Beeminder Forum

Beeminder, personal goals, and COVID-19

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!!

I’ll probably need to duck for cover as I say this, but… look at voting in the context of a game-theoretic framework, assign values to the impact of your vote, the cost of the transportation to get to the voting place, the dangers associated with that if you go by car, and so on. Literally run the numbers. … obviously the complete opposite of what you have to tell everyone to do :slight_smile:

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On the title topic of this thread: I’m pausing all my nonessential goals while I figure out how to fit in work hours with an attention-demanding three year old in the house.


Good point, @eugeniobruno, voting does look like one of those cases where there’s a conflict between the best goals for a (selfish) individual, and the best goals for a society.

Reflecting on this, it’s obvious what the word that’s commonly used to describe this sort of thing: morality. That’s what moral codes are for - to fix the disconnect between what’s good for everyone, and what’s good for you. If you’re an Ayn Rand follower, it’s for all the sheeple to follow, if you’re a believer in the Golden Rule, or The Veil of Ignorance, then it’s simply doing the right thing.

Anyway, we’ve drifted far from Beeminder here, so I’ll step away now…

Although I still think the idea of Beeminder for a team or a group would be a great way to solve these sort of things in the real world!

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RIght now, on Italian TV, a professor of Virology (or similar, can’t recall) from an Italian University just said that it’s clear that asymptomatic people who meet multiple people are very possible spreaders, and should be ideally tested regardless of symptoms. Seems to disagree with that CDC guideline.

EDIT: this is the one. Google translates it pretty well.


Thanks @eugeniobruno, that’s a great article. It’s the best kind of survey (of a whole population) to give us this data, and I’m glad we’re finding more out about this.

I’ve even found the term of art for this kind of thing: “clinical iceberg”. It’s about how many people with a condition aren’t seen by the healthcare system, versus those who are. In the end, this will grow herd immunity without stressing the healthcare system, but in the short term it’s clearly a worry.

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I’m worried the economic/social/psychological impacts of a full lockdown (Shelter in Place) are not being taken seriously enough.

Another approach, which seems potentially feasible now, is to put better hygienic practices into place that reduce the transmission rate but allow businesses to reopen and generally ease the lockdown. I wrote some thoughts here (draft, please don’t distribute widely, but feel free to add comments in the doc):

It’s largely based on this article

which suggests that COVID-19 does not generally spread through the air.

Any feedback would be very welcome.

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Thanks for making an increasingly important thread. Like most other people in this thread, my Beeminder systems haven’t really been effected by COVID-19 or the actions taken place against it–instead I have more time to work on things.

That being said, the consequences of this virus have been making me re-evaluate my goals deeply–my own improvement seems irrelevant to me right now, and I’m trying to figure out the most effective ways to help others.

You can read (a lot) more in my beejournal thread if you’d like.