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The Most Important Ingredient in Productivity

Hint: it’s not easy and it’s not fun.

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Accountability is, hands down, the most underrated ingredient in productivity.

You want to sustain your momentum? You need to hold yourself accountable. You want to implement personal reforms? You need to be held accountable. You want to be that productive superstar, waking up at 5:30am and whizzing through your to do list before breakfast? I personally think that’s unnecessary, but to get it done you have to hold yourself accountable.

It’s easy to cherry pick traits and lifestyle elements we want. We all have a standard for what is good and desirable and we all have good intentions for reaching those standards. But in order to reach them, we need to hold ourselves to it.

What’s the use of good intentions if you don’t persist in following through?

Accountability is hard. A couple of years ago I struggled with this until I realized I had a serious problem. Seven times out of ten, if I didn’t have a set deadline for something, I’d kick it a little further down the road, putting it off again and again.

I wasn’t growing. I wasn’t running on all cylinders.

We’ve all started exercise programs, promising ourselves to give it a shot for at least a month, only to quit day 10 when something else comes up.

What’s the weight of your word?

If I tell a friend something is going to happen, I always make sure I come through. I’m strongly passionate about being good for my word.

I don’t want anyone to think they can’t take me seriously or that my promises are just platitudes. It’s part of how I present myself and it aligns with my values.

But when it comes to the promises I make to myself?

I’m more willing to settle for less. I drop the ball more often. I take the easy way out. I give up. At that point, a couple years back when I went through a period of intent self-transformation, I stopped taking myself seriously because I knew I wouldn’t hold myself to what I set out to do.

The very last person we should be dropping the ball on is ourselves.

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

If you hold your own feet to the fire, you’re internalizing the message that you’re worth the effort it takes to persist. And you are. But there’s a cost.

Like I said before, accountability is really damn hard.

That’s why the topic of personal responsibility is so much less admired than vague themes like ‘hard work’ or ‘ambition’.

If you put in hard work on an inconsistent basis, it’s useless. If you have ambition but you don’t force yourself to put it into action, it’s worthless.

There’s nothing more unappealing than doing something you really do not want to do. Especially if there’s no one watching who can chide you for letting yourself down. You can just relax and sink back into contentment, maybe telling yourself tomorrow will be the day.

One day, tomorrow will not be there.

We don’t have endless tomorrows to show up for ourselves, so we need to make today count. It doesn’t much matter what you’ve set out to do, it just matters that you follow through and hold yourself to it.

Don’t let yourself off the hook. Not even once.

Not even if no one else is watching.

Photo by Niv Singer on Unsplash

Now, I don’t have any tips or a nice listicle prepared to help ease you into this. There’s no secret technique, no buffer. You just have to bite the bullet.

It’s irritating, I know.

We all want to soften blows and break things into bite size pieces, and that’s doable for most aspects of our lives. But this one’s different. This one, by its very nature, just requires raw action.

There is nothing anyone can tell you to make you change — that means this decision is in your hands at all times.

So yes, it’s irritating to not have a method or direction, but it’s simpler (not easier) to execute than you think.

But it means you have all the power. You say yes. Not anyone else.

And if you’re used to indulging and giving yourself a break like I was, this is going to feel like jumping into freezing cold water. It will feel impossibly unnatural and uncomfortable. You’ll sputter and struggle and likely fall short many more times than once.

But over time, your mentality can shift from:

I can’t let myself down


I do not let myself down on principle.

Ironically, you have to hold yourself accountable for holding yourself accountable.

If you want to be more effective, more disciplined, more productive, this is the most effective way.

While it’s true there’s no substitute for hard work, it’s also true that you have to be the one to make sure you’re working hard.

It’s a fight, but it’s undoubtedly worth fighting for.

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