My So-Called Beeminder Life


#1

This is an experiment to see how making a single thread where I talk about my various Beeminder goals and other productivity aids. Publicly committing to things should help me stay on track, and I like reading other posts where people talk about their Beeminder goals so hopefully people will find my thoughts as I tweak things useful and I get some advice and encouragement out of it along the way.

To start with, there’s one big goal and the reason I tried Beeminder in the first place. I switched jobs in late 2013, and the 2nd half of 2014 turned out to be really stressful for me. There was something of a death march project, and I tend to get fixated on things on general so I was putting a lot of energy into work and had stopped exercising and eating well. One day I decided I was going to schedule some time where I wasn’t going to be interrupted and stressed out, so I scheduled an appointment to donate blood and come to work later. They rejected me when they took my blood pressure and it was 192/112, which is about the level where you should be going to the emergency room.

So I saw my doctor, started taking blood pressure medication, exercising again, eating better and working on reducing stress and pretty quickly got out of the insane range. At that point it was clear to me that I wasn’t young anymore and couldn’t afford to let myself go without serious health consequences so I made a commitment to myself that I would lose one pound every two weeks or quit and find another job after taking some time off.

That worked pretty well, but vacations are always tough for me. I came back from one such vacation in the middle of 2015 and I’d read about Beeminder so decided to give it a try then and it’s worked pretty well for me so far. I had something of a derailment issue at the end of last year, so early this year I did a reset of everything with fewer goals this time.

I have 3 goals related to losing weight. My current weight loss related goals are a typical weight loss at 1 pound per two weeks which is pretty conservative. I can lose more without trying to hard so it’s easy to build up a large buffer there, but it’s also good because that’s a line in the sand. Then there’s a do more binary goal to exercise 6 days a week. This is going to the gym 3 times a week, or doing either pushups or chin ups at home the other days, but really anything counts. The final one used to be a do more goal of days where I eat well, but that had the failure mode of as soon as I broke it I would behave poorly the rest of the day because that was my chance for any temptation I had been considering without any extra cost. So I’ve switched it to a do less goal to have fewer cheat meals, at 3 times a week now.

I don’t use Beeminder in quite the typical way. Since one of my primary goals is to reduce stress in my life I don’t want daily deadlines hanging over my head. I start with the 7 day buffer and try to set my goals so that I will gain one day a week if I follow them like I want to, building up to 14 days where I level it off. Since I reset about 6 weeks ago some goals are just starting to get to that point.

That’s enough background for now I think.


About the Life category
#2

I’m spending next weekend visiting friends from Friday through Sunday, so it’s time to set up breaks for my goals. It always feels like I am fighting with the UI a bit when I do this. I want one dialog where I say how long I will be gone and which goals it will affect and have the system somehow magically figure out that this means I want it to pretend those days don’t exist at all. I realize that’s not a well defined request. :slight_smile:

I mentioned that I tried a Do Less goal, and it surprised me again. (The first time was the Pessimistic Presumptive Report it added the first day I didn’t enter anything) It looks like the effect of setting the break was to change the slope of the road from 3 to 6? That makes sense from one point of view, but what I think I wanted for the slope to be 0 and to not enter anything over those days. I will see how that works for me.

Now all of my goals show extra days in the overview so it looks like I have made more progress than I really have and that will vanish when I come back, but that will just last for a week.

In other news, a coworker wants to learn more Japanese and another co worker is Japanese, so she has started making flash cards on post it notes and handing them out. I now know how to say horse, dog, and shrimp, and we laugh at her drawings. She joked that there would be a quiz. I’ve heard very good things about Anki so I downloaded it and entered those 3 works along with cat which I knew. Very much overkill.

I wanted to play more with Anki and I took 4 years of French in high school which I have now mostly forgotten. I downloaded a deck and have played with it the past couple of days. It certainly seems like a great learning tool; I wish I had a real use for it. I’ll probably continue to play with the French cards. I’m tempted to see how the Beeminder integration works, but then I remembered I don’t actually care if I learn French, so maybe it’s not the highest priority thing to push myself to do.


#3

Thanks for sharing!

