What to do when you're falling behind?


#1

What can I do when I’m falling behind and can not catch up?

How can I schedule a break for a three or four days immediately until I can catch up?

When I tried to schedule a three day break from today, I get a red bar saying that “could not schedule that break”.

Help, I’m about to derail in 8 hours and I’ll have to input dummy data to avoid paying.


#2

Hi Benjamin!

If your goal is somehow structured so that it was impossible to succeed as
of a few days ago, but you’re just realizing it now, I bet there’s a better
way to phrase/make/structure that goal.

If there’s a real reason why you can’t succeed, you’ll have a chance to
tell the support staff after the goal derails.

I suggest not entering dummy data–if Beeminder doesn’t have any “sting”,
it’s no better than logging your data in a Google Spreadsheet or something.

I remember feeling quite ashamed after the first time I derailed on a goal,
but it definitely made me work harder the next time!

(As always, if my advice doesn’t seem helpful or is even wrong, please let
me know, Beeminder staff and others!)


#3

So you’re telling me the only way to avoid paying $$$ is to either enter dummy data or involve Beeminder staff?

Can’t I just get a temporary flat yellow line?


#4

Involving Beeminder staff doesn’t mean summoning the baleful gaze of a great and terrible beast – and you don’t have to wait until the derail to email them. I often message them as soon as I know I won’t be able to make a future goal: when I broke my ankle, for example, I asked for an immediate break in all my goals. They’ll do whatever’s fair, if you talk to them.

But, it sounds like you’re not so much “falling behind” as “have, definitively, fallen behind,” i.e., derailed. Basically, instead of letting you increase your workload tomorrow to have less to do today, Beeminder only lets you have less to do today if you did more yesterday. You can get ahead, but you can’t get behind: if, at the end of the day, you’re not on track, you’re off track, and Beeminder charges you as the sting to convince you to stay on track next time (or to rethink your track).

Of course, that’s only useful if the sting comes as soon as you have made your goal-rate impossible to meet! If a few days ago it became impossible to meet your goal but you only according-to-Beeminder derailed today, that’s still leaves you trying to do all of the math in your head that it’s supposed to be Beeminder’s job to do. Posting more details here or asking support for suggestions can help you find a better way to track the goal. It’s easy to accidentally make, e.g., “do X on Y days per week” goals much stricter than intended.

But it’s also possible to feel like, “well, ok, I didn’t meet today’s deadline, but I can still meet the deadline at the end!” even when the goal is well-formed, but that’s the slippery slope Beeminder exists to gum up: the usefulness of Beeminder is its ability to turn a commitment to “read 52 books this year” into a commitment to “read 1/7 of a book today.” If you just need to get to 52 books by the end of the year, you can go without reading for a while and “catch up” later. But then you might get stuck with 30 books in the last week! The whole point of the commitment device is to fight that kind of procrastination. So you tell Beeminder, “hold me to the rate of 1/7 of a book per day,” and if today you read less than that, you broke that commitment today.

It takes some getting used to, but Beeminder cares more about today’s deadline than it does the big goal deadline at the end. That’s why you’re allowed to schedule breaks if they’re more than a week in advance – if you’re making plans far enough in the future that they’re not motivated by panic, you can change the big final deadline as much as you want! But you still have to meet today’s deadline, and there’s no way to “catch up” on “today.”

It’s still absolutely a good idea to send a message to support to hash out what you really meant to have as your deadline for today, and what’s giving you trouble in general! But it’s by design that you can’t get a flat spot tomorrow without getting the sting from your derailment or talking to a person to troubleshoot the reasons that you and the Beeminder site disagreed about what you were committing to for today.


#5

Okay, I seem to understand the motivation behind the current structure of Beeminder.

But it is just inconvenient having to explain why I’m about to derail to a third party.

So I’m trying to find a way to do it myself without having to involve another person.

What is I input dummy data today and schedule a break at the same time, this would give me time to catch up.


#7

If you don’t want a third party to have anything to do with your goals, you might as well just track them in a spreadsheet or something. :slight_smile:

My university department had a teddy bear in reception that the undergrads had to explain their problem to before seeing an advisor. Half the time, just involving the bear in the discussion was enough to bring clarity.

