tl;dr Perhaps the most valuable 15 minutes of your week could soon be having someone ask you: What are your frogs? How will you eat them? How can we improve this process?
[edit: originally posted July 2018]
Accountability buddies and coaching partnerships seem to be popular in this community. In my case, I think my "check-ins" are often (perhaps usually) the most valuable 30 minutes of my week. Of course, it's not a process that works for everyone, for example if you don't have many "frogs" (important tasks that you avoid) or if you rarely find it useful to involve other people in your strategy for "eating" (completing) them. But sometimes the process fails to deliver for fixable reasons like either party failing to commit to the process, or having a long list of mostly irrelevant questions. I want to encourage some of you to try it (again), with perhaps a stronger starting point than you would otherwise have.
Proposed (initial) system
Step 1: Buddy up
Find someone who wants to try this with you. You don't need to already know each other but you do both need to commit to trying this properly.
Step 2: Book a call
Pick a day and time for the first call, reserving 30 minutes.
Step 3: Call
On said call, ask each other:
Question 1: "Off the top of your head, what are the 1-3 most important things you could do this week for your long-term goals that you're worried you won't do?"
Question 2: "How can we increase the chance that you'll do them?"
Question 3: "Spend at least 30 seconds thinking about how we can improve this process."
Step 4: Repeat
By default, repeat this call(/message where much more convenient) at the same time the following week and every week from now on, but of course adapt the process according to your answers to "Question" 3.
A few further tips
On Step 1: the EA life coaching exchange Facebook group might be a good place to look
On Step 2.5: it might be worth adding in some preparation time for the call
On Step 3, Question 2:
- a simple, popular strategy here is simply adding the question "How did last week go?" to the list
- another particularly effective strategy seems to be creating arbitrary deadlines for starting / spending x minutes on / completing a task or sub-task, with token payments (my current range is 50p-£10) if you miss them; you can also add backup deadlines for if and when you miss the first ones
- [edit: many EA folk use goal-and-task-tracking tool Complice, which lets you share a link like this with updates on your public goals]
- you might want to work on this answer until you get to the point where you'd be surprised if, come your next call, you hadn't completed the tasks
[edit: On Step 3, Question 3:
- if you're not already periodically prioritising/reviewing your life on longer time frames (e.g. monthly, quarterly, annually), you could add it to this process, perhaps including a more substantial review of the process itself
- you might like to turn any regularly occurring frogs into their own questions (e.g. "How many gym sessions did you manage last week? How can we increase the chance you'll reach your target this week?")]
Considerations regarding the extent to which you should take my advice here
- The closest I've had to official training in this space is a taster weekend from The Coaching Academy last year, a productivity session from Smarter Not Harder last year (where I think I learnt far more about how poor other professionals' productivity habits are than I learnt about how to be more productive) and some early CFAR sessions in 2013.
- The most relevant experience I have is providing regular accountability/coaching for six friends in the EA community and having regular check-ins for myself.
- I suspect that professional life coaches have a strong financial incentive to add a lot of decoration and fluff to both their sessions and to any material they publish to share their insights. I'd expect much less of this in a community so committed to cooperation, transparency, testing-and-learning, actually providing value and efficiency. I've stripped my recommended system down to the bare bones of what I think is most useful.
- The structure is minimal and has tailoring built in, so there's not much need to trust my ideas on what might work for you.
- It takes maybe an hour in total to test folks, come on, why are you even reading this section :P
I know that many of you have experimented with and/or researched this. Please share insights :-) I can always edit the post to include any that seem particularly valuable.
Going from what I expect to have been the least to the most useful:
1. One has become a fortnightly "How's [that long-term project] coming along?" of, I suspect, little value. [edit, July 2019: no longer happening]
2. I used something like the proposed system above for five months with another friend who, when I suggested we stop, said that he found it useful.
3. One started with my friend listing things he wanted to improve on, and us prioritising the list together. We followed something close to the system above for five months, recording goals on a shared WorkFlowy space, and then stopped when he felt that there was nothing he strongly wanted to work on any more. Seemed somewhat useful.
4. Another has been going for eight months, using the basic system above (although we added a mid-week nudge recently) and recording goals on a shared Jira space. Seems to be quite valuable. [edit, July 2019: no longer happening]
5. Another has been going for six months, using questions my friend developed with another accountability buddy. [edit, July 2019: still going]
6. I've been doing this as a two-way process with another friend for two years. Our lists of questions have evolved into something very different from each other, from our original list and from the basic list above, and they take about 30 minutes each to get through. If you're curious, the latest iteration of my questions are as follows (edited for clarity and removing questions that rely on particular features of my friend):
Proactively, what are your top 1-3 EA frogs this week (inc. personal growth)? Do I have ideas?
Proactively, what are your top 1-3 social obligation frogs this week?
(Optional) What's your "pick 'n' mix" of tasks for the rest of the week?
How much do you owe me from last week?
(Optional) Can you achieve more with less this week (what can you delegate/drop/80:20)? Do I have ideas?
(Optional) What made you less/more productive than usual last week?
Is there anything else you should do to make you do your check-in next week and book your next advisor meeting? (£10 if I don't check-in next Friday? £5 if I haven't booked an advisor meeting by next Friday?)
How can you increase the chance of eating your EA frogs?
BONUS (optional and no prep required) Would you be surprised if you were more/less effective this week? (Do you want to discuss?) What are you grateful for? What are you proud of? What are you excited by coming up at work?
PROCESS Are there ways of improving these questions or this process?
[edit, July 2019: his still going, reduced to monthly; mine no longer happening now that I'm on holiday/retirement from EA]