I crave blocks of unscheduled time, but I inevitably waste them when I get them. Without a deadline or a clear task, I squander this time with more list-making, planning, researching, and then sort of mindlessly "liking" pictures on Facebook and Instagram.

By contrast, the days and weeks I feel (and actually am) more productive are the busy ones. But it's not just having more stuff on the to-do list that makes me get more done. I need accountability. For me, that comes from meetings and due dates.

Meeting due dates that are assigned by clients or agreed to by the team is an assumed, basic-level professional competency. This is the most school-like part of our workday. (If you're routinely missing deadlines, something else is wrong. You need better reminders, a time-management system, and prioritization--or a sit-down with your boss about unrealistic expectations.)

The issue I have is sticking to the business development assignments I give to myself. These assignment are networking, business-building, skill-growing--non-urgent but important things. I suspect I'm not alone.

I recently heard a podcast featuring Gretchen Rubin. When it comes to accountability, she explained, people tend to fall into one of four types.

  • "Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations,
  • Questioners question all expectations; they'll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense--essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations,
  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves,
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike."

Of course, it helps to figure out which type you are, but that's not the hard part. You then you have to think about what motivates you to act. Most of the people responding to Rubin's quiz identify themselves as obligers. That means they meet their external commitments but struggle to keep promises to themselves.

Can you relate?

If you have the Obliger tendency, making a promise to someone else will get you moving more than a promise to yourself. It's why paying a trainer helps you get to the gym. You don't want to let her down--or waste your money. It's why joining business mastermind groups can be a great idea too. You state your goals and intentions and then must report on your progress at the next meeting.

If you're struggling to meet deadlines for tasks you've set for yourself--or haven't set a deadline at all because you know you won't meet it--try building in some external accountability. Upholders need a realistic plan they can execute. Questioners need a process for checking expectations against their core values. And, rebels? Well, rebels don't want a plan and will spend more energy pushing back against suggested or imposed goals.

Getting clear on your tendencies might just be the key to your success.

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