Similarly, I type more emails to support than I send. Also, emailing support is always more painless than I imagine that it will be. But I completely sympathise with not wanting to need to do it.

An alternative solution, of course, is to let yourself derail, and take the $5 hit as part of your learning experience.

Another (not particularly good) solution that I use (as a premium subscriber) is to set my less important goals at a $0 pledge cap, and just let them derail. That has the slippery effect of habituating me to goals derailing.


#8

As someone who has used the solution you’re proposing extensively (much the horror of the data purists out there, I’m certain): You can do that - there’s no mechanism in Beeminder to stop you - but I recommend you don’t. If you’re anything like me, you’ll never “catch up”. That’s why Beeminder exists in the first place.

Once you’ve taught yourself that dummy data is a way out of a tight spot, it becomes a hard habit to break. I did this a lot when I first was using Beeminder. After a while, I realized that a) I felt guilty about it all the time, b) it meant I hadn’t successfully outsourced the tracking effort, because I had to manually track how much I needed to “catch up”, and most importantly c) I wasn’t achieving the things I wanted to. So I weaned myself off the habit using Beeminder.

As you can see, it took a year to fully break the habit. My recommendation is you don’t get started on it in the first place.

It’s hard to know what the right rate is when you’re first starting out. That’s why you have the option to set a $0 initial commitment for a goal - it lets you see what sort of rate you can succeed (or not) at. Most of my goals either derail at least once or have to be retroratcheted because I made them too easy.

In general, I find that an “emergency” (about-to-derail) day is a good time to think about how I got in that situation. There are several possible situations:

Situation: I messed something up while setting the rate, and it’s not what I meant it to be.
Action: I email support and they fix it for me.

Situation: I made the goal too hard in the first place, and the rate is one I can’t really sustain. I didn’t expect this because I’ve never tried to apply consistent daily effort to this topic before.
Action: I let the goal derail at the $0 level and adjust the rate to a more sustainable level. (If the goal is brand new, deleting it or emailing support for help are options I might pursue as well.)

Situation: Something unexpected happened in my life that I couldn’t have reasonably anticipated when I made the goal (illness, family member needing help, technology problems, etc).
Action: I email support and explain the situation. They are very responsive, willing to believe whatever I tell them (unless I’ve checked “weaselproof me”), and generally will do what they can to make the situation right.

Situation: This is a “goes on forever” goal that I’ve been doing for a while and consistently skate the edge of. I just need a break, but didn’t realize this soon enough to schedule one and/or build up some safe days.
Action: I pay for a derailment and get a break. I generally keep the pledge cap on these sorts of goals low enough that I’m willing to pay $X for a few day’s break, but not so low that there’s no sting at all. For me that means in the $5 to $30 range, but I suppose it depends on one’s financial situation.

Situation: I’ve been slacking, but I can do at least one day’s worth of action today. (After all, one day’s worth of the original rate is all I need to do to avoid derailing today).
Action: I do one day’s worth of action, and the situation repeats tomorrow. If I do this every day, I will successfully reach my endpoint, but every day will be an emergency day. (Most of my goals are like this for long periods at a time. It’s risky, because I eventually end up in the above situation, but it’s a good illustration of the reason Beeminder exists.)

Situation: I have been slacking, and I can’t summon up the motivation today to do even one day’s worth of activity.
Action: I let the goal derail, and hope that the next pledge level will be a little more motivating.

If your case is one of the first two, I’d recommend emailing support and seeing whether they can help you find the right solution for your particular situation. They’re generally even more flexible with newbees like yourself than they are with folks like me.


Full-proof system
Cheat Proof Beeminders?
#9

Honestly, I think it is ridiculous that you’re allowed to go ahead in your scheduling but you’re not allowed to fall behind and catch up later.

edit:language.


#10

Oddly enough, I’d say that case Beeminder is least useful for is “I need to achieve exactly X units by Y date” - because as long as Y is more than a week in the future, you can get yourself off the hook a week from today without Beeminder stopping you.

