Beeminder, personal goals, and COVID-19

I thought I would create a thread for people to share their experiences of how they are adapting their personal and life goals to the current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic. Honestly I haven’t even had the space to consider it much yet since things have been pretty crazy—the institution where I teach just announced yesterday that we are suspending in-person classes for the rest of the semester, taking a two-week spring break, and resuming virtual classes at the end of the month. Obviously that means my life is going to be changing pretty drastically in some ways; though in other ways it will stay the same. I assume others’ lives have been similarly disrupted, so I’m interested to hear people’s stories, so we can support and learn from one another.


Thanks so much for starting this thread, @byorgey!

My own Beeminder goals are all unchanged despite coronavirus, but now’s a good time for people to adjust them based on changing circumstances. I might actually dial up work-related goals since various events like skate races are being canceled. Or I may just end up channeling all the extra energy into…

Data nerdery

Is anyone else using as a definitive/authoritative real-time dataset?

It seems very good and @morehavoc and I have been working on constructing some metrics for deciding when we should no longer, say, step outside the house, as well as answering questions like whether we can expect current measures (closing schools, canceling most events) to impact the trajectory.

Although I’ve been encouraging friends/family to prepare since February [pats self on head for very mild prescience] my sense is that today, in Oregon at least, it’s still safe to do things like go to the grocery store. I don’t think it’s crazy to be ready and able to isolate yourself completely for months, if this hits like a tidal wave sometime in the coming weeks, as the math predicts. (And freaking out early helps it not do that!)


  1. 3blue1brown on exponential growth: (“the only thing we have to fear is lack of fear itself”)
  2. Hacker News discussion of the Johns Hopkins data, with links to other dashboards:
  3. Attempt to infer actual cases from confirmed cases (to get the micromorts – how likely you are to get exposed/infected/killed by going out):
  4. More data, with growth factors:
  5. Promising data source I haven’t evaluated yet:

Also we watched the 2011 movie “Contagion” today. It’s really good! And more than mildly prescient.


Most of my goals are unaffected – I always worked from home and had this particular set of circumstances. I have archived my activeminutes goal, because my fitbit isn’t picking up my home workouts and I don’t want to stay committed to going out for a walk to top it up. (Especially since I did go for a walk yesterday and it didn’t notice that either?! What’s going on here… ah, syncing issues. Ahem, digression.)

What I am doing, for general mental health in future as well as for this specific situation, is adding a few new goals. One I’ve already implemented is /nonewsisgoodnews, which restricts me to checking the news twice a day (with news accounts muted on Twitter and a lot of keywords too), because that’s really just a whole anxiousness cycle.

Then there are a few others I have in mind that just generally target keeping me busy; I’m planning on signing up to some more online classes again, including the COVID-19 one on FutureLearn, so I’ll make some goals for enforcing progress on those. I might also look for online singing tutorials; I’ve had some vocal training, but in a fairly informal “just learn to sing these particular songs you love” sort of way (my singing teacher correctly assessed my aims at the time).

I may also add in some bedtime yoga, as I used to have a link to a very good bedtime routine that did help me sleep better, which is proving a problem at the moment.

Aaaand I’ve been meaning for a while to set up goals to remind me to regularly reach out to folks I went to university with; being so far apart, we see each other very little, and it’d be good to reconnect.

All of these aren’t just about COVID, but they are prompted by dealing with stuff the panic has brought to the forefront.


I’ve been thinking about this, too, @byorgey! Thank you for starting the thread.

My company has gone remote-preferred for the time being and my wife’s institution is also going to remote instruction. I put both organizations in the list at It seems like a useful way to build social pressure on either institutions to also make changes for social distancing.

Kids schools aren’t closed everywhere in Vermont yet, but I expect that to change in the next week or two. Once that happens, my wife and I will be trying to be keep up with job duties while also taking care of a six year old and seventeen month old…

I anticipate challenges.

I’ve started by making some adjustments to various health and mood related goals: increasing exercise targets, restarting my grumps goal, and giving myself some slack on vegetable servings, in preparation for needing to ration the frozen veggies, etc. we have. I’m also increasing my time spent doing chores target. We’ll all be happier if we’re cooped up in a clean house and I know it will improve my mood to do useful, pro-social things are my family.

For maintaining productivity, I’m restarting Complice intentions and outcomes tracking as well as pomodoro tracking. With more constrained work-time available, what time I do have needs to be high impact! I’m not tracking this, but I have put stricter media diet schedules in place with — a brief window in the morning for both reading news and Twitter, rather than letting myself marinate in coronavirus anxiety all day!


Working from home means that I haven’t felt much of a change yet, though my boss has made noises about perhaps switching to video calls instead of my semi-weekly office visits for a while.

I’m probably most likely to feel like things have changed on the weekends. This weekend was the first that our church canceled services due to the pandemic. I could see making some tweaks to goals to help my wife and I manage better at home all day for the weekends.

