Accountability: The Modern Guide To Better Focus At Work

Plus 4 tips to increase accountability with yourself
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November 23, 2022

You might think you've figured out your focus, learnt the things you need to get consistent high quality focus. But they're not bulletproof. A distraction can still come along and ruin it all.

That’s ok. That’s life.

That’s why it’s useful to have a stop loss on the amount of time that can slip by in distractions. It's so important to have a few accountability strategies up your sleeve.

What is accountability?

Accountability is the state of being answerable and responsible to your commitments.

Importance of accountability at work

Being accountable is incredibly important at work, where you have many people relying on you in order to operate effectively as a team. However because of the comfortable nature of our lives, our daily decisions at work do not often put our lives at risk, so there can be a very small degree of accountability naturally built into the workplace. That's why it's often up to individuals (the best workers) to motivate themselves and stay accountable.

Good example of accountability in the workplace

One simple thing you can do to show your colleagues that you care about accountability is to just give regular updates on your progress towards previously determined goals.

Tips to be more accountable with yourself

1. Use timers

Timers can be an incredibly powerful tool thanks to your brain’s commitment bias. The brain does not like breaking commitments (which is what we call the Commitment bias).

With some skill and thought, you can sometimes use your own biases like the Commitment bias to your advantage (this is the source of many good ‘hacks’). The concept of using your own biases may seem quite foreign to you, but I bet you have in actual fact likely done this hundreds of times in your life already.

When was the last time you counted down from 3?


Often we use these countdowns to tell ourselves we’re going to do something after a few seconds. And it works, which is why we do it. A simple countdown like this can compel us to do the difficult things we would not do without counting down.

So next time you feel like you’re stuck before you’ve even started, give yourself a countdown to clear your head and focus on what you need to. Or open your phone and start a timer to commit to focusing on something for at least 20 minutes.

2. Work somewhere public

Offices, public places or working with team members elsewhere, whilst not being as convenient as working from home, has a major benefit not often talked about…

It creates a sense of accountability.

It may be the reason there is so much disagreement about whether working from home or in the office results in better productivity. With a quick DuckDuckGo search, one study finds 45% of workers feel more productive at the office compared to 30% at home, while other studies completely contradict this.

If your workplace has built up an atmosphere of productivity, you are less likely to spend all day scrolling through Instagram there because you’ll feel guilty that all your colleagues are working well and you’re not. This atmosphere can go a long way to help  you automatically switch into gear.

3. Find accountability buddies

If you don’t work in an office, one strategy that works quite effectively is to work with a friend or a family member at home, at a café or a library. If you’re both driven people then this one takes care of itself.

It’s a good idea to explain to each other that you’re trying to focus and to ask your buddy to interrupt you if they notice you get majorly distracted.

An added bonus is it’s also often fun so feels makes your work a little bit more rewarding.

Some people go so far as to use online accountability buddy services where you either get connected with someone else online or you pay someone to chase you up and breathe down your neck to make sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to.

4. Commit to pre-pacts

When all else fails there is one more thing you can do. Force yourself to be accountable with yourself…

Before we go further, in this context a pact is a commitment that is intended to bind oneself to some terms in the future.

If you’re serious about something, and that something isn’t happening, it might be time to create an equally serious pact with yourself. Nir Eyal, in his book Indistractable, recommends:

  • Effort pacts that prevent distraction by making unwanted behaviours more difficult to do (e.g. keep your phone in a timed-open cookie jar)
  • Price pacts that prevent distraction with the fear of losing money if you don’t do what you say you will (e.g. give your friend $100 and let them know you only get it back if you have read 3 books in 3 weeks)

That’s quite a comprehensive list of strategies, and it’s a lot of information to take in. If you’ve made it this far, well done! Put a note in your calendar to come back here in 2 days from now to check how well you’re implementing these strategies.

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