My #1 secret to productivity isn’t an app or a clock. But it works better than either.

As a mystery author, I look for as productivity tips the way Detective Emilia Cruz looks for clues to solve the latest murder in Acapulco. Productivity becomes an even bigger issue when I’m staring down the barrel of a book publication deadline.

My social media stream is awash in advice from productivity pros like James Clear and Rory Vaden. But despite this great inspiration, I wasn’t meeting goals. Okay, to be frank, I wasn’t even very diligent about setting goals.

The problem? Shiny Object Syndrome.

Shiny objects are great. Glittery. Fun. Full of promise. There’s always another one just ahead!

Everybody’s shiny objects are different. I rush after sparkly things like graphic design, home decorating, endless lists related to marketing, and social media. Hours can go by as I troll through design sites like or or read about growth hacking or play with Photoshop.

I’m not the only one struggling to clarify goals and stay focused. Fellow scribbler Jessica Tregarth found herself with a similar case of Shiny Object Syndrome. To try and defeat it, we decided to connect once a week (we live 3 time zones apart) as each other’s “accountability buddy.”

Accountability buddy in action

Every week Jessica and I brainstorm actions that take a bite—no matter how small—out of our respective long term goals for writing, continuous learning, and a healthy lifestyle. We each come away from the session with 4 or 5 actions we want to accomplish in the week ahead. The next week we review how much of our respective lists we accomplished and trouble-shoot how to resolve what is holding us back.

How is it going so far?

Accountability is a powerful motivator. I’ve stayed on track with finishing KING PESO, the 4th Detective Emilia Cruz novel, and been much more intentional with my time on social media. That weekly list stays in front of me, a reminder that I have to account for how I used (or wasted) my time. I also don’t want to let Jessica down.

In short, having an accountability buddy is the best thing I’ve ever done to define goals and stay focused.

Making it work

Finding the right buddy is key. It helps that Jessica and I have known each other for almost a decade and have the same approach.

  • Your accountability buddy needs to be as committed as you are and be ready to make it part of their routine. You don’t have to connect every week but create a fixed schedule. Just promising to get together “whenever” makes it too easy to put off.
  • Don’t overcommit because you want to impress your buddy. Be honest, know your limits, and help your buddy do the same. Discuss possibilities and realities. This is not a competition.
  • Keep a log so you know what both you and your buddy are working toward. Review your progress each time you connect. If something didn’t work, try to figure out together why—was it a one-off problem or a systemic issue that needs to be resolved before real progress can be made?

Yes, Shiny Object Syndrome will always be there. But an accountability buddy is a force multiplier.


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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


Secret to productivity by Carmen Amato
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