We’re also unsure how long we’ll continue going to our gym. That wouldn’t really require a goal tweak since my workout goal can be satisfied at home, but I may think about making other health-related goal changes since my home workouts aren’t really comparable to the level of exercise I get at the gym.


Hi, Italian here.

I haven’t left my house in a few weeks, so I’m being able to concentrate a bit more on studying & my goals.

Please err on the side of being paranoid. At the worst, you look silly in retrospect.


Great thread, @byorgey! I’m fortunate in not having to work, so my goals are all stable. The exercise goal might have to change focus if the gym closes, but there’s plenty to do out in the fresh air. Plenty of friends are being asked to work remotely, though, so it’s starting to impact them.

On Data nerdery, I too have been looking at that repo for global data. There are more specific country ones if you look: here in the UK, I’ve also used COVID-19: track coronavirus cases - GOV.UKPublic Health England’s data, which has regional-specific numbers across the UK.

Using these two, I’ve been comparing the UK’s growth rate to Italy, as the leading (i.e., worst) country which has a broadly comparable health system. Both have a doubling rate of 2.5-3.5 days at the moment, with the UK lagging Italy in total cases by 14-15 days. These doubling rates seem broadly consistent with the current US numbers, too. (Of course, all are only counting positively tested cases, with the actual population rates estimated at maybe 5-10x these numbers, either asymptomatic or “it’s just a cough”.)

My attempts at building a more sophisticated epidemiological model are purely for programming practice, and I won’t embarrass anyone by sharing them :slight_smile: They do suggest that as social distancing ramps up, and as there start to be people in the population who have recovered and are now very likely immune, the growth rates will flatten massively. Slight variations in assumptions give order of magnitude differences in final totals, though, so they aren’t much use for real modelling.


It’s during stressful times like this that I am most grateful for Beeminder.

The majority of the time, I would do the majority of my goals whether or not Beeminder existed–I use Beeminder mostly as a safety net. (There are particular goals where Beeminder pushes me multiple times a week though!)

However, after I get super bogged down with work, or after I get done being sick in bed for a week, or after my life changes in a big way, Beeminder gets me back on track faster than anything I have found yet in my life. I love that all the commitments that Beeminder holds me to are of my own creation. If I sit down and think that one of my goals isn’t important anymore, or is less important than I thought? It’s easy enough to change my rate, or put in a month break, or whatever, and then get down and do 70 pushups to get me the buffer I need to not care. (Pushups are just an example; I’m definitely keeping my pushup goal!)

One of the ways I’ve described Beeminder to other people is, “You know the blinding clarity of a deadline? When you have to get that paper to your boss by 5 PM, everything else drops away and you’re a being of pure energy focussed on getting results? What if I told you you could get deadlines whenever you want, for whatever you want?”


Thanks, all, for the responses! It’s encouraging reading about other people’s experiences and ideas. I just went through and adjusted some of my goals in order to create more margin for myself—public schools are still open here but it seems quite likely they may close at some point soon [edited to add: public schools are now officially closed for the next two weeks], which would require a lot more flexibility in caring for two kids at home while continuing to work. So for example I put my deep work goal on hold, since I honestly don’t know whether setting aside big chunks of time for uninterrupted work will be possible/reasonable. However, I didn’t end up adjusting as many as I thought I would—many of my goals represent things that keep me grounded and improve my quality of life (e.g. studying Hebrew and Spanish, cleaning around the house, etc.) and I need those now more than ever. Technically I would create more time in my schedule if I got rid of those, but I probably wouldn’t actually spend the extra time doing anything productive and my mental health would suffer.

Like @adamwolf I am also especially glad for Beeminder at times like this, since I don’t have to rely on external cues related to my circumstances or patterns of life to prompt me to do things that align with my goals. I know Beeminder will continue to prompt me to do things that I value even in the midst of fluctuating circumstances.


Ooh, you just reminded me of an important, poignant (and being 5 years old we could even say classic) Beeminder blog post by @philip:

Oh my goodness so good! I should tweet that … and done.


This being said, what are the effects on me and my goals? Basically zero. Effectively I have been living in quarantine for months now, thanks to this goal:

Which is not a good thing to do. Can not recommend. I’m gonna do things very differently for my Master’s Thesis.


I won’t say how I made this model about the Italian total cases because I’m so very pathetically weak at math and stats, but at least I get something that looks like a reasonable graph. We’re at 20 on the x axis today.

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Hello everyone,

I also thought about the necessity of this thread or something similar. I am Catalan, living near Barcelona. A lot of my work goals have now been changed, as I have to work from home and I cannot do the same and I have also changed the place where I am staying.

I think that there is a need for me to create and stablish a new kind of routine in order to keep myself mentally sane and actually do something regulary (I don’t really care if it is productive or not, all I actually want is to have some kind of feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day, and not of “I have been jumping from one activity to another every 15 minutes”).

I am going to be using Notion for that, I think and then link it to some goal in Beeminder.

