Sunday, December 4, 2011

Accountability really works: Writing and Weight Loss

As one moves up the academic ladder, there is less and less accountability for writing. For many academics, the lack of accountability leads to less productivity. For this reason, many faculty development experts suggest we incorporate more accountability into our lives to become more prolific writers. In this post, I’ll suggest a few ways to do this.


As a graduate student, we have papers to write for classes and deadlines to meet for degree completion. On the tenure track, we have mid-tenure review and the full tenure review. As many of us know, even that level of accountability is not enough to get us to be consistently productive. For consistent productivity, we need daily accountability.

I first learned the value of daily accountability by participating in an online discussion forum led by Kerry Ann Rockquemore. There was something very motivating about being able to go online at the end of each day and have a group of supportive people to whom I could say: “I wrote for 60 minutes today!”

To keep myself accountable for writing these days, I participate in an online writing accountability group on Facebook. I also have an accountability partner whom I call each week and we report to each our our accomplishments and obstacles.

Today, I am reflecting on the importance of accountability as I have seen how it has worked in other areas of my life, and perhaps blog readers will be able to relate to this.

A story of accountability and weight loss

May 2011 was the end of my sixth year on the tenure track. I hardly ever weigh myself, but got on a scale at my mother’s house and was surprised to see that I had gained 15 pounds during those six years on the tenure track. I honestly never have dieted in my life and never have been too worried about weight gain. (I know that is weird, but it has to do with how I was raised and where I grew up.)

I spent the summer of 2011 in Spain and France, and, despite the good food and wine, was able to shape up just a bit by walking for miles every day. When I returned from Europe, I had shed five pounds without really trying. That is when I decided I would actually try and lose the remaining 10 pounds. Why quit when I was ahead?

To accomplish this, I incorporated lots of accountability into my life. Specifically, I did three things.

First, I wrote down my weight every single day. I went out and bought an electric scale, as I did not have one before, and used it to weigh myself. Just writing down my weight every day made me more conscious of any fluctuations.

Secondly, I downloaded My Fitness Pal to my iphone and kept track of every single thing I ate. When I reached my caloric goal for the day, I either had to exercise if I wanted to eat more, or stop eating. To my surprise, I was able to stay at or under my caloric goal nearly every day.

Thirdly, my friend organized an exercise accountability group on Facebook and I posted to it every day.

With these three forms of accountability, by the end of the semester, I had shed the remaining ten pounds.

Why am I telling this story? Because I suspect that many blog readers are aware of the fact that accountability works for weight loss. Isn’t that what Weight Watchers is all about? I am hoping this parallel will help you to see that it can work for writing as well.

How do you incorporate accountability into your life for writing? Here are a few ways:

  1. Join or create an online group. Academic Ladder has a paid group with lots of benefits. Or, you can create your own online writing group with Facebook or Blogger or a free discussion forum like proboards.
  2. Find an email partner. Make an agreement with a friend that you will email one another at the end of your writing time.
  3. Write down each day how many words you wrote and/or how long you spent writing. You can do this privately or publicly on Facebook or Twitter, if you are into social media. Writing down and keeping track is a great accountability mechanism.
  4. Find an accountability partner. This is where you agree with a person that you will call one another once a week and discuss your writing goals for the week and whether or not you met them.
  5. Join or form an accountability group. This is a group where four people get together once a week and discuss their writing goals and whether or not they met them.
  6. Join or form a writing group. This is a group where each person in the group agrees to write five pages a week and group members share drafts with one another.
  7. Get creative and think of another form of accountability that might work for you!

Get some accountability and get to writing!


  1. Although on weight loss there is this:

    I must have already had enough discipline and regimentation as a child. It occurs to me that younger people, the ones without bedtimes and so on, may look really differently at accountability than I did.

    As a child we did have bedtimes and set times for dinner and things, which younger people seem not to have had. And yet otherwise, we were less scheduled than people are now, so had to figure out how we wanted to use that time.

    My illumination for the day is that this is why there is so much advice out there about time management now. My other illumination is, in many schools students don't meet actual professors until graduate school practically. If you're taught by all MAs and ABDs you can't get the same kind of advice you would from a professor, ergo, academic advice websites.

    I of course look at them to figure out how I've been going wrong since the first thing I did wrong, which was out of fear, which I had because of having received too many warnings and too much advice.

    I look, and it makes me realize how odd I am - I used to think I was missing something, but now I think I am just odd. Why I like writing groups: not the accountability (that's discipline, which I already have too much of), but the focus. A place where focusing on your real work is legitimized, that is why I like them.

  2. Interesting, profacero, I did not tell anyone I planned to lose weight. I hate promoting that culture of thin-ness and would never want my kids to know I was on a "diet." So, perhaps that was the secret!

    I agree about the value of focusing on your work in dialogue with other interested parties!