Beeminder is most useful for cases where your primary focus is consistent daily effort. If that’s not your primary focus and you’re truly more concerned with the end goal, another commitment device might be a better fit for you - perhaps Stickk, which is primarily focused on whether you achieve the end goal and less concerned with the means.

That said, if the idea of akrasia resonates with you, then my suggestion is to be brutally honest with yourself on this point. Getting ahead (in the past) requires the same amount of effort as catching up (in the future). If I didn’t build up a safety buffer because I wasn’t willing to expend that effort, I know that “I’ll expend more effort in the future” is a self-destructive lie I’m telling to myself. To quote Tim Urban:

But if you’re a procrastinator, you’re in luck. You have an ace up your sleeve—someone daring and fearless, with bountiful energy and dynamic talent, and someone who can defeat [procrastination] like stepping on an ant: Future You.

Future You is a procrastinator’s most important ally—someone who’s always there and always has your back, no matter what.

Nobody will stop you, or even know, if you put Future You in a situation where your road says you’re on track when you actually need to “catch up”. If you’re like me, you may need to try it to see for yourself how it goes. But if you’re like me, you’ll find that you never “catch up” and that you’re setting yourself up to fail at the goals you’re trying to achieve.


#11

Well, if Beeminder offered flexibility to help you achieve your goal, dev will lose one of their main source of revenue.


#12

I’m not on the developer team, but I’d say that the main source of revenue for Beeminder is people who like the restrictions it provides enough to continue using it (and yes, pay derailment costs in the process).

Beeminder has gotten, and continues to get, large amounts of my money because it works for me. I’m happy to pay the cost of derailments as necessary because doing so is part of the strategy I use to achieve my goals. The few hundred dollars I’ve paid out in derailments are a small price to pay for everything I’ve achieved in return.

If you find that Beeminder is not an effective means of achieving your goals, one week from now you can be off the hook for all of your commitments and free to walk away.


#13

Maybe dev can set derailment margin before charging? Like a maintenance margin concept in finance. And only start charging when you’re x negative days behind.


#14

These replies are brilliant; thank you everyone!

@gretchen, you reminded me of @chelsea’s weasel heart-to-heart post.

@Benjamin, you can basically achieve exactly that (“start charging when you’re x negative days behind”) by setting an initial safety buffer when you create the goal. Say you want to do something 5 days a week so you set the rate to 5/week but you don’t want to be charged until you fall 2 weeks behind. No problem – just set the initial safety buffer to 14 days. Now your goal is to do the thing 5 days a week and maintain that 2-week safety buffer. But, by nature of being a safety buffer, you can fall behind by that many days before Beeminder considers you derailed.

Two more relevant blog posts:


#15

That blog post is still one of my favorites. Thanks for the reminder to re-read it!


#16

That ambition will be helped by the presence of the ‘yellow guide lines’. If you ever fall below the thicker yellow line, you’ve got less than a week of safety buffer left, and that’s your cue to catch up (or adjust your slope to be more achievable).

Also, you can set the reminders on whatever day you’d find them most helpful, though if you get into the habit of ignoring the reminder then you might as well do what I do and dial them right down.


#17

Now your goal is to do the thing 5 days a week and maintain that 2-week safety buffer.

I think this is the way to go for those of us who like the charting features but want more forgiveness and flexibility. I have 15 “do more” goals. Some of them are for things that I try to do daily; some of them are for things I do once every couple weeks. One is something I try to average 8 hours a week on. One is something I try to average 0.3 hours a week on. Most mornings I check the Beeminder android app, see which things have the fewest days til derailment, and plan out my day accordingly. This is much much better than logging my data in a Google Spreadsheet. I’ve looked around and I haven’t found anything else like it.

When I get too close to derailing, I schedule a break. The break doesn’t go into effect until 7 days later, but if I have at least 7 days til derailment it’ll affect my days til derailment (as it shows up in the android app) immediately. If I let it get closer than 7 days til derailment then I have to do some extra work or let it derail (I start my goals at $0 though).

I think I’ve paid $5 twice for derailments over the course of eight months. I also subscribe to Infinibee, so even if I never derailed at all, Beeminder would still be getting some payment from me.