Advice for goals which have external dependencies

I’m in a pickle today with a goal of mine. I’m trying to talk to my extended family more, and I have a goal to call my uncle. I’m measuring it as hours on the phone using Tasker to automate the data entry.

Yesterday was an eep day, so I called him. No answer, ok fine, I got enough time while ringing to get me through to today. But then he emails me and lets me know he is out of the country.

Today is an eep day…now what? If I were a mindless robot I would call him again today. If I were a better nephew I would have called him sooner than the eep day, but I think that’s outside the scope of this.

Do any of you have similar goals which can be impossible to achieve on certain days/times due to external dependency? I realize that weekends-off is a class of this, but I’m more interested in discussing goals where you can’t predict in advance whether the dependency will be available.


Quick thought for that particular case: count the time (or a fraction of
the time) spent writing to your uncle? Maybe it even has to be a
hand-written letter! Not sure if that’s in the spirit of the goal, since
you already decided the metric was "hours on phone as measured by Tasker"
but if you feel ok permanently adding it to your goal’s fine print then I
think it’s kosher.

The more hardcore answer (and the more self-serving one, when given by a
Beeminder founder!) is that this scenario is rare enough that you’re better
off taking the monetary hit. Then no slippery slopes are created and you’ll
get more value out of the goal in the long run and it will be worth it (if
the goal is something you value a lot). This argument works best if a small
pledge amount is sufficient to keep you on track in normal circumstances.

The answer I’m squeamish about broadcasting too much (but, really, it’s
fine) is that you can reply to the legit check and say that extenuating
circumstances made it impossible to dispatch the beemergency (don’t say it
like that – say what actually happened, uncle out of town, etc).

Yet another strategy: tweak the metric to make this kind of scenario less
likely. For example, define a group of people, not just your uncle, any of
whom you can call.


Thanks for the quick reply!

I might do that today, because it is genuinely the case that I never thought about this. However, if this were to happen again I wouldn’t think it is fair. Even though I’ll never be able to predict when people are out of town, I now know that this failure mode is a thing and I feel an obligation to fix the goal somehow.

I was really hoping to keep the goal 100% automated. Maybe in this exceptional case I could give in and manually track the time. I’m not obsessed with fine print. I usually don’t write anything down in that box and I’m not a weasler, so I wouldn’t mind modifying the goal in this way.

Humorously this feels sort of like the lazy way out. I am not very motivated by the small amounts of money, and I also wouldn’t want to risk big bucks on a goal with this systemic problem.

This is a really interesting idea. Things I like about it:

  • Completely eliminates this specific problem. (If all my relatives are all out of town on the same day I’ll just derail, whatever.)
  • Eliminates the possibility of multiple eeps in quick succession for different people.
  • Really easy to add new people. Today there are some family members I don’t Beemind because there is such overhead of creating a new goal, cluttering up my list, deciding a rate, configuring Tasker, etc.

Things I don’t like:

  • Need some tracking mechanism to guarantee a rotation. With each goal separate it is obvious who I have to call.
  • Can’t set different rates for different people, unless the rotation mechanism is very sophisticated.

Overall I think I am a fan.

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Given the systemic problem, you’d probably set a low pledge cap. Which may have its own problems…

It might be that this is the kind of goal that having Beeminder remind you that it’s important is sufficient for you to make the call, in which case you aren’t be relying on the pledge amount to motivate you. Obviously if that ain’t so, you need another solution.

If you happen to know in advance that your uncle is going away, would you schedule a break in the goal next time? Support can inject such a flat spot if you think that’s the right answer.

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Sadly, I would only know his schedule if I actually talked to him. Circular dependency :smile: But I’ll keep that in mind for the future if I don’t end of collapsing them into one goal.


I meant it as a hypothetical test! If hitting take a break is exactly what you would do given foreknowledge, then that’s exactly what you could do via support after-the-fact.


Ah I see. Yes, I guess with perfect knowledge I think that scheduling a flat road section would be ideal. Semantically this is pretty similar to replying to the legit check (since no-mercy is disabled). Does support have a preference there?

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"Can’t set different rates for different people, unless the rotation mechanism is very sophisticated."
If you put the name of the person in the comments, that data will be easily available for analysis in Excel or Pages through a CSV export. (I have a few items like this and it works nicely).


Semantically similar, but with a touch of proactiveness. I personally like doing this type of thing in advance of a derailment, not least because it removes the weirdness of having an eep goal in my gallery for genuinely external reasons.

Don’t worry about the preferences of support. We need to adapt to your preferences. The only hard-and-fast procedural preference is that folks reply to each individual legit check email. Plus, support emails are a chance for us to peek behind the curtain; what’s going on, what’s working, what’s confusing, etc., in a private exchange rather than on a public forum.