This article was originally published on Lawyerist.com.
The idea of accountability is touted across all areas of self-improvement. Need to exercise? Have a workout partner waiting for you at the gym so you’ll be less likely to bail. Dieting? Do it with your partner so you’ll commiserate about the missed calories and encourage each other over Thanksgiving. Budgeting for the first time? Have a monthly budget meeting with an accountability partner.
It sounds like a great idea to have someone to whom you are held accountable, but how does it work if you are a solo lawyer?
How It Helps
Having an accountability partner as a solo lawyer can be useful in a number of ways; exactly how it can help you depends on where you need accountability and how you implement the idea.
If you find yourself missing deadlines in your daily practice, you may need an accountability partner to whom you report in on upcoming deadlines and when you have met them. Your partner can give you a nudge when deadlines are impending.
Perhaps where you need to be kept in check is a routine task on a schedule, such as monthly billing. Your partner could be someone you sit down with each month at billing time; they might actually help with your billing, or maybe it’s enough to just have to do it while they hang out in your office or work in another room.
For some solos, the daily grind is running smoothly, but the business is stagnant. If you have ideas you want to implement, your accountability partner can be someone you count on to keep you honest about meeting milestones toward making those ideas into reality.
Where to Find a Partner
For solos, one of the biggest problems we face is where to find people we can count on. We are naturally isolated, and sometimes being in our own heads so much makes us believe that no one else out there is doing or thinking the same things.
First, realize that is not true; if you would like an accountability partner, you can bet that plenty of other people you know would love one, too.
Second, reach out within your network to people with whom you feel comfortable being open and honest. Accountability does not work if you are going to sugar coat the truth. If you missed a deadline are about to, you need to be able to tell your partner about it. Keep in mind that this person does not have to be another lawyer, and in fact they may not even understand your business; so long as you can be honest with them about what you need to do and whether you have actually done it, they can be a useful partner.
Third, begin the conversation. Ask them if they have a problem area or a goal they would like to achieve, and inquire whether they would like you to help them by being an accountability partner. It is a great two-way street.
In the time that I have used accountability partners, they have been my spouse, my best friend, and colleagues I do not know well but who share similar goals for their practices.
Methods of Madness
Once you identify the goal you want to achieve and find a partner, how you actually implement the plan is up to you. Here are some ideas that I have used or seen others use.
Princess of Power model. Harkening back to She-Ra, the Princess of Power (and twin sister to He-Man), this brazenly stolen idea (from my co-clerk of many years ago) has been wildly successful in my life. It works best as a daily ritual for your everyday to do list.
Each morning, send your partner a list of what you intend to accomplish that day. As the day goes by, mark off your list and send it back to them with items marked “done;” they will do the same. Seeing each other accomplishing what you set out to do is inspiring and motivating. In order for it to be successful, you must actually send the list each morning and keep up with the tasks you set out to do. It can help push you to do more than you might otherwise when you see it all laid out. (The new sharing feature on the Notes app on the iPhone is great for this; you can even use radio buttons to allow you to tick off tasks as you accomplish them, and the list updates automatically on each other’s phones.)
Team Organizing Software. If the tasks are larger, longer term and multi-step, software that allows you to lay out for each other goals, timelines, and information related to the tasks can be very useful. Basecamp3 is one such tool. In order for it to work, you have to pay attention to the software and continually check and update it. It is only as useful as how much you use it.
Social Media. Sometimes you do not need ongoing check-in with a partner, but instead just need to know you will be publicly humiliated if you fail to meet your goal. Fear of public humiliation keeps runners pushing ahead of the minimum pace in races to avoid being picked up by the bus. It works.
Using social media in this way recently worked for me. I participate in an online community of like-minded solo lawyers, none of whom I know particularly well, but several of whom I have met and shared practice-focused discussions. I posted for all to see that I had failed to get something done which I had sworn I would do. I promised this large group of people that I would have it done by a specific date and asked them to hold me accountable. People responded with general encouraging comments, but the ones that really got me to do it asked pointed questions like “it’s 24 hours from your deadline; how is it going?” and “what tasks remain to be done?” For me, feeling forced to publicly answer that second one spurred me to make the list, feel embarrassed to post the answer, and instead accomplish the listed tasks so I didn’t have to tell anyone how many items remained. By the time I posted my response, I had done them all and beaten the deadline.
Social media where this can work includes any limited scope group such as the Slack community of which I am a part, a Facebook group, or even a group of friends. I would not recommend this method for an entirely-public social media outlet, though some may disagree. I have certainly seen weight loss and fitness goals posted publicly on Facebook.
Don’t Shy Away
If this all sounds too collaborative for your solo mindset, give it a try anyway. You may find that it becomes you more than you realize, and if not, nothing is lost.