An accountability partner is someone who will hold your feet to the fire and motivate you to actually do what you say you’re going to do. As the name suggests, your partner is someone who will hold you accountable, and not just someone with whom you’ve shared your ideas and aspirations.
It can be anyone in your life: a spouse, a business partner, or perhaps a close friend. Some people are well-motivated by a coach, whether the coach is someone who has served in that role before or someone who is fresh and new for the occasion. If you happen to know people with similar work, you can serve as mentors and motivators for one another. Their progress will compel you to make progress of your own; whatever failures or successes you encounter, they will be shared.
Regardless, when you’re selecting an accountability partner, you should consider the following guidelines.
• Pick someone you respect and trust. You should expect that your partner will have your best interests at heart, but that your partner probably has a knowledge and perspective that you don’t. You have to be able to accept constructive criticisms and not take suggestions personally. Your partner will push you, but won’t let you down. If you don’t want someone you know and respect to have to take on this other role in your life, consider hiring a coach, someone who will serve in this capacity for the sake of your project.
• Pick someone you see, or can meet with, on a regular basis. Regular meetings require you to keep working and to have something to show at each new encounter. If you’ve done that work, regular meetings translate into regular feedback and support, so that every time you can leave feeling refreshed, reinvigorated, and motivated by new direction. Many partners meet weekly; if your circumstances permit or even require it, you might meet twice weekly, especially if you want to make a six-week deadline. (In Cathy’s coaching practice, the plan is to meet weekly, or twice weekly if writers want to be absolutely sure they will meet their goals and deadlines. She is also able to take calls in-between meetings.) The whole idea is consistent contact; if you don’t allow yourself to get behind for a given week, you won’t get behind over the course of the whole project.
• Spell out your “rules of engagement.” What are your expectations and standards for the other person? What are theirs? Will you meet virtually or face-to-face? Will you take calls from the other person outside of your regular meetings, and if so, when is it too early or too late to call? Aside from creating an atmosphere of professionalism, these are good things to figure out as the terms for a lasting commitment.
• Share your vision for success. Your partner should understand your goal, and exactly why you’ve set this goal. This will give them a certain amount of fuel, so that, when your partner needs to keep you rolling forward, your partner can push you in exactly the right way. It will also prevent the biggest sorts of misunderstandings, so that both of you are always driving to the same place.
• Expect tough questions. Your partner should challenge you when you miss deadlines. Your partner should help you understand what’s holding you back. Your partner should poke holes in your logic or ask the “dumb questions” that you wouldn’t have considered. If you encounter problems along the way, your partner will be conscious of those problems, and will help you fix them.
• Set specific benchmarks. While deciding how meetings will work, you and your partner can decide what the standards are for your work between meetings. If there are other tasks that need attention instead, how should those fit into your weekly standards for progress? If you choose an accountability partner wisely, they will be a source of encouragement, inspiration, and insight. They will also be there to celebrate your successes with you. They will, in essence, be an extension of you and your work. There are voices that we should ignore while we write, but there are others that we should listen to—and that is what the Accountability Partner is there for.
This article is excerpted from On Your Mark: From First Word to First Draft in Six Weeks by Cathy Fyock and Kevin Williamson. Cathy provides coaching for those working on completing their books and can be reached at 502-445-6539 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.