Beeminder Forum

An experiment to beemind "keeping on top of grading"


We’ll see if this actually works, but I’ve just set up a goal along with my newly-received first stack of grading for the term, and I’m excited.

The metric I actually want to reduce, I’ve decided, is “horribleness of my future grading experience if I don’t work on this now.” Which can be numerically expressed as “the average hours per day I would have to grade to finish my current backlog on time.”

I actually do calculate this number already, because I find fiddling with charts a highly motivating way to make grading more appealing. So this is what I set up for my grading spreadsheet:

As you can see, it’s a piddling little pile right now, except that if I leave it all to do the day before, I will have a very unpleasant day. (The “hours” calculated from the number of assignments is based on the time per assignment allotted in my contract, which I stick to scrupulously, so it actually is a predictable time commitment if I have a count for the number of papers.)

The goal I set up looks like this:

Set-up notes:

  • Do-less goal EDIT: now using whittle-down
  • Flat slope, with the “value” set at the maximum backlog that is acceptable to me (currently trying 3 hours)
  • Data aggregation type “min” (EDIT: this is the default with whittle-down)
  • Presumptive pessimistic datapoints on EDIT: because whittle-down goals can’t have PPDs, I’ve hacked one together with a Zapier zap that inputs a datapoint of 4 every day. I have to edit the datapoint with the correct backlog every day to avoid derailing. (Note that the datapoint has to be above the maximum to trigger an eep day; if the fake datapoint is exactly 3, with my set-up, it just puts me in the blue.)

If my test datapoint of “5” is the only one in there, the goal goes red and I have until the end of the night to get it back under my limit. When I put in my real current backlog I’m in the green.

What I hope will happen is that I will manually input every day the average hours remaining, which will increase every day unless I grade. I think this will help make sure the backlog stays in my mind as something that “grows” over time rather than staying stable. It also gives me a reward for grading early. If there’s no grading to do, I have 0 average hours remaining! So it seems like this can be flexible to the actual amount of grading on my plate.

The only thing that concerns me right now is making sure this goal will get me in trouble if I ignore it, since I have to manually enter data, but hopefully presumptive pessimistic datapoints will work for that!


Hmmmm, today’s datapoint did not produce the expected behaviour, so now I have started one as a Whittle-Down goal.

That tentatively looks better, except now I don’t have presumptive pessimistic datapoints. Maybe I need to have Zapier put in a datapoint of 3 every day, that I manually update with whatever the backlog really is?


Oh, I like this metric a lot! This is something I have been trying to solve for a while too. I will definitely be interested to hear about the results.


Today I learned that my homegrown “presumptive pessimistic datapoint” has to be above my maximum, not at it, or I just end up in the blue. But otherwise, the simple Zapier integration is working, and this configuration does seem to be tracking this metric accurately! I once again did no grading, and accordingly increased my average daily grading remaining.

Pessimistic Presumptive Reports for Whittle down?

I decided to set my deadline a little earlier for the arrived-on-time assignments, to clear them out of the way before a trip I’m going on this weekend, and I’ve been finding this goal very effective! It was extremely flexible for my change in plans – I just changed how I calculated my avg hrs/day grading backlog, didn’t have to change the goal itself at all – and although the backlog has been growing, it’s growing at a much, much slower rate than it usually does for me. I actually look at my grading spreadsheet every day, and feel like I’m doing my future-self a real favour any time I sit down and just whip out one paper between meetings.

I don’t think I’ll know for sure how well this works until the end of the semester, but it’s going well so far.


This looks great and like it will make your grading life so much more pleasant!

It’s similar to what I’m doing with some projects that are tracked in OmniPlan, actually, and where it’s the current overdue hours for the whole project that are tracked and whittled down to 0 as the project deadline approaches, so that I don’t have to make up the whole backlog in that one final day, but bit by bit over time. (I use IFTTT for faux-pessimistic-presumptive datapoints on a bunch of whittle-down goals too, and I find this is really helpful in remembering to enter datapoints every day.)

Brilliant, and I think I’ve just decided to make it a rule for myself to do this as well. Thanks for this idea.


For the very first time, I finished all of my grading WITHOUT having to do something that felt like a soul-crushing grading binge!!! I did have to grade at a Greyhound station at 3am, but that was unrelated to akrasia.

I felt that the system adapted really well to the change in backlog when I decided that I wasn’t going to be able to finish everything before leaving on my trip and therefore pushing back my deadline. Rather than feeling a false sense of “deadline is gone!!” relief, it was foregrounded to me that I still had to make some progress, just less.

I definitely notice that the backlog increases more steeply than I emotionally expect it to. Sometimes skipping a day barely seems to make a difference, but as there are fewer and fewer days remaining each skip increases the backlog dramatically more. This makes sense when I think about it, but it does sometimes mean that I was surprised by the impact of a day off. This uneven impact of skipping a day might even be the core akrasia problems: one day off doesn’t really matter, but I can’t take every day off. I think I will get used to this over time.

I now just have a few papers in my to-do pile, which arrived late and therefore are returned to students late, and I am feeling really good about the next batch!


This seems like a good place to note that if the comment on your homegrown pessimistic datapoint starts with “PESSIMISTIC PRESUMPT”, it’ll be automagically deleted when data for that day is added. (i.e. it matches the regex /^PESSIMISTIC PRESUMPT/)


This feature doesn’t seem to be working – my datapoints with “PESSIMISTIC PRESUMPTIVE DATA” are all still present – but I’ve stopped bothering to delete them since the red dots don’t “show” once the real data is added anyway.


So, I’ve discovered a flaw in my system: what happens when it’s after my grading deadline and I still have a few papers left to do?

Earlier when I missed my self-imposed deadlines, the backlog was large enough that I’d derail if I buried my head in the sand – which meant that the goal had the intended effect of making me say to myself, several days before a grading binge, “this is unrealistic and I need to make a new plan.” I swapped in the hard deadline for the self-imposed early deadline and kept working away at the new, slightly more manageable pace (instead of either ignoring or bingeing the backlog in a procrastinating panic, as I would usually do!)

But then I got down to just 3 papers left, the ones that had arrived late in the first place and therefore had more latitude in when I had to return them, and… I just sat there with a backlog of .8 for days.

On the one hand, perhaps this was fine, since it was reading break and my real, real hard deadline is the class tomorrow where I see these students face to face. (I’ll meet this deadline no problem.) In which case I should have updated the due date and been recording backlogs of, like, .05 for a bit. And since there was only about 45 minutes to do, I always felt like I it would be a breeze to knock it all out in one sitting if I needed to.

On the other hand, I did promise the students to have these papers back via email before this point, and my union contract says they were due Nov 7, so it was a pretty real deadline, and I do in theory want to… meet my deadlines.

I think my conclusion is – the goal here is not to end up binge-grading. I didn’t end up binge-grading. Therefore, this behaviour with overdue work is ok. If I want to prevent grading from being overdue I need to beemind overdue-ness directly.