(originally published July 18, 2015, updated March 19, 2021)
Productivity is doing what is essential to you — engaging in activities that bring meaning to your life. You also know inconsistency is one of the hallmarks of ADHD. So, it can be difficult to do this. But having accountability partnerships for ADHD adults can make it easier to follow through. As Pearson’s Law notes:
“What is measured, improves. That which is measured and reported improves exponentially.”
I also know when you think about accountability you might think of it as the result of failing to deliver, whether in your personal or professional life. That is, you’re held accountable by others when you screw up. And this often leaves you filled with shame. So, “friendly accountability” may seem like an oxymoron.
If this is what you envision when you think of accountability, it’s no wonder you may be resistant to even considering it as a useful strategy. Hang with me for a bit to see if I can change your mind about that. Because the right kind of accountability — the friendly kind — can be a critical part of the scaffolding that can help you follow through on what’s important to you.
Let’s start by looking at the different types of accountability – personal, public, and partner – to see which might work best for you. Then I’ll give you some tips on how you can create the right kind to work with your ADHD. And help you execute on what you decide is important to you.
ADHD Makes Personal Accountability a Challenge
Being accountable is giving an accounting of your actions. To keep it real, so to speak. While one of the purposes of accountability is to enhance the likelihood you’ll follow through on commitments to yourself or others, they do not work equally well in meeting this objective for ADHD adults.
I know you might immediately discount personal accountability because it has not worked so well for you in the past. When recalling an example, you might think,
“I tried. I put it on my calendar and task list and get multiple reminders. Saw it sitting there. But I still don’t do it! Ughh! Maybe it’s just not important to me.”
In those moments you’re understandably frustrated at your seeming inability to set goals and consistently follow through. After all, “other people” can do it Sure, you can build your personal accountability muscle by using tools, like a calendar and task manager, reviewing your progress during your weekly review, and creating a helpful environment.
But, even with these tools and strategies, remember it will still be difficult to follow through if you are relying exclusively on personal accountability. And it’s not because you lack integrity or the goals that were important are suddenly not important to you. It’s your ADHD!
While not the only reason, your ADHD symptoms make it hard to execute. Because, for example, when you hear the reminder or you’re looking at your task manager or calendar to decide whether to do the task or not, you might not act because of:
- your tendency to give in to distractions.
- troubles regulating your emotions.
- challenges with decision making.
- and more…
No doubt, you can work on managing these symptoms. For sure. And, if you’re having a hard time using personal accountability to follow through, you might want to work on upgrading your skills and tools so your ADHD symptoms don’t get in your way as much.
Does Public Accountability Work for ADHD Adults?
What about using public accountability to ensure follow through? Are you game?
After all, it seems to work for some people to declare on Facebook that they’re going to run 1/2 marathon. So, shouldn’t it help you — really put your feet to the fire — to tell everyone you’re writing a book, starting a podcast, etc? That might work for some people…
But, I’m guessing, if you’re like many other ADHD adults, this is not a strategy you use. I’m not surprised! After all, remember one of the hallmarks of ADHD is inconsistency. So, why would you put yourself in the position of possibly having to declare your failure publicly? You probably wouldn’t, of course.
I know there are times when you might think somebody just has to push you to do something. I think most ADHD adults have experienced enough “pushing.” There’s just no reason to go so far out of your comfort zone. Especially since the stress may make it even less likely you’ll follow through.
Even if you’re not following through, I know you really do want to execute on what is important to you. Since public accountability may not be your jam, let’s see what kind of accountability might help you execute with greater ease.
Why ADHD Adults Don’t Need to Be Scared of Forming Accountability Partnerships. 😉
Engaging with an accountability partner might do the trick. But I know this type of accountability, even if it is not public, may still give you the heebie-jeebies. Because you envision somebody hounding you with questions, like:
- When are you going to finally…?
- Did you finish…?
- You’re not done, yet?!
- Did you forget…?
I get why these thoughts come up for you when thinking about accountability. After all, that’s what you’re used to. You might even be stressed right now just thinking about the possibility of using an accountability partner. Makes me stressed just writing those questions.
Here’s the deal. You get to design your accountability partnership. That is, you can choose people with whom you feel safe. And you can create agreements to honor the way you want to interact with them. This means you get to decide how to support each other, including what kind of questions are fair game.
You’re in the driver’s seat now.
How to Find the Right Accountability Partner
One key to choosing the right person is that you feel good about yourself when you interact with this person. You might be able to ascertain this by simply asking yourself, “How do I feel about myself when I’m with this person?” Of course, you want someone who can demonstrate compassion for your challenges, including your ADHD.
Having similar values is another key to creating a supportive partnership. As, while the specific goals will likely differ, you’ll both be invested in figuring out how to uphold these values. Not sure which values you want to share with your partner? Here are a few examples to get you started:
- work-life balance
- excelling professionally
- self-care, including nutrition, sleep, exercise, etc.