Yeah, I think it’s definitely the case that you get better results if you set the goal such that earning safety days is tough but doable. I have my flossing goal set to 6 per week and I tend to average 6.5 per week. If it were set to 7 I would just derail all the time and probably average something like 2 per week.

Yeah I’ve mostly given up on Take a Break. I have switched to using the Beelint thing I hacked up. I can just mark my Google Calendar with a vacation block and it will complain at me if any of my goals have an eep! day that lands during the vacation. So then I know to work harder and build up a safety buffer or (less frequently) schedule a Take a Break.

The Take a Break default value for Do Less goals is double the regular slope. But when you enter a break you can type any number you want. So if you had replaced the 6 with a 0 you would have gotten a flat section.

Well…sort of… there’s still this rat’s nest of the road width changing when your slope changes. It’s very difficult to enforce a particular Do Less limit on any particular day, but things will usually roughly work out.

Well, the nice part of Take a Break is that your “progress” isn’t messed up in the sense that your cumulative total accomplished is still accurate. You have these safety days you didn’t earn, but your total stuff done isn’t inflated. I know you know this but I think it’s a nice thing!

I burned myself out on Beeminder in 2014 because I got so eager to Beemind everything I could possibly think of. Even just reading your notes about Anki makes me want to go download it and Beemind something with it. It requires some restraint to just leave it be. :slight_smile:


Damn, so I've gotten to the bottom of your double post and I realize that everything I've commented on is the same old meta how-to/troubleshooting stuff you were saying you think we already have too much of.

I am glad that you have turned your health situation around! I do wonder about consistency vs being realistic when it comes to friends in town or trips. I get into this mentality of "I want my typical week to look like X" where X is being healthy and working out, etc. But the list of exceptional circumstances is so long that I probably only have 10 typical weeks per year. So what does typical even mean then? And if I just Take a Break everything away, I never actually have to do my goals.

#4

Thanks for the comments.

I did catch it and set the slope to 0 on my do less goal. I can kind of see why doubling the slope makes sense, but I think the more obvious use case is to just not enter any data at all for the period if it is a manual entry goal.

I am being much more judicious about my Beeminding this year. I ask myself it something is truly an important self improvement goal of mine, and even if it is, is it really the one thing I want to add to my list of things to focus on? Expanding French vocabulary is not; it’s just fun.

I worry about this, and have two thoughts. One is that I have a more stable routine and I’m trying to calibrate my goals so that Beeminder is providing the right amount of extra oomph then without being overwhelming. Also some of my goals don’t apply when I’m on vacation. There’s no need to write in the daily gratitude journal then, and I actually I don’t take it with me so it really isn’t going to happen.

My plan is that the 1 pound per two weeks is absolute, and it didn’t touch that. But that is going to get tricky! I eat a low salt diet now, and so when I do eat out several meals it’s very easy for me to gain a lot of water weight. It comes off as soon as I get back on track. I’m not sure what my plan is if I come back from a vacation and find my weight has suddenly jumped 5 pounds and this would derail me. Probably allow myself to not enter any value for a week since that gain isn’t “real”. This is obviously a very slippery slope!


#5

The lowest effort, highest impact stuff I studied on Anki so far has been global geography… Capitals, flags, & maps. A complete knowledge about this really makes a difference to everything from current events, history, even interactions with foreigners!

I have a deck which is decidedly better than any that’s on the Anki website. I just haven’t gotten around to doing a final check and uploading it. Could share it privately or get on with finishing it if there’s interest.

Come over to the dark side, @drtall. Don’t you want to learn the NATO phonetic alphabet, or perhaps Morse code? :grin:


#6

That does sound like a good idea. I would be interested in a deck for geography.


#7

I know a nerd snipe when I see one :stuck_out_tongue:


#8

I would be interested in this. The one I’m currently using has a bunch of errors and omissions.


#9

@drtall the solution is easy: you should add a do less goal of new beeminder goals.


#10

I think creating your own deck is an important part of the learning process.


#11

I’m taking the day off work before I fly out of town tonight for the weekend. I used to try go to work but leave early to catch a flight out. I would always tell myself I would get ready the night before on Thursday but put it off to the last minute and wind up staying late getting ready. Then I would forget something in the morning and wind up being late to work getting everything together. One time I then stayed at work too long trying to keep up after coming in late and almost missed my flight. This way I get to get some of the weekend tasks done today and come back to a clean house which is nice.

