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Dec. 2nd, 2013 @ 10:08 pm Beeminder: A year later
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I started using beeminder.com about a year ago. It's been immensely useful. I don't think beeminder is the only thing that could have done that, but I think it came along at just the right point in my life to be incredibly useful. (Thank you DReeve and team!)

I've used it to track over half a dozen different graphs of my life.

Long term ones include:

* Doing gym (or other equivalent workout). Now averaging three times a week.
* Half-hour units spent actually concentrating on work, not just faffing around trying to get started. This started off noticeably less than "hours in the working day", but admitting that made it a lot easier to slowly increase it to the point where I felt I did a good day's work every day.
* Weight. I explicitly didn't set a goal for this, but it's moved to a level I prefer.
* Long-term items crossed off todo list. This number is fairly meaningless, but simply recording it a lot easier to do things and not feel there's no point as there's an infinite number more.
* Daily perishable todo lists (eg. do washing up). As above.
* Blog three times a week.

What I find incredibly useful:

* Having a graph that shows progress.
* Getting reminder emails if something falls off my radar and I don't do it for a few weeks.
* An external measure that I've done "enough" for the moment, that I don't need to wait until I have time to do ALL OF IT.

What I'd actually like to be able to opt out of:

The premise of beeminder is anti-procrastination, that you can commit in advance to keep some particular goal, and in order to force your future self to stick to it, you pledge an amount of money. This works very well for many people.

However, I wasn't sure if I wanted to do it at the beginning, and I found that simply having a goal at all was more than enough pressure. Sometimes I need to resort to panic to make progress, but the more often I can be motivated by hope instead of fear the better I work. Having a giant red klaxon saying "you've failed" seems to demotivate me more than motivate me.

The few occasions I've failed a goal, or nearly failed a goal, it's clearly been because I set up the conditions wrongly in advance. Either it's because I chose bad conditions to begin with, or because something genuinely more important but non-catastrophic came up, or because I mismanaged the grace period when I was on holiday, etc. Not something where I wish I'd had the fortitude to do it anyway! (If it's genuinely a screw-up, even if it's your fault, Beeminder are very good about resetting the failure.) If I'd pledged, I'd have paid, because I think I failed by the terms I initially set and I don't want to encourage myself to quibble. But I didn't fail by the terms I should have set.

So, basically, I want beeminder (with graphs and emails) but without the anti-procrastination checks (and maybe a monthly fee). Beeminder do offer a monthly fee for infinite pledgeless goals, but they sort of say they think it's a bad idea and don't encourage it.

I'm not sure. Should I (a) go with that or (b) look for another website that does something similar? I could just use a spreadsheet now I have the habit of doing it every day anyway. But I'm still scared that changing the routine would break the habit.

The other thing I wish was easier is that that EVERY datum I enter is for today, and the vast majority of them are "1", and most have one of the three most common comments. I wish I had a shortcut for "goal gym, today, 1, swim 20" with one click, not four clicks. I think I should be able to do that with beeminder with the API or the email bot, but I haven't yet had the time to figure out how.

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Date:December 3rd, 2013 08:17 am (UTC)
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I would guess if beeminder works for you already, and the one thing you've got an issue with is the fact it charges you when you've mismanaged stting goals, then trying Beeminder with a monthly fee for a while to see if it does work is probably the sensiblest option.

But I think I put a higher price on having to learn how a new system works than I suspect you do.

Edited at 2013-12-03 08:17 am (UTC)
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Date:December 12th, 2013 07:16 am (UTC)
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Oh, hey, Danny of Beeminder here! This is pretty awesome feedback for us. I was about to point out blog.beeminder.com/legit but it sounds like you already know all that and just don't really want the commitment device aspect at all.

Possibly another way to look at it though, besides the premium option where you never have to pledge any money (and just pay monthly instead), is to just keep the pledges at $5, no monthly charge, and just chalk up the occasional $5 derailment to a fee for the service. Probably they'll be rare and that will be cheaper than paying monthly.

