How to Overcome Procrastination: Levels of External Accountability

How to Overcome Procrastination: Levels of External Accountability | Productive and Free

So far we’ve covered a couple of ways to overcome procrastination. 

You have a practical way to approach being a perfectionist, questions to turn your task from a chore into a choice, and how to choose what you need to do over what you want to do now.

While these are all effective strategies, we need to also highlight the power of external factors that can increase our accountability.

To quit blowing ourselves off and breaking commitments we've made only to ourselves, we could put more skin in the game by being liable, responsible, or answerable to something or someone other than ourselves.

If you're looking for more ways to help you do what you need to do when you need to do it, consider these five levels of external accountability.


Level 1: Writing it down

Once you take something that you need to do and put it in writing, at least two things happen.

First, it becomes something tangible and it's now “out there” as opposed to being a simple thought inside your head. Second, your brain can now focus on processing the task and coming up with ways to get it done instead of merely remembering it. 

This is the reason to-do lists are still very much effective (if used well). It’s a physical, visible, and clear note that there’s something you need to take care of or else it’ll remain unchecked and continue to (haunt/nag/prod) remind you. 


Level 2: Scheduling it

Take to-do lists one step further and you have calendars, planners, or scheduling apps. This second level raises the bar quite a bit because once you block off a specific period for a single task, the chances that you won’t procrastinate on it will increase dramatically. 

By scheduling something, it's understood that all your time, energy, and attention will be devoted to only that one task you need to do. This eliminates excuses such as "I don't have time for that," "I need to do something else" "I need to be somewhere," or "I'll do it later."   

Just think of the times you’ve procrastinated on commonly scheduled activities such as visits to the doctor, client meetings, or DMV appointments. Almost never, right?


Level 3: Telling someone about it

While to-do lists and planners can help you overcome procrastination, it’s still very easy to just throw away your to-do list or revise your schedule. After all, no one would know! 

This is why you could put more skin in the game by telling someone about your goal or task and asking him or her to check up on you as your accountability partner.

If you succeed in completing your task on time (no procrastinating), you’ll feel proud when you report back to that person. But if you procrastinate or abandon your task, you might feel ashamed or judged by that person once you admit it to them. 

In this level, it’s important to consider who you’re telling and what method you respond to the best: 

  • Will this accountability partner, friend, parent, partner, or spouse be strict with you and really hold you accountable?

  • Is their method of motivating you in line with how you learn best (i.e. some people respond well to strong and forceful feedback while others reject this method and prefer gentle encouragement)?


Level 4: Joining a Support group or mastermind

Next you have joining a support group or mastermind group wherein you share your goals and tasks with one another. In this setting, you have members who are all in the same industry/niche/level/stage of their journey, with the host or administrators a few steps ahead. 

Groups like these encourage a higher level of accountability since they usually meet up on a regular basis and there are more people to report to (read: peer pressure). But while everyone supports, encourages, and motivates one other, it's important to consider the fact that each member still has their own thing going on, regardless if the group has a free or paid membership structure.  

This is different from group coaching (wherein one person facilitates or coaches the members) and other forms of groups (wherein all members have the same goal such as sports teams, company departments, or nonprofit organizations).


Level 5: Hiring a coach or mentor

Hiring a coach or mentor elicits the most accountability compared to the others in this list because of several reasons.

The first and most obvious is that coaching and mentoring comes with a usually significant investment and this monetary factor alone can motivate you to take your goals and tasks seriously.

The second reason is that good coaches and mentors are familiar with personal struggles, most notably procrastination, so they know how to inspire and challenge you to overcome it.

The third reason is that these professionals also have skin in the game. They want to do everything they could to help you succeed because if you look good, then they look good. After all, this is how they make a living. 

The fourth reason is that coaches and mentors often set higher expectations. Their main job is to help you take action and unlock your full potential so procrastinating, unjustified excuses, and simply being lazy are out of the question (to be clear, these are different from limiting beliefs and mental roadblocks). 

In fact, it's not uncommon for coaches and mentors to ask you to first apply to work with them, for them to have a waiting list, or for them to turn down clients who aren't taking their work seriously.  

Compare all these reasons with getting an accountability buddy who often isn't directly invested in your success, or with joining masterminds wherein one person’s performance doesn’t significantly affect the group or other members. 



Depending on your situation and what you're working on, there are many methods to help you overcome procrastination. Some internal strategies have been covered in the previous blog posts but in terms of external accountability, you could try writing it down, scheduling it, getting an accountability partner, joining a mastermind group, and hiring a coach or mentor. 


Share in the comments below: Which level of external accountability have you used? How has it helped you overcome procrastination? Which one are you looking to try out next?