Beeminding studying: input or output measurement & incentives for focusing

I’m beeminding how many pomodoros of calculus exercises I’m doing per day using Complice.

Problem: I have ADHD, which makes focusing while I’m working on these exercises quite difficult. I’m above the yellow brick road, but I’m actually getting very little done in terms of actual work. I don’t usually have a problem during exams because of the urgency associated with them, which makes me think I need an incentive to supply effort if it’s going to happen.

I haven’t been able to exploit the exam urgency using Beeminder, because I’m measuring studying time, not effort. So the deadline gets me off the couch and at my desk, but my brain remains in the clouds. In order to stress me out enough to get me spitting out answers more like I do during an exam, I would have to track my exercise output. But I’m doing the exercises because I’m not yet proficient; if I run into a question I keep getting wrong, I’m likely to end up derailing and I’ll just get disappointed and frustrated. I should probably try tracking my effort input instead, but how? Any suggestions?

I thought of a workaround as I was writing this, but it might be sketchy to implement:

  • Run TagTime; ping rate = 1 per minute on average.
  • If it pings when I’m daydreaming I have to reset the timer.


  • It’s closer to tracking effort then either time or exercise output, I think.
  • The optimal timer length (i.e. cost of getting caught daydreaming) and ping frequency is probably going to take some time to find. Or maybe not.
  • I haven’t used TagTime at all, but I figure I can’t get this to reset the timer automatically if I tag a ping as a daydream.

I’m going to poke around on the forum some more and probably try it tomorrow.

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Trying to improve focus by having something randomly beep every 60 seconds or so sounds like a really bad idea.

Counting the number of pomodoros is good.

But if you’re having trouble staying on task, use shorter pomodoros. (You can always increase the required number)

Try starting with 5 minutes.
If you catch yourself off task at the end that pomodoro doesn’t count.

If you go off task during the pomodoro, you just notice this, shrug, and get back to work.

If you find you’re gaming the system by waiting until 4.58 to restart so your pomodoro counts, you’ve got bigger problems.

Make sure you have a timer that counts up as well, so when you get engrossed in the task and forget to restart your pomodoro timer you can still credit yourself for the time you spent.


I would recommend two new Beeminder goals. One for attempted exercises and one for completed exercises. Set the number required for attempted exercises higher than the number for completed exercise.

During the pomodoro, treat the exercises like an exam. Try as many as possible. For each question that you managed to find some answer, add a point to your attempted exercises goal.

Then take the next pomodoro to check your answers and to try to find any mistakes that you made. If you can’t find a mistake in your written solution, try the exercise from scratch at most one more time. Sometimes mistakes like dropped minus signs are hard to see. For each question that you eventually get correct, add a point to your completed exercises goal.

If you still haven’t solved a problem after two attempts, put it in a list of problems to take to a friend or to your professor to ask for help. Two attempts isn’t a hard and fast rule, but you do want to limit your number of solo attempts and ask for help so you can move forward.

There are two things you want to accomplish during these pomodoros. First, you need to try lots of problems. Second, you need to monitor your learning. You need to figure out which types of problems you have trouble with, so you can focus your time on those. You need to figure out what types of mistakes you typically make, so you can avoid them in the future and check for them if you have time at the end of an exam.


I’ve never tried setting TagTime’s interval to 1 minute but I disagree with @insti that that’s necessarily distracting. I find TagTime pings refocusing. And you’re not stopping to record anything when they happen, they’re just prompts to notice if you’re on task or not. Every time you hear a ping and your brain was on task that’s a mini mental reward – in my experience (even when actually answering the ping) that can happen without derailing your train of thought. If the ping happens and your brain is in lalaland then you’re punished by having to start the pomodoro over.

I mean 1 minute might be extreme since so many pings will be pretty much on top of each other. But whatever the shortest interval is such that it’s not too annoying… I’m liking that idea.