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The decisions about what to do at a personal level seem different for those that might generalise. My mother is in her 80s, and so we’ve set up skype for her and will be able to shop for her if/when she decides to self-isolate.

My personal logic is that it’s better not to do this at this stage. I’m fit and healthy and not in an at-risk group, so if I were to catch anything, I’d very likely be fine. I would be able to self-isolate effectively, would not spread it any further.

In addition, and pro-socially, once I’d recovered, I’d be able to help others as the broader situation gets potentially worse, without any risks to them (or myself).

OTOH, if I were to develop problems, then getting it early means the healthcare system will still be in reasonable shape, compared to what it’ll be like at peak. This calculation will change at some point, as the risk of me burdening the future-overloaded healthcare system becomes too high.

So self-isolating right now seemsfor me personally to be sub-optimal both for myself and for society. I don’t know what the name for situations where personal rules don’t generalise, but this seems to be one of them!

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My understanding is that you can have and spread the virus for up to two weeks before you show any symptoms, such that you could be infecting hundreds of people without you (possibly ever, if your case ends as asymptomatic) knowing. Is this incorrect?


@eugeniobruno asks a key question:

My understanding is that you can have and spread the virus for up to two weeks before you show any symptoms, such that you could be infecting hundreds of people without you (possibly ever, if your case ends as asymptomatic) knowing. Is this incorrect?

According to the CDC, this is currently believed to be incorrect. They say:

Can someone spread the virus without being sick?

  • People are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest).
  • Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms; there have been reports of this occurring with this new coronavirus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

It’s true that the incubation period is 2-14 days (mean 5.5 days), but you are not thought to be infectious basically until symptoms show up - you are not “shedding” enough of the virus yourself to be infectious. This is supported by the relatively low R0 of 2-2.5 This is the number of people an infected person is likely to infect - 1 sick person infects on average 2 to 2.5 others. So you aren’t infecting tens or hundreds of others - we would have seen entirely different spread patterns if that were the case. For diseases like measles, where you are infectious for up to 14 days before the symptoms appear, R0 is 15-20, and you see much faster spread.

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I just hope you are right.

I have not followed the various papers coming out every day (and I’m not a medicine professional), so while I wouldn’t generally trust the CDC I can’t say I have done any research to challenge what they say.

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At this point we should each assume that we could spread this virus to others.

Well cited sources in this article

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Depending on where you are, the risk is already too high. The Washington Post has a good article on social distancing which I believe demonstrates why you should be doing it already.

I only have a BSc in biology so I am not an expert, but I did study emerging infectious diseases and write my dissertation on a respiratory disease. My informed and considered opinion is that we should all stay home and avoid non-essential contact once community spread is demonstrated in our countries or, in larger countries, our states/counties/etc. Diseases spread by meeting susceptibles in the population. If all susceptibles remove themselves from the population [insofar as that is possible], it cannot spread. That’s not going to happen, but we can reduce the number of susceptibles out and about at any one time, and slow the outbreak. It’s not about whether you get sick, it’s about whether you then get an asthmatic or immunocompromised or diabetic or elderly person sick.

The peak in the UK is IIRC estimated to be in 10-14 days, i.e. people who are healthy now will develop it all at once. I’m not planning on being one of them if I can physically help it!

If we’ve taken these measures in time, they’ll seem overblown in six months. That’s the ideal scenario.


I agree, there’s a lot we still don’t know, and caution is clearly the watchword. Large-scale social distancing is going to help tremendously - this is a great paper with detailed calculations for different kinds of distancing and the impact it’ll make (UK and US).

I would say the press aren’t always helpful in how they report this, even our usual reputable sources. The Gizmodo article referenced above, for example, says:

Some researchers have found that people are most contagious before and during the first week that symptoms start

Follow that link, and you get to a ScienceNews article headlined

Coronavirus is most contagious before and during the first week of symptoms**

Which is a scary claim. But when you follow the links in that, to the original paper, you get to a paper which doesn’t say what the headline says. Its conclusions instead say the opposite, that you can continue to shed virus after (not before) your symptoms are present:

Conclusions: The present study shows that COVID-19 can often present as a common cold-like illness. SARS-CoV-2 can actively replicate in the upper respiratory tract, and is shed for a prolonged time after symptoms end, including in stool. These findings suggest adjustments of current case definitions and re-evaluation of the prospects of outbreak containment.

Also not a fun conclusion, but not the one they were reporting!

Social distancing is clearly going to be the answer at the level of the group. We’ve been doing this for ever - my house is a mile outside the local town, and is there because it’s where the people with cholera were sent to keep them away from everyone else, back in the day (which I guess helped them no end - it had its own well!).

I was really thinking in my original post about the general case where there’s conflict between individual optimisation and societal optimisation. For example, hoarding is a terrible thing to do from a societal PoV, but (at some level) rational for the individual. I guess this is just one of those coordination problems that we never seem to be able to solve as a society. What we need is a group Beeminder!!