- making time for family and friends
- spiritual foundation
You get the idea. The more simpatico you are, the easier it will be to support each other. Of course, it is not possible to be in complete alignment. And it is also not necessary to have an effective partnership. The point is you’ll want to decide which values you need to share with your partner to work effectively together.
Create Enough Structure
Once you’ve found someone you think you can work with, the next step is creating an agreement. Because, no matter how in sync you seem, there is always a certain amount of nitty-gritty detail to be worked out. That is, you need to figure out your expectations of each other.
While it is up to you how much structure you want, at minimum I would recommend having regularly scheduled meetings so you’re more likely to meet. It’s also helpful to have a tool to share notes — shared Google doc, Evernote, etc. — so you can remember your agreements.
Beyond the minimum, here are additional suggestions to consider when designing your partnership:
- Decide how long the meeting will go and how much time each person can have.
- Use a timer to help keep each of you on track.
- Start with an update of the previous week’s commitments, and share progress/success stories you have achieved between sessions.
- Then, take turns asking for help addressing a challenge you are facing, making a decision, brainstorming ideas, etc.
- Conclude by asking each other, “What will you do by our next meeting?”
Again, remember you get to design your partnership in whatever way would work best for the two of you. These are only suggestions.
Start by Connecting the Dots Between Your Tasks and the Rewards
Once you find a partner and have a structure, then you’ll want to make sure your goals are the right ones — ones where you have a visceral connection to the reward.
Because, whether the task is one you’ve chosen or one that has been “assigned” to you, it’s going to be hard to do if there’s no payoff for you. That is, if you don’t connect the dots between the task and what’s in it for you, you’re not going to feel a lot of motivation to do it, which obviously will make it harder to follow through.
While you already know this, having an accountability partner isn’t the solution to this problem. That is, if a task is not important to you, it’s still going to be an uphill slog even with an accountability partner. So, make sure you have clarity around your goals and their reward.
And, as remembering to remember is a challenge for ADHD adults, you’ll need to find ways to remember the reward in the moment you need to act. If you want to learn more about creating this visceral connection to your rewards, check out, The 5 Steps to Create Motivation When You Have ADHD.
F.A.I.L. = First Attempt in Learning
Of course, you want your partnership to help you follow through on what is important to you. After all, that’s the whole purpose, right? And you may think the power of accountability to achieve this comes from needing to report your success or failure. Sure, this simplistic version of accountability may often work for neurotypical folks and may occasionally work for you.
But, like other ADHD adults, when you’re struggling to execute because you don’t have the necessary skills and tools, you may become even more stressed and overwhelmed by the thought of needing to report to someone else. In fact, this type of accountability may even backfire for you.
Think about it. You’ve had parents, teachers, colleagues/bosses, friends, your spouse, etc. who you’ve been accountable to in some form. And you still did not always follow through. Even when you really wanted to. Because the task and/or relationship was important to you.
The alternative for effective accountability partnerships for ADHD adults is creating an environment based on curious accountability. That is, initially, you don’t want to be focused on needing to succeed right out of the gate. Rather your goal is to collect data to figure out what works and what gets in your way.
Then you can apply this learning to craft the next experiment. Until you get the results you want or close enough. 😉 Hopefully, you’ll also apply this information to future contexts. Because F.A.I.L = First Attempt in Learning. Really. Nice right?
In addition, this approach to accountability will likely leave you feeling less stressed and overwhelmed. Because you are not so focused on getting it just right and definitely aren’t viewing your foiled initial attempts as failures. Rather you are focused on planting seeds —moving closer to your goal. Each time you try.
Details Matter in Accountability Partnerships
Yet, to maximize the chances of moving closer to your end goal, you’ll still want to encourage specificity when creating the experiments. As this upfront thinking will help each of you follow through. Because when you have this clarity you won’t have to relitigate at the critical moment of choice — when it’s time to act.
Toward this end, first, you need to clearly define the task. For example, your partner, who wants accountability to start exercising, might tell you, “I’m going to run for half an hour on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, first thing in the morning.” If they didn’t provide enough details, ask for more.
But you also know this isn’t enough for ADHD adults to ensure consistent execution. How many times have you said, “I’m going to do…” And then zilch, nada, nothing. Right. So, you want to make sure that you have a detailed execution plan. For example, your partner’s execution plan for exercising might include:
- the kind of workout(s)
- how often, how long, and when the workout will take place
- potential roadblocks and how they are going to manage these
- ways to maximize the chances they will follow through with their intentions, eg. running with a partner.
If you decide to support each other in-between meetings, such as having check-ins, you’ll also want to design what this might look like. For instance, you might ask your partner if they want to text you when they begin their exercise routine and what kind of response they want from you.
Add as much specificity as you think each of you will need to enhance your chances of following through.
ADHD Friendly Accountability Partnerships Really Work
If you’re still hesitant to work with an accountability partner, part of the reason might be because of two common ADHD thinking traps:
- “I should be able to do this on my own.”
- “This shouldn’t be so hard!”
First, everybody needs help. So, why shouldn’t you? And, while some tasks may come easy to you, others are just going to be hard. But having an accountability partner might make it easier to follow through.