First you have to practice, and practice some more
The best way for me to share what I’ve learned about accountability is to look at it with you in the context of managing your energy as it relates to time.
You’ll notice that I didn’t say “managing time.” When you make the shift from thinking you can manage time (you probably can manage time as effectively as you can manage, say, the ocean) to managing yourself, you take the first big and powerful step towards living in integrity.
“Our relationship to time is what it is because we lie to ourselves about what we are and what we can do and we hide from ourselves what we are meant to be and what we are meant to serve.”
— Jacob Needleman, Time and the Soul
I could write for days about what living in integrity means.
It means living an accountable life. It means doing what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it, and when the unexpected happens (and the unexpected does happen, often) letting those who are affected by the change in your timetable know what’s going on, as quickly as possible. Example: You’re on your way to meet a prospective client, and you get in your car, turn the key, and oops the car doesn’t start. Your first call is to road service, or your mechanic. Your second call? Yup, it’s to your prospect, telling her or him that you are dealing with car trouble and need to reschedule. This is accountability, yo.
Most of my clients begin their work with me anxious because they’re feeling, more and more, like they just can’t get everything done
“The fact is that I am not now living my life—it is living me. I am not—as used to be said—conducting my affairs; they are conducting me, driving me. And with ever increasing acceleration and tempo.”
— Jacob Needleman, Time and the Soul
The cure to this malady, this anxiety, is to change the context.
Instead of thinking you have to get better at managing time (remember the ocean?), start managing yourself. Here’s the motto that my first business coach shared with me, and that I have used as the foundation of my accountable life ever since. “I schedule my life, and I live my schedule, and when something unexpected happens, I am accountable.”
I have worked inside this context for over ten years now. Here are some of the changes I made (baby steps, big steps, giant steps):
I switched from a paper calendar to an electronic calendar. This was huge.When I discovered the ease with which I could move something, and when I discovered the magic of recurring events, I was hooked! No more crossouts (of course, I used a pen in my paper calendar, divas don’t use pencils!), no more writing in the same weekly class or client call over and over again. And I couldn’t lose my electronic schedule like I could my paper planner (well, except for massive data failures, which has happened to me once, ugh!).
I was an early adopter of syncing my calendar from one computer to another, and as cloud technology improved, this added so much ease to my life! I have my calendar available to me on both of my computers, and my iOS devices, and in a pinch, I can log in to my calendar from any computer anywhere. Huge.
- Having an electronic calendar made it possible for me to see all areas of my life by using different colors to represent each one: Client work. Writing. Business development. Wellness/fitness. Fun. Personal errands. Family. Creative expression. Each of these areas has its own color in my calendar, so when I look at the week view I can see how well I’m doing living into my commitments all across my life and work. This completely eliminated from my life that horrible feeling you get when you think “Oh I haven’t seen my daughter in three months! What’s wrong with me?” This hasn’t happened in a long time because my accountability practice prevents it — I schedule my commitments.
How accountability leads to freedom
Freedom comes with practice, lots and lots of practice. I’ll confess. I got really rigid about my calendar at first. I didn’t trust myself, I was afraid I’d default to old unaccountable, unproductive and way out-of-integrity habits. So I got rigid. Every calendar item butted up against the one before it and the one after it. I didn’t understand breathing space.
Over time, I began to get it, to understand how ease and grace could come into play. I started by leaving at least 45 minutes of what I call transition time after every out-of-the-office commitment, which allowed time to deal with unexpected traffic, and gave me time to return phone calls or emails before I dove into the next thing.
It took me a long time to move to the next phase. It took getting critically ill, and then going through a slow healing process. And for those of you who are counting, that’s quite a few years where I was still afraid to add more spaciousness to my schedule. This new change is another gift of this summer’s healing journey. I have embraced laziness. I am adding more and more white space between calendar items. I no longer need to leave the office to allow for transition time. I allow for downtime all day long. Thirty minutes here, fifteen minutes there, a full hour somewhere else. I’m finding that accommodating this sacred downtime is completely workable.
I’m letting go of the idea that my work always has to be done as fast as possible (old beliefs from my days working in and managing a retail graphic design studio). I’m training my clients to email their questions which allows me to cut down on client calls. Not a single one of my clients has complained!
How are you managing your energy as it relates to time? Where do you see accountability working in your life? What would you like to change? I’d love to hear from you. Let’s talk in the comments. Blessed be!