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Creating accountability

Accountability helps us follow through on our plans.  Combining strategies that you can do by yourself with strategies that involve others tends to be the most effective.  We have some ideas for both approaches.

Creating accountability with yourself

Make your big picture plan visible

Having a calendar, your pinch points worksheet, or some other representation of your big picture schedule (i.e. quarter or monthly overview) visible at your workspace can help you keep in mind why it’s important to stay on track. It can also help you stay on top of goals and tasks. We need to regularly check our schedules for them to be useful.


Make time visual

a time timer

It may be very helpful to invest in a time timer. A time timer is a visual stopwatch. It allows you to see how much time you have left and to visualize time as it passes. It is much more effective at creating an internal sense of urgency than looking at a regular clock. If you do not have a time timer, place an analog clock in a highly visible spot in your workplace.

Use time management apps

Apps are constantly evolving so we won’t provide recommendations for specific apps to try. However, you can easily search for time management apps. Here are some features that you can look for depending on your needs:

Distraction Management 

Students often report that they have every intention to stay on task but then they find themselves in some online rabbit hole. Many time management apps include features which allow you to block distracting websites for specific intervals of time. Like any accountability tool, this only works if you’re committed to using it. There’s always a work-around if you’re determined enough. But if you’re looking for something that can act as a barrier to easy distractions, this is a great place to start.

Motivation Booster 

Some time management apps turn productivity into a game with penalties for hopping onto recreational sites. Some people find that this makes concentrating more fun.

Productivity Monitoring

If you’re data driven, you may enjoy the apps that analyze how you spend your time and give you information on your greatest time sucks. You can make a competition for yourself as you try to beat your scores from the past day or week.

Task Management

There are a host of apps with various approaches to managing your to-do list. More features are not necessarily better than less. In fact, more can often be distracting. The one feature to make sure is there: alarms!

Remember what matters to you

Are there a few things that drive your desire to graduate? If so, find a way to represent that visually and put it in a highly visual place where you work. Some students write down goals or print pictures of people they want to honor or help.

Creating accountability with other people

It’s often easier to be accountable to our goals and plans when we involve other people. We’ve got some tips for formal and informal ways to use accountability partnerships.

two friends together

Find a partner

A partner is someone who is working toward a similar goal as you. This could be a classmate in the same class as you or a friend looking to make similar changes in their study habits as you. State your goals out loud to each other and set concrete markers by which you can measure progress (i.e. “I will review my chemistry flashcards Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings”). Some people also have more fun when they bring a little competition to their partnership (i.e. whoever completes the essay last has to buy the other person ice cream).

Ask for what you need

Let people know what steps you’re taking to accomplish your goals and how they can help. Often, a few simple changes can make a big difference. Of course, it’s important that relationships are balanced and reciprocal. If you ask for support, make sure to offer it too.

Example: if you notice that you regularly ditch your academic plan whenever a friend texts you to hang out, let your friends know that you’re trying a new thing where you’re not going to do anything social on Tuesday and Thursday nights (or whenever makes sense for you). Tell them that you’ll put your phone on Do Not Disturb during that time and ask them to help you by not connecting with you during that window.

Announce your goals

One of the most effective accountability strategies is to announce your goals to your professor, TA, or advisor. For example, if you want to increase your accountability around completing a practice exam, you could tell your professor that you will attend office hours on Thursday to discuss questions on it. Just make sure you follow through.

Telling friends and family is another good option. Make sure to choose people whose opinions matter to you.

Work with a coach

A coach is someone who helps you work toward your goals. Coaches are different from mental health therapists in that they focus on specific goals you want to accomplish and the action steps you need to reach them. If you have the financial resources to hire an external coach, then that will give you the most tailored, professional support.  If you have a diagnosis of autism spectrum, ADHD, or learning disorder, it’s especially important that you find a coach familiar with your diagnosis.

If you do not have the financial resources for an external coach, check out the UW Success Coaches. The Success Coaches are a group of students trained to provide support around academic skills. You can ask them for help learning a new skill (such as how to use a planner) or to help you with accountability (such as making a weekly appointment to create a new schedule for each week). Keep in mind that the success coaches do not have special training in mental health diagnoses so it will be important for you to have a sense of what you want from them and to tell them that in clear language. Check out our tips on talking about your needs with or without disclosing your diagnosis.