Adventures In Accountability: How To Finish What You Started

accountabilityMy mind is a crazy place. I like to think of myself as a creative adventurer, always chasing change and innovation. New ideas seem to bounce around my imagination like a bumper car birthday party. Unfortunately, sleep seems to get in the way of non-stop action, and I often go to bed feeling as if I’ve forgotten the milk.

The simple translation: I start a lot of personal projects that never get finished.

Don’t get me wrong; I take care of the priorities in life (paying my bills, getting work done, watching Boardwalk Empire every Sunday.) It’s the less important tasks that typically fall through the cracks. Luckily I’ve recognized this weakness, and I have embarked on a quest to learn more about what makes humans accountable.

Almost by fate, I stumbled into an interesting passage about self-discipline in Tim Ferriss’s new book, “The 4-Hour Chef.” In it, Tim notes:

No matter how good a plan is, how thorough a book is, or how sincere our intentions, humans are horrible at self discipline. No one is immune. The smartest, richest, and most dedicated people abandon commitments with disgusting regularity.

This made me feel slightly better about myself, but it begs the question: What methods can we put into place to make sure we finish the most important tasks? How can we manipulate the equation to increase our rate of completion? Upon further inspection, I’ve found three “pressure points” that I think will help me become more accountable.

1. Social Pressure

A promise is a powerful social contract. It’s the currency of trust, and the commitments we make to others often shape the strength of our friendships. When you break a promise you’ve made to yourself, it’s easy to rationalize the loss and move on. Breaking a promise you’ve made to others has much more serious repercussions.

This is where group accountability comes into play. Instead of tackling your projects solo, include others to solidify your pledge to finish. A great example is fitness. Find a dedicated gym partner that will work on the same schedule as you. Choose group activities so that your involvement is crucial to the other person’s success (for example: kickboxing.) This social pressure should convince you to commit to any cause, or risk losing a valuable relationship.

2. Fiscal Pressure

Like it or not, we’re all slaves to money. Every dollar you have determines what you can do. No money? No hamburger. Plain and simple. And as Ferriss notes, we’re much more motivated at the fear of losing money than we are at the prospect of earning. Countless psychology experiments have shown that people work harder when they know that failure to complete a task will result in money lost versus a reward based structure.

Fiscal pressure works great when you’re tackling solo tasks, such as learning a new skill. Let’s assume your goal is to earn a new certification at work. Choose an amount of money that will make you cry if you were to lose it (Tim suggests 1% of your yearly salary.) Now, hand that money over to someone you trust, and instruct them to donate it to a charity of their choice if you fail. I’m not a normally betting man, but I’d place a wager on your success. That’s a lot of cheddar on the line.

3. Deadline Pressure

OK, so this isn’t entirely independent of the other two, since most projects or goals have a deadline. Use this pressure to transform your low priority tasks into high priority tasks. If your goal is to learn how to cook a four course meal, schedule a dinner party at your house in two weeks. Canceling would be awfully rude, and would make your friends mighty angry at you (see “Social Pressure.”) Given the extra food you’ll have to buy, your hard earned cash is also on the line. You are now left with two weeks to make the best damn chicken parm of your life. Tick, tock.

Currently I don’t have any empirical evidence that proves these pressure points will work, but common sense and basic logic screams their validity. I promise I’ll follow up in 1 month to let you know which works the best for me (social + deadline pressure!)

How do you create accountability for yourself? I’d love to learn some new techniques, so feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments!

Apple Is Past Its Prime

I’m a little late to the party here, but I honestly think Apple has finally made the shift from an innovator to a profit protector. When I got my iPod in the early 2000’s, it was one of the best tech investments I had ever made. My second Apple purchase was an iPad 2, which was the best tablet on the market by miles. Nothing could touch Apple products, and their popularity skyrocketed.

When I looked at their recent product releases, they are all just incremental adjustments to past innovations. Faster processor. Thinner body. Brighter screen. While these are certainly improvements, they don’t come with the same flair that propelled them from nearly bankrupt to the most valuable company on Earth in a little over a decade.

Shareholders are certainly happy with the influx of money now, but so were Microsoft shareholders in the 90’s. Complacency has set in, and if they don’t start taking risks and pushing the envelope once again, Apple will die on the vine like so many other tech giants.