I’ve been keeping on top of most of my goals the past few weeks so I’ve reached a 14 day buffer on several (or rather will be at 14 days once the weekend is passed and my breaks are over) so it’s time to bump up the slope of the road a bit. The only one that is a struggle is fewer cheat meals. I have that set at 3 cheat meals per week, which sounds like a lot but I’m basically counting anything that isn’t a home cooked meal, and I go out to lunch with my coworkers once a week so there’s less wriggle room than it sounds. Having the goal is clearly helping, there were a few times that I was tempted to get something at the coffee shop but refrained and in retrospect it wouldn’t have been worth it. So I will leave that as it is and I’m slowly getting ahead.

I’m still playing with Anki. Thinking about it, I remembered that my favorite To Do management system was on the old Palm devices that I used over a decade ago. What I liked about it was that it was really easy to move the dates of tasks. So I could have regular todos, recurring tasks, reminders and habit building all mixed in working nicely together. I remember making a task to remind myself to floss, and for the first week I always moved it to the next day, and then I started moving it farther into the future each time, just like the Anki cards. Most of my recurring tasks I want to track aren’t tied to a specific day like taking out the trash or paying a bill. They are things like vacuuming my house or calling my mother that I always want to schedule again some amount of time after I get around to doing them. I haven’t found any system that captures that nicely as the old Palm OS one did for me.

I’m using Trello now. I manually adjust the dates and sort the cards for my recurring tasks and have separate lists for tasks I want done within the next week, soon, and eventually. It works, but it’s very easy for me to procrastinate on a bigger task that I don’t feel like doing for some reason and just keep doing small easy ones and feeding the Beeminder goal.


#12

You should try the Trello neglect metric built in to beemind.me (thanks @galtsubery!)


#13

So I thought I had my cheat meals task break set up correctly for last weekend, but it turns out that when you set the slope to 0 on a do-less goal the PPR come in at a default value of 2 per day. Also, the Beeminder will not include this on your safe day margin nor send a warning that this is a Beemergency! So when I checked back on Monday I found that I had just derailed, but that was quickly straightened out by support, so thanks for the quick response there.

So now the only issue with that goal is that I don’t follow it as well as I would like to. It’s the only one I’m having any issue with, so I will bear down on it. This week I will experiment with the radical notion that if there is some special occasion and I go out with the work group for lunch one day, then it won’t kill me to skip going out with them for Friday Ramen.

I am trying out Todoist. It does have support for recurring goals that come again a preset amount of time after they are done as well as the traditional ones. And of course it has the ability to sort everything by date or just look at specific projects etc. I will give it a try for a month and then if I like it figure out how to integrate with Beeminder. I googled Beeminder and todoist and see pointers to both IFTTT and Zapier. (This is another example of how Beeminder could be easier to use. I’m sure it’s not that hard to set up and I will figure it out without too much effort, but it would be a better experience if that search pointed me to instructions or an example, rather than two different apps to figure out and choose between.)

I also realized that part of my issue when looking at my tasks is that what I really want to do is full decluttering of my house, and of course that won’t happen by just adding some random cleaning tasks now and then. I decided to make a separate project card for that and list most of what I want to do, which will take several months, but between that and playing with todoist I find myself energized and making lots of progress.

I also created a new Beeminder goal to for routine housecleaning as a do more minutes goal. I’m not really sure what a reasonable value is; I’m trying 60 minutes a week for now.


#14

Not that I really can give advice on decluttering, but here is apparently a guru on the topic (her ideas feel somewhat extreme though): http://tidyingup.com/


#15

I am now number 491 in line to check this out at my local library, but they have 94 copies so it shouldn’t take too long. I guess it is popular. I’m sure I will find something there to be inspired by. Thanks!


#16

Thoroughly attest to the power of Marie Kondo’s ‘method’, though it is, as @larsivi says, a bit extreme. But that’s where the power comes in.