PS: Ideas for goal-tracking without commitment devices: blog.beeminder.com/trackhack

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Date:December 19th, 2013 10:19 am (UTC)
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Hello! Thank you for finding my post. I'm sorry, I'm never sure if it's more useful to direct it at you personally, or to assume that the answer is "I want something other than beeminder" and stop bothering you :)

In the interim, I've signed up for the $10/month plan, because beeminder is definitely at least that much useful. So thank you ever so much for that!

don't really want the commitment device aspect at all.

That's basically it. Or rather, it's not that I don't want it AT ALL. I want something exactly like beeminder, with graphs and rolling averages and roads and goals. But I want "seven day lock in" and "pledge money" to be options I can enable on important goals when I've shown a track record of weaselling, not automatically applies to everything.

(Or even just an agreement that I can put in the fine print of a goal "this goal isn't that important, if I derail, but honestly say that it wasn't because I was procrastinating, other things actually were more important" that doesn't count as a derailment.)

And I'm not sure if that thing is "beeminder, with some minor user interface tweaks" or "one of the other websites" (but I need to spend time to actually go and try them).

another way to look at it though

I think what happened, is originally I used beeminder to track a couple of my most important goals. And I definitely need the threat of "failed goal" to overcome "I have time to do this, I'm just too scared to start". But it turned out that an email and a red background on a graph were enough, I didn't need to pledge money, although I might need that one day. And over time, it seemed I'd massively reduced my procrastination, yay, thank you beeminder! And then, flushed with success, I added a dozen more less important goals to beeminder, because I wanted to try to repeat the success. Except they were not the absolute most important thing in my life, so I wanted to experiment with goals to see what was achievable, but accept that sometimes I really would be too busy, and not say "I know with ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY this should be achievable so I will commit to fulfilling it NO MATTER WHAT." And if "too busy" went on for months, I'd have to admit I needed to increase the importance, but maybe I'd have to admit that I literally didn't have time for this goal.

And theoretically I could just set up the goals and not mind if I derail on one of the less important goals when I'm really busy. But that's actually really, really bad, because getting giant red notices saying YOU HAVE FAILED (a) makes me feel like shit and unmotivated and (b) means I can't see at a glance when I'm derailing on an important goal, because it trains me to ignore the threats!
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Date:December 20th, 2013 07:03 am (UTC)
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Really great point about the dangerous mixture of Truly Important goals and just experimental goals and how the latter can train you to not worry about the emergency reminders from the bot. I'm not sure if this addresses it well but what about using the backburner feature, where you can click the little minus sign on the thumbnails in the gallery to partition goals into ones that are above the fold and below the fold?

As for whether there's another tool that more closely matches your use case: not that I know of! You actually seem quite close to our ideal target user. I quite genuinely don't want to discourage you from looking elsewhere though because if you find something better we *really* want to hear about that. That will be hugely educational for us.

Btw, the way I personally deal with the problem you describe is I only care about the dollar amounts. So I don't tune out the emergency reminders, I'm just like "Orly, bot? I 'have' to do pushups? Or else what? Pay $5? It's a deal!" Or, later, "Oh, $90? Ok, fine, I'll do the damn pushups."

Actually, I like the way my partner, Bethany Soule, put this in another thread recently: (also her answer to the "feel like shit" objection you had)

> Training running is my favorite example to use because I am strongly averse to running, but I have good reasons to want to have run in a year from now. Without Beeminder I make plans, and then I fight with myself about whether I'm going to do the thing, and it's this occasionally nasty internal dialogue that is over a value judgement of myself. If I don't do the thing it makes me a failure, a bad person, etc. Now, with Beeminder, I have a new mechanism. "Not running" is a thing I can purchase for $5 at market today. Is that worth it? Maybe not and I will run like I planned. Maybe it is rainy and cold or I just don't feel like it. Cool! I can buy some "not running" and it's all good! I can also control how much it is going to cost for me to buy more "not running" next week.

> When it works like this with this very clear decision point, paying Beeminder doesn't feel punitive. I feel more like "Hey Past Me, thanks for making this hard thing easy!"

Oh, and you've probably noticed by now but since August the derailments have less of a "you have failed" feel to them: http://blog.beeminder.com/nwo

Btw, this stuff would be perfect for discussing on the Akratics Anonymous google group. You should join it!