadline – even a self-imposed deadline– is the only way they can hold themselves accountable. Another person paired deadlines with an accountability partner, setting a date and time to check in with their partner to let their partner know how far they’ve come on a particular project, which is a great way to integrate some of these tips.
Tools & Apps
Certain tools and apps were also recommended as helpful accountability measures. You can find an app for just about everything for smartphones and tablets, which makes the virtual accountability support you can receive endless. Apps for dieting, exercise, social media monitoring, and goal tracking are some great ones to check out. Apps work best for people with ADHD if they establish looking at the app as part of their daily routine.
Integrating Accountability Techniques
As you can see, all of these accountability measures can work by themselves. But, they are far more powerful when you integrate two or three of them. Maintaining a daily calendar helps you schedule your time efficiently, but scheduling regular check-ins in your calendar with your accountability partner reinforces to your ADHD brain that you have to get that work done. Similarly, setting deadlines for yourself, even if it has to be self-imposed, is great but is even more powerful when you write it in your calendar, set an alarm in an app, or tell your accountability partner about it.
These tips are great, but like anything else… consistency is key. The most important thing you can do to help build your accountability muscle is to pick a couple of these methods to use. Commit to using them for two weeks and see how much more accountable you can be to yourself in that short amount of time.