TL;DR: An accountability buddy is someone to check in with from time to time to give you social motivation to achieve your goals. There are many additional benefits from this process such as planning together and getting feedback on your progress. I think especially EAs in remote areas or those doing EA-related work, or upskilling part-time would benefit from having an accountability buddy. If you’d like to try it out, put your details down in this table.
This is partly a post about increasing your productivity. For more ideas check Effective Self-Help’s long list of recommendations.
Thank you to Evander and Anabel for your feedback.
Epistemic status: We have had first-hand experience with accountability buddies for the past six months + reflected on the process several times. We’ve also had conversations with others about the topic. Overall our views should be taken as a motivation to experiment instead of a laid-out path.
Author’s note: The first-person perspective in this post is taken in by Konstantin. Other remarks by Sam are made here. Nevertheless, we wrote most of this article collaboratively. Furthermore, this article is a concrete outcome of our rejection challenge.
I think I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t met Sam, my accountability buddy at EAG London this year. Our regular meetings made me more structured, helped me frequently reflect on my goals and progress, and made me more ambitious than I was before. I think many, if not all people would benefit from some form of accountability partnership and I encourage you to give it a try if you haven’t.
In an abstract sense, an accountability buddy (AB) is someone to help you better reflect and achieve your goals, either through indirect accountability (”I told them I’d get this done this week and it’s already Thursday, so I better get going!”) or direct accountability (“Hey, didn’t you say you wanted to start that project? How is that going?”). The most common way of doing this is by meeting regularly and going through past progress and future goals.
In addition to accountability, an AB can help you to reflect on your goals and the progress you made toward them. If it works out well, an accountability session can feel like a mini-coaching every week.
I think many people would benefit from accountability buddies, especially if they:
There are also some related concepts that I may one day write about: career planning groups (e.g. for the 80k course), holding you accountable to make progress and discussing your plans and value buddies, someone you reflect your values with on a regular basis to keep track of value drift.
I think there are many ways you can make an accountability partnership work. A simple form is just meeting up once a week and sharing your goals for the next few days.
0) Think about what you want
Was there something we mentioned you’d like to have? Is there something else an AB could help you with? Do you think you’d benefit from an accountability partnership?
1) Finding an AB
Your AB should ideally be:
Ideas for where to find them:
I found Sam because he wrote he was looking for an AB in Swapcard at EAG London. We first had a trial period of a couple of meetings and then decided we wanted to stick to it.
Don’t be disappointed if you don’t fully resonate with the first AB you picked. Try finding someone else and experiment a bit.
2) Setting up a structure
Schedule a regular time you meet up to discuss your plans and share your goals for the next week. I think you get the most value from it if you include a reflection on the last week.
If you want to take it further, you can design a template (see Appendix for our template) you complete each week (e.g., by silent coworking) and then talk about the results. Another idea is to include a debugging session at the end of the meeting.
3) Regularly reflect on the accountability partnership
Would it help you to have brief daily check-ins in addition to your weekly planning? Do you feel like you could shorten the meeting without losing many benefits? Do you think additional monthly planning might be helpful? Do you feel comfortable sharing your personal life or would you rather just talk about your work-related goals?
The style of our meetings and the relationship with Sam changed considerably over the last months. Here are some learnings we’d like to pass on:
If you think you may benefit from any of the advantages outlined above, why not just try this out and put your name into the database!
If you already have an accountability buddy or you had one once, please share your experiences & templates in the comments.
Here’s our suggested meeting outline, which we changed quite heavily over time.
Here’s our template. While it is in Notion, the basic template should work elsewhere too (e.g. copy it to google docs). If you have any technical difficulties, contact Sam. Our process takes about an hour, though it can be shortened by skipping questions. (We usually take more time because we tend to chat a lot about what the other person has been up to - we think that’s super valuable, so we try to plan accordingly.)
For a 15-minute version check this post.
“Are you sure you want to pick up on linear algebra by just studying this book? There’s a great 3Blue1Brown video series on the topic.”
“Oh, you’re already writing another blog post? Maybe I’d like to take some time to write as well this week.”
If you struggle with guilt, I really recommend the Replacing Guilt series by Nate Soares.
We found that Sunday night works best as it’s a natural reflecting time and we are both free then anyways.
I would addd) A person who does not have RSD (rejection sensitive dysphoria). This is a pretty common condition. A lot of people are just very averse to any feedback and such people do not make good accoutability partners. Such people may to be looking for cheerleaders not accountability partners. Related ideas around immunity to change in this book https://www.amazon.com.au/Immunity-Change-Overcome-Potential-Organization/dp/1422117367"Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization" by Robert Kegan
Thanks for pointing that out!Intuitively, this seems like an edge case for me. How many people actually suffer from this condition?Besides, I believe that an accountability relationship could be just the right thing there. AB don't have to make you feel bad for not doing something, but can instead help you fight the condition and cheer you on. I guess that's just a different form of accountability relationship.
I guess the obvious question is "how is this different from having a friend?", and the answer is that of course a friend can become an accountablity buddy, but it will not happen automatically, and not all friends are suitable for this role.
I meet some of my friends more often, some of them less frequently. Some frequency is just too low for this to work effectively. It does not necessarily mean frequent meetings in person -- it could be, meeting in person once in a while, but a more frequent online contact. (I think the meeting in person is necessary for System-1 reasons; the people you meet in person are instinctively more real, more important.)
Not all friends want to discuss plans and goals. Sometimes the basis of friendship is just sharing a hobby, or remembering a shared past. You may do some activity together, but it does mean this activity is actually important to you; it may be just a form of relaxation.
Some friends are not really good at listening to someone else's goals impartially. Instead of listening to your plans to accomplish some goal X, they might insist that some other goal Y is actually more important.
I prefer a low-pressure interaction. I want my accountability buddy to remind me of my plans. However, if I say "sorry, didn't have time for that" or "I have changed my mind", I want them to accept that. Maybe with some feedback, such as "you seem to change your mind too often" or "you keep 'having no time' for months, are you sure this is actually about time?". But I do not want them to 'adopt' my plan, and start nagging me to do something I no longer want to do. Some people perceive "on Monday you told me you wanted X, on Friday you tell me you changed your mind" as a waste of their time.
By the way, I think the accountability buddy does not have to be a rationalist. It does not matter much if they believe in horoscopes -- the important part is to meet you often and listen to your goals and plans without 'owning' them, and that seems doable. Yes, rationality as a shared value and paradigm can make this easier.
However, in my situation, my current non-rationalist friends are unsuitable for this role for the reasons I have mentioned above. This is not about them not being rationalists per se, but about inability to listen to plans for goals they do not approve of, or unwilligness to plan for the future instead of complaining about the present.