The most common question I’m asked as an online entrepreneur is: “How do I make
progress with my goals? I do well for a couple days but then I fall off track and get
It’s actually pretty simple if you implement these two practices: deadlines and
accountability. But they won’t work without the final piece of the puzzle. I’ll share that
with you below.
Let’s talk about deadlines first. We often experience a knee jerk reaction when we hear
that word. But I’m not talking about the crap we used to suffer in high school. I never did
homework and I’m not about to shove it on you either. I’m talking about deadlines that
YOU set in place because you’re working on a goal that YOU want to achieve.
Deadlines force you to get serious, to meet your targets, and to own up when you’re not
staying true to your plan. Without firm deadlines it’s too easy to make excuses, to get
caught up in endless email checking loops, or to sidetrack yourself with busywork that
has nothing to do with your goal.
The thing about deadlines, though, is that you actually have to mean it. It’s no good
setting deadlines if you’re going to fluff them off every time. “Your word is law.” If you
commit to it, you get it done. It doesn’t matter if you have to walk across the Sahara. It
doesn’t matter if your friends get pissed that you just can’t be available for bar hopping
that Friday. It doesn’t matter if you have to lick the road clean with your tongue. You’ve
committed to it. Now do it.
And that’s where accountability comes in. You need some way to keep yourself
accountable. I’m not saying you’re going to lie to yourself and dream up all these great
stories about things you’ve never really done —although I’ve known a few people
who fall into that trap. I’m saying memory is fallible, and it’s easy to imagine you’re
accomplishing more than you really are, just because you’re “working on it.” A system
of accountability gives you a way to track your progress. It encourages you when you
see those successes pile up. And it brings “My word is law” into the physical, because
you’ve written it down, posted it online, or told another person.
Implement these two simple practices and you’ll be amazed at the progress you make.
Need an example? Let’s talk writing, because that’s what I know best.
Back in 2000 I dropped off the map on a solo journey to Central America that
completely changed the way I saw the world. When I returned, I knew I finally had my
topic and I wanted to explore the experience by writing a book.
I sketched out all sorts of notes on tiny pieces of paper. I combed through my journals
and got the outline clear in my head. I thought about it all the time. But I never really
wrote much of anything down. I was still trapped in that Latin American “mañana” I
guess, and the pace of my journey hadn’t yet worn off. I did get serious for a couple
months that summer when my girlfriend was away, but it wasn’t enough.
Jump ahead several more months. I moved to Japan and was working at an English
school in the afternoons. I was poking away at the book again but not really making any
And then one day someone from the gas company left a large wall calendar in my
mailbox. And that changed everything…
I don’t know what got me thinking of numbers—I can’t even count without using my
fingers. But I sat there staring at the calendar on my wall, and I realized that if I wrote
just 5 pages a day on Monday to Friday, by the end of the week I would have 25 pages.
Now 5 pages isn’t very much. But if I did that every single weekday, even assuming I
took weekends off, I would have 100 pages by the end of a month! In 3 months I could
have a complete first draft.
It was the motivation I needed to get me on track.
I wrote the entire manuscript longhand, on pads of yellow paper. During every break
at my job, I shut myself in my classroom and worked on my book. And when I came
home at night I drank a cup of tea, read 50 pages, and picked up my pen to start writing
again. No matter how tired I was or how late I had to sit up, I never quit until I had those
It didn’t matter if all 5 pages were crap. I did it anyway. Some days when it was flowing
really well I wrote 8 or 10 pages, but never less than five. When I was finished for the
day I counted them up and wrote the number on my wall calendar. And I totaled it up at
the end of each week so I could see my month’s progress at a glance.
Eight months of procrastination was banished in an instant. I couldn’t wait to pick up my
pen each day and get to work. And when I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about writing.
I was reading great books—50 pages in the morning and 50 pages at night—and filling
notebooks with the ideas, images and phrases they taught me.
That dumb calendar kept me accountable, and it gave me a way to track my goals.
Three months later I wrote the final sentence, and I completed my first draft.
I typed it up, printed it off, and set it aside for a few weeks. And then began the long
process of revision, refining, and cutting. But that’s another story.
My point is that I had a deadline—5 pages each day, no less, and no excuses—and I
had accountability—my wall calendar courtesy of the gas company. Those two simple
things were enough to light a fire of motivation. And it’s still going ten years later.
But deadlines and accountability weren’t enough on their own. And that brings us to
my final point. I couldn’t make progress even using a deadline until I’d given myself the
physical energy to stay at my desk in the first place.
That’s a tough pill for desk jockeys to swallow. But it really does start with the Physical.
You can’t focus on that big project if you’re plagued by shortness of breath, physical
weakness, chronic low energy, or lack of mental focus.
Recovery on a physical level means “getting back in shape.” Getting stronger, losing fat,
and fixing unhelpful eating patterns that sabotage your energy levels and focus.
Once you’ve taken care of the negative aspects of your health and fitness that are
sapping your motivation and killing your productivity, you can look at optimizing your
energy levels. This has a direct and immediate effect on your mental function and
emotions. Think of it as tuning the engine of a high performance productivity machine.
You’ll take that new energy and apply it to the most important task you could ever take
on: making every dream on your list come true.
If you’re suffering from chronic aches and pains, poor posture, and a chair-shaped
body, then you need to start by becoming an Indestructible Desk Jockey. Learning
some simple releases and mobility exercises that you can do at your desk for immediate
relief from those nagging workplace pains can make a world of difference to your
task is to write down your most important current goal, and come up with one simple
method for keeping yourself accountable. Then set your first deadline and begin.
There’s nothing holding you back.