Note-taking and Accountability

Published April 20, 2019

Accountability is the hidden treasure of high performance. It’s another bullet point in the long list of things bodybuilding has framed better for me. Hypertrophy requires progressive overload: to grow a muscle in size you must tax it. Every time. Non-negotiable.

This, of course, is easier said than done. You can agree to the rules but no one is really watching you when you’re at the gym.

Many gym-goers will start their fitness journey by exhausting themselves getting trackers, new gear, and new clothes. It never occurs to them that some of the best athletes in this world mostly look like this at the gym. He’s barely wearing shorts.

Picture of Kai Greene at the gym

The most effective technique isn’t fancy and here it is: write what you’re doing down and beat it every week.

Week 1 50lb x 10 reps x 4 sets
Week 2 50lb x 12 reps x 4 sets
Week 3 55lb x 10 reps x 4 sets

If you don’t write it down, you will justify putting in less effort because you’re not in the mood. You will forget or you will even outright lie to yourself and say you did better than last time.

The brain is powerful and it’s not into exerting itself beyond its perceived boundaries.

This is nothing new–it’s particularly popular in the entrepreneurial and goal-setting circles. Some people call them decision journals, scientists have their Scientific Process, and even the Navy Seals have their own: AARs (After Action Reviews).1

All my projects now start with a brief and end with a review:

  1. What are the objectives?
  2. What do we expect to happen?
  3. What does success look like?

  1. What was the outcome?
  2. Was my hypothesis correct?
  3. What did we learn for next time?

When it’s written out–dare I say–things become easy. The baked in assumption is iteration will make it better and it forces you to get on with it instead of spending time pointlessly ruminating.

It’s simple. It’s boring. It works.

1 "This sounds like the design process!" you exclaim. Yes, it is that too, although I don't think many teams do enough note-taking.