A version of this piece was originally published by Forbes.
When you've got someone in your corner, it becomes a lot easier to take the next step – even if it's scary.
You’ve probably heard of accountability buddies (people who help one another stay motivated and on track) but what do those relationships look like in action, and how do you become a good one?
Based on experience with two of my favorite accountability buddies, here are three steps to developing these somewhat magical symbiotic partnerships.
1. Identify an Imperfect Action Plan
I’ve known for a while that I wanted to up my game when it comes to social media and my online audience, but the prospect overwhelmed me. Thus, my social media strategy has been sporadic Facebook posts and the occasional flurry of tweets.
In an effort to correct this pattern, I hired my friend Mallory Whitfield, a social media maven who runs Bad*** Creatives, to help strategize about audience growth and branding. When we first sat down, Whitfield explained the best way to test different newsletter formats and gauge audience response.
While I was initially a diligent student, I realized fairly shortly into planning that my eyes had glazed over, and I would struggle to implement this multi-pronged, ideal approach. Whitfield enthusiastically agreed that a plan was only effective if I actually implemented it.
I decided to create an Imperfect Action Plan.
The thinking goes like this: if I plan on my actions being imperfect and just do something, it takes the pressure off of taking the ideal next step and of getting it just right when I do. I needed to be realistic about what I could achieve and sustain.
This week, my Imperfect Action Plan is to make a few changes to how I promote my articles, to use LinkedIn more, and to make an old school paper collage for brand inspiration. (I’m a little giddy about that last one. There will probably be stickers.)
As both a friend and, in this instance, consultant, Whitfield is action-oriented and strategically inclined. Since she helped me create the Imperfect Action Plan, she’s become a perfect accountability buddy to help me implement it.
2. Challenge each other to stretch and pivot when you need to
One of my challenges with developing online content is that it often feels like yelling into the void. As a public speaker, I’m highly interactive and thrive with audience engagement.
I’ve often felt less at ease via webinar and online videos because I usually can’t see the faces of the audience. While on stage, I can adjust my content in real time to ham it up when a joke lands or adjust my explanation if I sense confusion; online I’m left wondering how the content is received.
Prior to my meeting with Whitfield, negotiation coach and rockstar accountability buddy Kathlyn Hart and I met by phone to strategize about our businesses. At the end of the call I promised a few safe and realistic goals about the book I’m writing, which prompted her to ask, “What’s something you can commit to that scares you a little or feels like a stretch?”
I love this question. My “stretch goal” was a commitment to record one hour of potential podcast content and send it to her, which felt plenty scary.
As I reflected about the goal a few days later, however, I realized that as a speaker, people wanted to...wait for it, see me speak.
For me, Facebook Live creates that little jolt of anxiety that precedes going into a haunted house. I’m nervous as hell walking in, but I know I’ll have fun with it once I’m in there. My stretch goal is now part of my Imperfect Action Plan with Whitfield – to promote my articles by talking about the content via Facebook Live. I like to think of it as VH1 Behind the Music for articles.
Shortly after I emailed Hart with my new plan, she responded with enthusiasm, encouragement and suggestions about how I might best build from video content to connect with a larger audience.
3. Use check-ins as deadlines
I am a black belt procrastinator. Duke Ellington’s line, “I don’t need time, I need a deadline,” perfectly represents my approach to tasks.
Any individual social media post or act of self-promotion isn’t exactly urgent or important, so I can always justify delay by focusing on new content I need to develop or client emails that need a reply.
After asking “When can you realistically accomplish these goals?” Hart and I set up our next time to talk and each agreed to one uncomfortable stretch goal as our next step. If it were just my own internal deadline, I assure you, something (anything) would come up and it would wiggle a bit closer to the end of the year on the calendar.
The “I’ll do it if you will” mindset works. Now that I’ve promised Hart to do something uncomfortable and she’s promised me the same, I have to hold up my end of the deal.
Putting it all together, here are questions to put the above strategies into action:
- What’s your Imperfect Action Plan? What realistic steps can you commit to in order to further this goal?
- What’s something you can commit to that scares you a little or feels like a stretch?
- When can you realistically accomplish these goals?
Next time you need a nudge to bypass perfectionism and take action, call a friend and try these tools.