In recent weeks I’ve gotten a number of emails from other writers—often people I don’t know—looking for an accountability buddy. I get it. One of the hardest parts of freelancing is staying motivated.
Sure, some people are naturally driven; they aren’t tempted to check facebook one-more-time, or browse Pinterest for just-a-few-more-minutes…. But I think for most of us, writing the to-do list is the easy part. It’s getting it done that’s difficult.
And using the buddy system often comes highly recommended — most of the freelancing classes suggest it as do many of the books out there on how to become a freelancer. Except those sources don’t tell you that this system has some serious flaws.
The buddy system is for grade school.
Pairing up kindergartners may help keep them from wandering off during a field trip, but simply having someone else along for the ride probably won’t be enough to make you push yourself. And if you want your business to thrive, that’s kind of important.
The idea of two freelancers helping each other stay accountable is smart. But it will only work if the goals you’re being accountable for are good ones. And if the person you’re partnering up with is confident enough to call bullshit on you when they’re not. And if that person is willing to push you to set harder goals and then get ‘er done.
Without that, the system fails. And you’re not going to find someone who will do all that by randomly emailing another freelancer.
I’d know. I’ve been there. I’ve tried partnering up.
But when I didn’t hit a goal, my buddy tried to make me feel better about it instead of pushing me. Instead of pushing herself, she wrote goals that seemed to get progressively easier each week—ensuring she’d get ‘em done. I began to do the same. Easier goals were easier to hit—so we both felt better about ourselves, talking each week about all the things that we’d accomplished.
All the while, our freelance businesses suffered.
That’s not to say the buddy system can’t work — I think if you know someone well enough that they’re willing to call bullshit when you half-ass something AND you’re willing to do the same for them, it could work. But more often than not I think the system creates a false sense of accomplishment.
It lets you know you’re not alone as you stand there, watching a zookeeper feed the lions; but it doesn’t push you. It doesn’t really keep you accountable.
As the owner of my business, only I am really invested enough in my business to care if it succeeds or fails; sure, friends can help me along the way. But ultimately, it’s on me. Only I can determine if I succeed or fail.
And, in some ways, that’s the worst part of freelancing; but it’s also the best part.
Since things with my accountability buddy went south, I’ve tried a handful of different techniques. Ultimately, though, it comes down to accepting that some days are useless—some days being productive is just too much to ask. So on those days I remind myself that the freedom of being self employed is being able to do what I want from day to day. Even if what I want is to waste the day on Facebook.