It is no surprise that with a change in routine comes a shift in how we view ourselves. Humans, by nature, are creatures of habit. While that sentence has a cliched history, there are reasons that it became so.
As our lives turned upside down with the pandemic and have now found so many of us working from home we are likely breaking old habits and building new ones. Finding accountability in a new routine and an upheaval of life as we know it can be difficult. But, as with all things, just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
For the last 14 years, I have worked from home and come up with ways to hold myself accountable, while remaining true to myself, my family, and my clients. Over these years, I started a business, had two children, served numerous clients, coached hundreds of people, and traveled frequently. Holding myself accountable is critical to balance these various aspects of my personal and professional life.
Below is a list of four practices that can help you hold yourself genuinely accountable in this new routine, and for the future.
Create Micro- and Macro-Goals
Creating goals is a great way to move forward throughout your day. Micro-goals are small-step goals that I can achieve within a day. For example, finish up a proposal for a client, spend 45 minutes writing, or exercise for at least 20–30 minutes. I try to accomplish 2–4 micro-goals each day. Micro goals help me work towards bigger goals and keep me from being overwhelmed.
Macro-goals are bigger goals that might take weeks or months to achieve and are aligned to the overall business goals. For example, blogging on a consistent basis as part of the marketing strategy, increasing prospect engagement as part of the sales strategy, or redesigning the website. These macro-goals can be ongoing, like blogging or prospect engagement, or finite, such as redesigning a website. Either way, it’s important to identify the macro-goals you want to pursue for the year, and then revisit them on a monthly or quarterly basis to track progress and adjust if necessary.
Using a combination of micro and macro goals allows for incremental progress and the ability to see if you are falling behind, as well as a roadmap for the month, quarter, or year.
It took me a long time to recognize that breaking goals into micro- and macro-goals significantly raises my accountability and ultimately drives greater productivity. Start slowly by defining a few macro-goals for the month or quarter, then identify 1–2 micro-goals to focus on each day (or several days a week).
Write Things down
Making a list may seem like a daunting task, but it is also a great way to hold yourself accountable for achieving your micro-and macro-goals. If you are a visual learner, you may already have made this a habit. If not, it’s a great way to gather your thoughts and begin to physically see the list of items that need to get done.
According to the Forbes.com article “Neuroscience Explains Why You Need To Write Down Your Goals if You Actually Want to Achieve Them,” Mark Murphy discusses how writing down your goals with vivid detail is associated with goal success.
Writing things down happens on two levels: external storage and encoding. External storage is easy to explain: you’re storing the information contained in your goal in a location (e.g. a piece of paper) that is very easy to access and review at any time. You could post that paper in your office, on your refrigerator, etc. It doesn’t take a neuroscientist to know you will remember something much better if you’re staring at a visual cue (aka reminder) every single day.
~ Mark Murphy, Neuroscience Explains
I use a small notepad on my desk to write down a few immediate micro-goals for the day that should take less than 5 minutes each, such as responding to a client email or making a doctor’s appointment. I also use a hanging whiteboard and sticky notes to track items that are not started, in progress, and complete. These are a mix of micro-and macro-goals.
Between the shortlist on my notepad and the sticky notes on my whiteboard, I am able to stay organized and see when I’ve fallen behind. I also get the satisfaction of crossing out an item or moving a sticky note from not started to in progress, or from in progress to complete.
If writing a list is not for you, try to find a way to organize your thoughts, tasks, and ideas that work with your sense of self. If you’re technically savvy, using your phone calendar or an app might work better for you. If you’re low-tech (like me), writing a physical list might work better. Making yourself accountable means that you know what assignments are due and when they need to be done.
Create Protected Space and Time
If you were hurled into working from home, you probably didn’t get much time to create a separate working space. However, taking some time to create an area that is dedicated to working can help you stay focused and minimize distractions. You don’t have to have a dedicated home office, a desk in a corner of a bedroom or other area can suffice.
In addition to having a separate space to work, it’s also important to schedule in protected work time where you can focus and have minimal distractions. This has been harder for me with having all the members of our family home together and helping our children with school. While it might be hard to replicate the ‘9 to 5’ schedule you might normally keep at the office, try to find a few blocks of protected time throughout the day. This might mean starting work earlier, taking some small breaks throughout the day, and working in the evenings or at night. If I work outside of normal business hours, I try to limit it to 30–60 minutes to minimize the impact on my personal and family commitments.
Be Honest with Yourself
Honesty with yourself is the best way to hold yourself accountable and to be your most authentic self. However, while it sounds easy, ensuring you remain honest means that you have to create internal checks and balances dialogue with yourself. Checks and balances are certain questions you can ask yourself to help reduce mistakes and learn from mistakes. If you make a mistake you can ask yourself questions like:
- Where did I go wrong?
- What can I do differently next time?
- Did I take proper responsibility when asked about the mistake?
- Does anyone need to hear an apology?
If you get constructive feedback from your coworkers or supervisor, make sure to listen to them instead of getting defensive. Ask yourself:
- Is there any validity to what they are saying?
- Is there something I can do to help or learn from what they are saying?
It takes practice and resilience to understand that mistakes give you a chance to learn and grow, even when it can feel embarrassing or frustrating.
If a team member, manager, or client comes to you with a problem that you may or may not have created, ask yourself a few questions before you get frustrated with the situation.
- Is there anything you could have done better?
- Did you forget something?
- What or where did the communication fail, and how can it be better next time?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, first acknowledge your mistake, then provide a genuine apology to whoever has been affected by it. I have found on several occasions with clients and partners that owning up to a mistake and offering a sincere apology creates a stronger relationship in the outset.
Next, come up with a plan of action to resolve the problem. This can help take the sting out of any embarrassment or frustration resulting from the problem. Taking an objective look at an issue gives you a new viewpoint, and creates learning opportunities. Allowing yourself to make mistakes is a good practice.
While the discomfort of mistakes may never go away, with practice, taking honest responsibility for them allows you to change your perspective and see them as learning opportunities. This view is a healthier way to see yourself and others.
While creating accountability does take practice and time, now is a great time to begin. You may find that there are times that are harder to hold yourself accountable. Don’t fret in those moments; it’s all about building a habit. When you see yourself slipping, find kindness for that time and then just get up and do it again. Eventually, you’ll begin to find the right rhythm for yourself, and things will fall into place.
As you become more comfortable with working remotely and find out how to make your time work for you, apply these practices to raise your accountability, and stay organized in the long run.