#17

Last week I got a flyer in the mail saying that there was a free metal recycling event at a local church on Saturady, which was great timing for my new found decluttering drive. I wound up taking a fair amount of stuff there. Since some of what I bought in was an old broken lawnmower and some other yard tools I started thinking about stuff to do around the yard as well, but that will have to wait.

Actually I’ve been generally very inspired recently. Things generally feel like they are coming together and I am in more control of them. Which of course just makes me think of even more things I can be doing. Sometimes at night a voice in my mind tells me that it will all become too much - I don’t think that will ever completely go away.

This led me to thinking about the Ego Depletion thread. I’ve never followed the specific idea that closely, but the idea of willpower as a kind of limited resource is very much a part of my life and Beeminder philosophy. More precisely I think one uses a combination of willpower and other tricks like commitment devices, removing temptations, and other tools to start doing new behaviors. Then you rely on them becoming habits to continue doing them.

Maybe willpower isn’t the right word exactly, but I find I have to make a conscious decision at first, and then after a time the new routine is just something I accept and do automatically. This is my personal experience, but also matches advice I’ve read in several places. Furthermore I find that when I slip it’s when there have been other stressful or irritating things happening recently. So while I can believe that the specific study failed to replicate, I’d be surprised if there is nothing there at all. Maaaaybe this is all some sort of confirmation bias or it happens this way for me because I’ve convinced myself it will.

So I think I will continue to have a limited number of goals and use them as areas to focus on as I try to build more good habits and only then add new ones.

I’ve set my Trello task goal to be archived since I’m liking Todoist so far, and I’ve started the new goal that I mentioned in the other thread to count days where I don’t get upset about little things. This seems to be working well, but it’s still early to tell.


#18

I just got through an oncall period (half a week since I swapped half with someone earlier) Not all that much happened except for one night, but I still found myself slacking off on many goals. For example, I can’t go to the gym before work then, but that shouldn’t have stopped me from skipping doing some basic exercises at home. I think part of it is that it knocks me out of my regular routine, and part of it is that I’m used to giving myself permission to slack off. I didn’t declare a break and didn’t burn through too much buffer nor gain much weight, so I will call it a win.

I’ve had my “be happy” goal for several weeks now, and it has worked surprisingly well. There were a couple of occasions where I recognized it when I started to be negative and stopped myself. Once I failed and did get upset over something stupid. Then next day when I was able to actually address the issue it turned out to be very easily resolved, so it turned into a nice example of how the problem is how I react to things.

I now have 3 goals for enjoying life more:

  • Happy - 1 point for each day where I don’t get upset about something stupid, goal of 6 days a week, which I think I will bump to 6.5 soon.
  • Journal - 1 point for each day I write in my Five Minute Journal, goal of 6 days a week. Nowadays I only do the morning half, since that seemed the most useful for me.
  • Alive - 1 point for each day I do something new, something social, or anything I decide to count as interesting enough. This is set to 3 days a week.

In other news, I followed the Karma system in Todoist, but have decided it was gimmicky and inferior to making a goal in Beeminder, so I just used IFTTT to hook them up. It was simpler to set up than I expected. The only hiccup was I went to IFTTT before making the new goal in Beeminder, and wound up having to start over when I realized the Beeminder goal needed to be there first. I wasn’t expecting the new interface for creating the Beeminder goal and was pleasantly surprised. It was a lot more polished, on par with the IFTTT interface.


#19

this is interesting. are you actively thinking throughout the day “can’t get mad about any stupid things b/c of beeminder”? i always find these type of goals really difficult to keep in the forefront of my mind - trying to remember NOT to do some bad habit i’ve developed over weeks/months/years/myentirelife.


#20

I don’t think about it during the day, but I am reminded of it once in the morning and evening when I enter data for my goals.

I’m allowed to be briefly annoyed and maybe make a snarky comment, but not blow it out of proportion. So hopefully when I start overreacting I notice and remind myself that I can’t control what happens but I can control my reaction to it, and is how I’m reacting useful? I’ve had the goal for almost 3 weeks now, failed just one day, and I’m pretty sure it has helped a couple of times.

So the goal helps by reminding me daily about it and at least forcing myself to analyze my thoughts and be more aware of the pattern.