I’ve long advocated for incorporating accountability into nonprofit job descriptions if you hope to get, and measure, results. Without accountability, tasks have a serious likelihood of slipping to the back burner; then off the stove entirely.
Procrastination is just a human trait.
We tell ourselves we’ll clean out the garage this weekend. But no one makes us do it. So the weekend comes and goes without anything happening.
We make a new year’s resolution to exercise more. We even join a gym. We attend a couple of times, but no one is tracking our progress on the elliptical machine. We fall back into our previous habits and, before we know it, we’ve stopped going.
We plan to get out of the office and visit a donor at least three times a week, but no one really pays attention to our schedule – after all, we’re grown-up professionals! – and it’s easy to get distracted by emails, meetings, and a host of other tasks.
I could go on with a zillion examples. You probably can too. Why? Because human beings are wired this way. We get distracted. We procrastinate. We give in to habits that may not serve us well. And we’ve been doing it for centuries. It even has a Greek name: Akrasia.
Akrasia is procrastination or a lack of self-control.
It means acting against your better judgment and doing one thing even when you know you should be doing something else. Akrasia is what prevents you from following through on what you set out to do.
Want to stop this madness?
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. It’s genius, really. And it’s super simple. I found this secret in an article published in The Mission entitled: This is How to Increase the Odds of Reaching Your Goals by 95%.
Here’s the key: leverage.
Motivation is hard to sustain without something to leverage its momentum.
And guess what that something is?
All you need is an accountability system to hold your feet to the fire and make it much easier to achieve your goals. If that sounds intrusive to you, and gives you a bit of a scare about being micro managed, not to worry. The accountability system needn’t be formal or fancy.
Just set a clear goal and embrace a willingness to let others help you achieve it.
Sure, when the “other” is your boss and the task you’ve committed to accomplish is spelled out in your job description, that’s clear cut. Especially when you know you’ll be meeting regularly with your boss and they’ll be tracking your progress. I don’t discourage that. But what if this isn’t the case in your situation?
Here’s what you can do to hold yourself accountable – with the help of a friend:
Tell someone, out loud, what your goal is. Better yet, tell a group of people. This can be your family or your work group. It can be your significant other or your boss. It can be your best friend or a member of your board.
Say it out loud!
Once you publicly commit, you engage the power of social expectations. You also engage the power of commitment and consistency. We are wired to live up to people’s expectations – our own, and others. But especially others. We’ll let ourselves down before we’ll let others down.
Here’s how it works:
- When you tell your boss the proposal will be done by the end of the week, you’re more likely to stick to it and do it.
- When you tell your committee you’ll send them a report outlining assignments and next steps, you deliver.
- When you promise your team you’ll take them on a field trip to see some of your organization’s work in action, you’ll actually set it up.
The expectation alone is enough motivation to get you to commit to it and get it done.
On the other hand, if you only tell yourself you’ll do something – like start a diet, begin an exercise routine, start a P2P fundraising program, master planned giving fundamentals or anything else that’s a bit outside your comfort zone, you’re less likely to follow through. It’s easier to stay in your comfortable routine and revert to bad habits.
Help yourself see a valuable future.
One explanation for why akrasia rules us and procrastination pulls us is something referred to in behavioral economics as “time inconsistency.” This is the tendency of the brain to value immediate rewards more highly than future rewards.
When you envision your future, and make plans to get there, you’re thinking about a point in time that’s not today. It’s easy for you to imagine that doing these things in the future will be valuable. But today, not so much. Today you want instant gratification. You want that ice cream, and you’ll start your diet tomorrow. You want to start a monthly giving program, but you’re too busy today and next week so you’ll think about it next month.
And so it goes. Humans tend to make daily decisions for their in-the-moment selves, not their future selves. Generally, this doesn’t turn out well for us. In fact, it’s the reason why the ability to delay gratification is a great predictor of success in life. But… how to overcome the pull of instant gratification?
The key is to ride the motivation wave by committing to a goal
Motivation kick starts change, but you won’t get where you’re headed if you don’t ride the motivation wave.
“Motivation only has one role in our lives and that’s to help us to do hard things.” – B.J. Fogg, Psychologist, Director, Persuasive Technology Lab, Stanford
In other words, you must do something to take advantage of motivation when you have it. And this can be a simple as committing to a goal. To paraphrase Lewis Carroll in “Alice in Wonderland,” “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll very likely get there.”
Where do you want to get to?
Pick something realistic. If you currently don’t exercise at all, don’t commit to going to the gym for an hour every day. Start slow, maybe with 30 minutes of walking twice a week. If you currently have 50 monthly donors, don’t commit to having 1,000 by the end of the year. Maybe decide you’ll add 5 more.
Once you’ve got a handle on your expectations, don’t just tuck this idea away in the corner of your own mind.
That’s a recipe for procrastination, not follow through. Write it down.
Today, right now, you can make a commitment that matters to your goal.
- In your personal life, you can choose your spouse, a reliable friend or friends and tell them what your goal is and why it is important for you to achieve it.
- At work, tell your boss, your board, or your team.
- Or blog about your most important goal and share your progress with your audience.
As human beings, we’re wired to follow through on commitments.
Tell someone your plan.
When you want to change your behavior, or do something new, make a commitment to someone else. We’re wired for accountability.
Accountability accelerates your performance by helping you achieve the behavior change you desire.
The American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) did a study on accountability and found the probability of completing a goal if:
- You havean idea or a goal: 10%
- You consciously decide you will do it: 25%
- You decide when you will do it: 40%
- You plan how you will do it: 50%
- You commit to someoneyou will do it: 65%
- You have a specific accountability appointment with a person you’ve committed to: 95%
That’s pretty HUGE, don’t you think?
Write it down.
Another way to hold yourself accountable is to use something called “implementation intentions.”
All you do is state your intention to implement a particular behavior at a specific time in the future. For example:
- “I will exercise for at least 30 minutes on [DATE] in [PLACE] at [TIME].”
- “I will call five donors to say thank you every morning, beginning at [TIME].
Study after study shows how implementation intentions have a positive impact on outcomes. For example, one study found employees who wrote down a specific date and time they’d get their flu shot were significantly more likely to follow through.
You can even write it down publicly to make a commitment to your donors. For example:
- “When you make a gift, you will instantly receive a profile of one of the families whose lives are being transformed by this program.”
- “Immediately show your support by giving here and we will instantly send you a video message from our staff in the field.”
This promise to your donors is something you’ll now feel accountable for. When you follow through, your donor will receive an instant gratification jolt of dopamine. They’ll trust you – and trust is the foundation of all lasting relationships.
Good news! Accountability works for both you and your donors!