Advent 2022: 19. Beeminding Actions versus Outcomes / Fractional Beeminding

For the Advent Calendar today, I’m collating some information from various forum threads and blog posts about beeminding inputs versus outputs, and the interesting technique of Fractional Beeminding.

For many goals, it’s possible to track your progress by beeminding either your actions / effort (inputs) or the results you produce (outputs). For example, for reading a book, you could track time spent reading (an input) or pages read (an output). For some goals, the choice isn’t very important (e.g., for reading a novel, you’d probably get much the same success from tracking either time or pages).

For other goals, the choice can have a bigger impact on how successful your beeminding is. In a non-fiction book, some pages may contain more complex material and may require slower reading. Beeminding pages would be a disadvantage: you’d either risk derailing or you’d push yourself to read the hard pages more quickly than is actually helpful. Beeminding time spent would be better, and that’s often the case for many goals - you’ll see a few comments here and there in the forum and blog recommending beeminding inputs instead of outputs.

But beeminding time spent can sometimes be a trap! If you have a tendency to over-plan or a propensity for perfectionism, you might spend more time on a project than is justified. For example, if you wanted to teach yourself to paint, you’d need to do a bit of research first about types of paints, techniques, etc so that you could choose your initial approach, but over-analysing all the options could result in weeks of delay before you start actually painting. A time-based goal wouldn’t help you avoid that, but beeminding your output would.

But what sort of output would you beemind? One obvious one is the number of paintings you’ve completed, but that’s not very helpful for a goal to learn how to paint, or for any goal where there’s a single thing to produce. It may not even be a good measurement if you have multiple items to produce, especially if each item takes a fair bit of effort (e.g., craft items to make, blog posts to write).

Fractional beeminding can be a good alternative in cases like those. Each datapoint for your goal is the estimated fraction (or percent) complete of your full project, or fraction complete of your latest item if your goal will be used indefinitely for multiple items. For the learning to paint example, you may have a rough plan (research and choose a type of paint, buy equipment, start painting, proceed until one painting is complete), and so estimating how far you are through that should be possible. If you wanted to beemind writing blog posts, instead of entering just a single datapoint at the completion of each post, your datapoint would be based on an estimate of how far through your current post you are after each writing session - this may encourage you to spread out the work required for each post over time, rather than rushing it all through at the last minute.

If you think this sounds interesting, read more here:

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This is mentioned in the linked forums & blogs, but one thing I wanted to call out at a top-level that made a big difference for fractional beeminding for me was the realization that as long as you have a bright line for what counts as “1” and so never get more than one total point per painting, it doesn’t matter how good at estimating you are. Maybe you thought you were halfway through, did the same amount again, and realized your first estimation was totally wrong: no stress! 0.5 for the first chunk, 0.2 for the second, and everything is fine.

To elaborate on the learning to paint example, you could assign 0.2 to each of research, choose paint, buy equipment, start painting, finish painting. But maybe you have a hangup about actually starting the painting, but know that once you get going it’ll be pleasant—you could count 0.1 for each of research, choose paint, buy equipment, and finish painting, and 0.6 to start the painting. Or you could plan to have them all be 0.2, get to the starting and realize it was super hard, and give yourself 0.3 for that, saving the last 0.1 for finishing.

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Excellent point, and I love the example! Thank you! I’ve updated the links at the end of my post to include your comment.

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