Social Accountability

Most of the projects I work on involve me holding myself accountable. I don’t have a boss to fire me, just the possibility of losing gigs and support. I don’t have relationships with people that require certain actions from me. The side projects I tend to take on take place over a long period of time and involve many parties.

Checking in regularly with a number of people I trust, but am not accountable to or for, helps me stay on track with (and realistic about) my workload. Especially related to side projects.

Not Your Usual Checkin

These are people you are not directly accountable to. They are people to whom you strive towards being socially accountable. This mainly boils down to working with people you desire the respect of, but are friendly enough with to fail in front of. No part of your livelihood should depend upon your honesty (obviously, I hope this would be the case in any job, but the dream is not yet the reality).

Tom sez: The Table is Round : There is no project manager. Rather, participants ask one another about their projects. “So Tom, how is ‘Writing a cover letter’ going?”

Fin sez: I really like the informal and casual tone we keep.

Have a Regular Call Time

You might tweak this regular call time to later in the day or that week occasionally, and let people know if you won’t make it or need to reschedule. Some weeks everyone will miss together. Just keep going. Assume it will happen the next week at the regular time. If people consistently miss, ask them if they mean to make it. Remove them from the workflow if they can’t commit on at least a semi-regular basis, welcoming them back if they are able to prioritize it again.

Have a Place to Meet that Doesn’t Rely on Any One Person

Charlie set us up with a persistent Unhangout. No invites, no person flaking preventing an easy join, just. showing up at the regular time. The code to set up such a thing exists here. It can be a little intense for someone to install and run on their own, so if you’d like to use the hosted service for a permalink, do so here.

Update: we now use a permalink at

Choose a Platform

We use Trello. Generalizable enough to make sense for various projects, public, low barrier to entry. Especially useful with its API so some of us plug into our more finely detailed project management software.

We use the following Columns:

  • “Backlog” for things that may or may not happen.
  • “ToDo” for things yet to be worked on, or that have stalled out.
  • “Doing” for things that are in progress & are being actively worked on.
  • Update: we now also have “Blocked” for things which are out of our hands in how to move forward.
  • “Done” is the high-five column, which gets emptied every check-in.

We also assign tasks to ourselves, so everyone can have an overview of what others are doing – and thus can take over “moderation” of the call.

You’ll slowly start to notice that some things you meant to do just… aren’t being done. Put them on a back burner. After awhile, either admit they’re not going to get done, or restructure them to be approachable and actionable.

Generalities, Not Atomized

All of our participants have personal task management on various platforms. This is about what we’re generally needing to get done, not the granular aspects. We each have our own systems for those more specific aspects (I use OmniFocus on my desktop, tho thinking of switching off, and TeamBox for GWOB).

This has been super useful for me in staying on task, delivering on long-term projects, and in feeling connected to a group of people even when my work isn’t. Hope you find it useful, too!

One thought on “Social Accountability

  1. Thanks for the Unhangout link.. gets rid of all the weirdness involved in setting up hangouts.

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