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Study Tip: Find an Accountability Partner to Stay on Track

Joa Ahern-Seronde
Joa Ahern-Seronde
January 6, 2021
Making goals can be a lot easier than reaching goals. If you need help with motivation, an accountability partner can make a real difference.
Est. Reading Time: 6 minutes
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We’ve all had days when studying is the very last thing we want to do, when the thought of pulling out our flashcards (GRE vocab, anyone?) or working through a problem set fills us with dread. Even the best-intentioned, most committed students can struggle to hold themselves accountable. After all, setting goals is easy - sticking to them is hard! Having an accountability partner can help you stay on track and stay motivated as you work toward your goals.

What is an accountability partner?

An accountability partner is someone who works with you to help you keep a commitment or achieve a goal. Accountability partnerships are usually mutual; you and another person agree to coach each other and provide reciprocal feedback as you work toward shared or similar goals. For example, I am much more likely to go running if I know my friend is coming to my house to run with me. Moreover, I feel guilty if I flake out on her.

Research shows that you more successfully reach your goals if you monitor your progress frequently, and even more so if you combine that with reporting your progress to another person and/or physically recording your progress. When you embark on an accountability partnership, you add in social reinforcement. Your accountability partner is essentially the person you ask to peer pressure you into doing the things that you find hard to do. We’re social animals and easily influenced by and motivated by our peers. That’s why having an accountability partner can be a highly effective strategy for completing difficult tasks like studying for a big test or applying to graduate school.

Conversely, if you’re looking for non-reciprocal advice from someone with more knowledge or experience than you, mentorship is the way to go, which can look a lot of different ways. Maybe you have a trusted professor who serves as a mentor, or a supervisor (either past or current). You can approach people who already serve as informal mentors to see if they would be open to establishing a more formal mentorship relationship. Another way to go about finding mentoring is to seek out consulting services, which is what JEM offers: we have one-on-one mentoring and consulting services to help you realize your education and career goals.

What makes a good accountability partner?

Partnerships come in all shapes and sizes. What’s important is that your accountability partnership is based on mutual trust, and your partner should be someone who will not only be honest with you but also keep you honest.

The most effective accountability partnerships are collaborative with an equal commitment from both parties. Your partner should be someone who is dependable, non-judgmental, and genuinely invested in helping you succeed. Ideally, the person understands the challenges you are facing and can empathize with your situation.

How do you find one?

When looking for the right accountability partner, you should start with your different social circles: family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Partnering with someone you are close to makes it easier to determine whether they are trustworthy. Plus, as your friend or family member, they may already be familiar with your goals and the challenges you are facing.

If you’re comfortable working with someone you don’t already know, you should seek out communities with similar goals and interests. Online forums, events in your industry or field of interest, local meet-ups, and alumni groups are all great ways to find like-minded peers. You can also try matching apps like Supporti or exploring the Reddit forum called Get Motivated Buddies that bring together people from all over the world.

No matter how you go about it, finding a good accountability partner requires you to keep an open mind. These guidelines can help you determine if someone is the ideal partner for you:

  • Look for someone with your best interests at heart. I recommend seeking someone with experience or success that is on par with your own.
  • Talk to them about your goals, and be specific.
  • Outline the action steps you want to take to achieve your goals and share your expected time commitment.
  • Get to know each other’s motivational styles (i.e. cheerleader, drill sergeant, etc.).
  • Make sure you have compatible communication styles.

What happens after you find one?

Once you’ve found your accountability partner, you’ll want to set some guidelines for how you’ll work together and motivate each other.

  • Set time-restricted goals.

Giving yourselves a deadline will improve your time-management and help you be more organized and productive. Discussing your goals together ensures that you're on the same page and can hold each other accountable.

  • Schedule check-ins for specific days and times.

Even if you don’t have anything due for completion, checking in with each other on a regular basis provides an opportunity for emotional support as well as a habit-forming structure.

  • Track your progress.

Work together to create custom tracking systems that work for your personal study habits. You can use any combination of spreadsheets, calendars, or productivity apps (e.g. Time Camp, Productive Habit Tracker, Asana) .

  • Decide how to use consequences or rewards as part of your accountability.

We all have different motivators. You should discuss with your partner whether rewards or consequences work best for achieving your study goals and how you will use them to incentivize productivity.

How do you become a better accountability partner?

Think about how you like to be held accountable and identify ways you can create a similar experience for your partner. You get out of the partnership what you put in so make sure that you’re on time for check-ins and honor the commitments you’ve agreed to. 

When providing feedback to your partner, you should try to balance honesty with compassion. The other person will quickly lose interest in your partnership if you are overly critical or judgmental. Instead offer your partner encouragement and ask them how you can better support their efforts.

Remember, the accountability partnership works both ways. If you make your partnership a priority, your partner will be more likely to prioritize it, too. And you’ll both benefit from a strong accountability structure that will put you one step closer towards achieving your goals.

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