In a webinar last week, I offered some advice to a woman who was having trouble meeting self-imposed deadlines.

A deadline, she noted, creates a lot of stress—and yet is often not effective without a boss to report to.

For instance, say you’re an artist, but you’re not producing much. You could decide: I’m going to draw every day. I’m going to finish a painting a week.

That’s great, but then what if you just...don’t?


Enter the Accountability Buddy

A common response to this problem is to get an accountability buddy.

I think accountability buddies make sense when you’re vowing NOT to do something. For example, if you’re in a strict religious culture that prohibits drinking alcohol, dancing, or watching R-rated movies, you could call your accountability buddy every time you get the urge to do one of these things, and she could come over right away to distract you with a Frappuccino and a wholesome game of Bible Scrabble.

But accountability buddies are kind of shit for keeping you on track with complicated, multi-step projects.

First, your buddy may not understand your field at all, or may not realize how much work she would have to do to really get a handle on what you’re trying to accomplish.

Second, your buddy is preoccupied with her own goals (which you’re also supposed to be helping her with), and probably doesn’t actually care that much about yours.

And third, working with an accountability buddy is a system based on negative reinforcement–and not even very effective negative reinforcement. After all, if you don’t perform, is your accountability buddy going to punish you?

(Also, the word “buddy” makes your friend sound like a six-year-old boy, so there’s that.)

Finally, is your friend a really good coach? If you say you’re going to work out three times this week and you don’t, what’s she going to say? “That’s okay, I didn’t either.” Or, “Well, I worked out four times.” Or, “You should really work out.” Are any of these going to really be that helpful?

Your brain is not stupid. Your brain is not motivated to make you do work when the reward is nonexistent and the punishment is mild disapproval from someone you were bridesmaids with last summer.


Instead, Try an Accomplishment Salon

Instead of an accountability buddy, try an accomplishment salon.

I’m talking about an actual gathering in your home, with champagne. Do it about once a month. It should be fun! But only fun for people who did stuff. It won’t be fun at all for whoever’s lazy boyfriend tagged along.

You could limit it to your field (architects!), or to a particular professional goal (job seekers). It could be all-women, or not. Whatever group you decide on, having lots of people involved means you can receive support (and compliments!) without putting so much pressure on one person.

Write up an invite that explains that this is a new monthly salon where everyone is expected to share what they’ve accomplished in the past month, and what their biggest goal is for the coming month. Depending on the field, you might have readings, performances, or show-and-tell. But if you are all, say, mortgage officers, then your group’s accomplishments really won’t lend themselves to dramatic readings. Instead, just let each person announce their accomplishments, and then do a little champagne toast. If you want a more festive atmosphere, you could ask one or more people to bring in a quote or a motivational reading to share.

(Note: I’m the exactly the sort of person who tells you how to hang out with your friends productively. See also: How to Hold a Ladies’ Working Brunch.)

I’ve written before that it’s important to have a money ally—someone you can openly share dollar figures and financial accomplishments with. It’s insane that you could work for a decade to be making six figures—and then have no one you can even tell about it, much less get a round of applause from.

An accomplishment salon can be the kind of place where you can tell people the exact dollar amount of your raise, and you will very appropriately get a toast in your honor, rather than rude looks for bragging or talking about money.

There are no rules for holding an accomplishment salon. Just keep in mind that you set the tone. When people come over, they’re all just going to nosh and chat until you command the stage (a.k.a., the couch). So take charge: “Hey everybody, thank you for coming to my first salon! I’d like to go around in a circle...”

One simple format is:

  • Go around the circle and have everyone talk about what they accomplished. Have lots of toasts, applause, and compliments! Maybe even make a drinking game–if someone got a raise, do a shot.
  • Bring out a cake or something and have open hangout and conversation time.
  • Call the group back together and go around the circle one more time, with everyone announcing a goal for the coming month. Perhaps have someone write them down and email the list out to the group later, in between salons.


You Need Goal-Friends, and Your Regular Friends May Not Qualify

Finally, holding an event–especially one with a goal-specific or industry-specific guest list–makes it clear that your friend-friends don’t have to be your accomplishment-friends. (See also this and this.)

Some friends are great for watching Netflix with when you’re depressed. Some friends are amazing conversationalists with fascinating lives, but they just don’t have mental space for your work life. I once had a friend who was very supportive—in fact, too supportive. If I said, “I’ve decided to drop out of grad school and spend all day in bed for a month,” she’d say, “That sounds amazing! I know you’re doing the right thing.”

Those are all fine kinds of friends, but you need work-friends, too. Or just work allies. They don’t have to be real friends who would help you in a time of need. But you need people who will respond with enthusiasm to an invitation to come to your apartment and enjoy a baked brie while you role-play asking for raises.


Photo of champagne toast courtesy of Shutterstock.