Beeminding deep work with Google forms and Zapier

I’ve been using this system for more than a month, and I’m proud of how well it seems to be tracking and incentivizing the behaviours that matter to me, so I thought I’d share it!

I’m a PhD student deeply indebted to Cal Newport for turning my attention to deep work – serious, sustained focus on difficult ideas – as a critical life-activity to optimize for, particularly in academia. But it’s a tough thing to beemind! Especially since I hate manually entering data.

So, this is my current system: when I want to start working, I fill out an initiation sequence google form, which, via Zapier, submits a 1 to my “initiate deep work” goal. When I’m done working, I fill out a post-mortem google form, which, via Zapier, submits the “hours actually worked” number to my “work deeply” goal. (Those forms take you to copies of my forms, not the ones I use, so you won’t affect my goals if you submit data to them.) It’s simple, but powerful!

It doesn’t feel like “manually entering data” because I find the forms valuable tools in and of themselves. It’s easy to start filling out a form, and the questions transition me into a working frame of mind.[1] The recap, too, is a rewarding moment of reflecting on my accomplishment and giving myself permission to stop working.

I’ve already derailed on “work deeply” once, which seemed like proof of the goal’s measurement accuracy: when I saw the derail coming, I had to start rearranging my life to carve out true-work time, and strategizing around my mental focus. When I failed to do the sustained cognitive work I needed to do, I couldn’t fake it with make-work – I derailed.[2]

Even better, gradually dialing up the road on the “work deeply” goal will encourage me to gradually improve my focus and increase the length of my work sessions.[3] It also encourages me to be very intentional about my work: if I happen to get a lot done, it doesn’t ‘count’ unless I’ve set goals in advance.

I was really pleasantly surprised by the granularity of detail possible with the Zapier / Google Sheets / Beeminder integrations, so this general principle is probably adaptable to a very wide range of semi-qualitative goals! I highly recommend it.

[1] I recommend the ‘initiation sequence’ independent of everything else, actually, if it’s at all applicable to the kind of work you do – I could never have predicted the helpfulness of writing out the steps I intended to follow, for example, but it really improves the quality of my work when I’m shifting from routine to complex tasks!
[2] Yes, I could have lied to the form, but as we all know, that would have immediately destroyed its utility, so I refrained.
[3] Or, I suppose, to find a lot of 45-minute focused sessions throughout the week, but that is a fine outcome, too.


Thanks for sharing! I have also been impressed with what little I have read from Cal Newport, and have been toying with the idea of using beeminder to track deep work, but I hadn’t thought through the implementation details yet — so this will be super helpful if and when I do start tracking deep work.

One minor thing — your link to the post-mortem form seems to be incorrect (it links to your “initiate deep work” goal). Could you fix it? I am very interested to see what the post-mortem form is like.


Oh! Sorry about that–I’ve fixed the link!

The post-mortem form is the one I am toying with the most, trying to decide what is actually helpful there. Originally I had a question prompting me to reflect on the accuracy of my time estimates, for example, which I wasn’t finding useful (since my estimates were usually very accurate) but am now reflecting on adding back in (because they weren’t always accurate). I’m also considering a “what should you start with next time?” or “when will you work on this again?” sort of question… I’d love to hear ideas!

I definitely like the pie charts, though:


The forms look quite interesting. Will try them out tomorrow. Thank you for sharing! :slight_smile:

As another Cal Newport fan who is struggling to incorporate more deep work into my life, thank you so much for this!

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Super excited to try it!

This is the missing piece of my deep work tools. Beminder, KanbanFlow with Pomodoro counted automatically in a beeminder goal, and now these awesome forms to initiate the mind settings for a deep work.

Many Thanks!

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