FAQ (fairness, to-do lists, ...)

A couple questions that have come up chatting with some of you…

(I figure we can collect questions here and turn this into an FAQ. So I’m wikifying this post. If you have an edit to make but it doesn’t let you, let me know. I’m interested to learn how the permissions work for that kind of thing!)

1. Is it fair that my reliability seems lower only because I commit to harder things? Or: Is it fair to inflate your supposed reliability by only ever committing to easy things?

The rule I use is that if I utter “I will” or “I’ll” or “I’m going to” then I must log a commitment. It doesn’t matter how trivial. The only thing the reliability score is meant to measure is “of the times you say you’ll do something, what fraction of the time do you do it?”. If you make sure to only say you’ll do easy things and get a 100%, that’s perfectly allowed. If you want to get yourself to do more hard things, you probably want to use Beeminder. is just about ensuring that your words match your actions. If you do that purely by adjusting your words, that’s still a win. But you may find that is a powerful commitment device too, once you have a reliability score you’re invested in.

Maybe it still feels like apples and oranges if you commit to very different things than someone else. But the important comparison isn’t between different people. It’s from the perspective of the person you’re committing to right now, to compare with your commitments in the past. When Alice tells Bob, “I will do the thing”, Bob can see, empirically, how much he can count on Alice for the thing.

2. Can I create commitments to myself? Maybe even make this my to-do list?

We’re not the boss of you, but it’s a bad idea. It gives you too much flexibility to shape your reliability score beyond its meaning for the people you’re making “I will” statements to. When Bob sees a commitment URL from Alice, her reliability should tell him “of all commitments like this that she’s made to people, how often does she follow through?” If it’s combined with self-commitments, it’s not really telling him that.

It’s not just about goosing your numbers with easy commitments. Probably you’re more likely to flake out on commitments made only to yourself. So by including those you underestimate your reliability when committing to others.

So, no, is not a to-do list. It’s just for tracking explicit commitments you’ve made.

3. Can I delete a commitment?

This is very confusing in the status quo, especially because of how you create new commitments simply by clicking the URL. That means if you create a commitment and then actually fully delete it, like where it’s totally gone from the database as if it never existed, then clicking the URL is just going to create it again. That turns out to be very unexpected for people.

Of course if the URL was never put anywhere where it might be clicked on then that’s not an issue.

But on principle we recommend generally voiding rather than deleting commitments. That has the same effect, removing it from your gallery of commitments, not counting it for or against your score, but leaving the commitment at its original URL. You can also include in the notes the reason you voided it.

(We have a sketch of how to handle this better in the future by hashing the original URL, using that as the commitment ID, and having the best of both worlds with fully deleting commitments in a way that doesn’t surprise users.)


It’s not just about goosing your numbers with easy commitments. Probably you’re more likely to flake out on commitments made only to yourself. So by including those you underestimate your reliability when committing to others.

This assumption surprises me. There’s presumably a subset of people who value their commitments to themselves more than their commitments to others (not judging one as better than the other) and I don’t see why shouldn’t cater to that group as well. In addition, if you’re really right that people routinely flake out on commitments to themselves much more often than commitments to each other, that seems like a huge problem that I’d think you’d want to alleviate with Imagine a person who never misses an event they agreed to go to but fails on even the simplest commitments to themself like “I’m going to get to work on time today”.

I think the better argument against self-commitments is that they’re already taken care of by normal Beeminder, but my counter-argument is that Beeminder only accounts for repeating/easily measurable commitments. Sometimes I want to force myself to do something once just to see if I can and seems perfect for this. For example, the other day, I wanted to see if I could fast for 36 hours and I it. I actually failed, but I’m glad that tracked my failure and I don’t see how I could’ve used regular Beeminder to track this as it’s not something I expect to do on a recurring basis (at this time).


Indeed this is the answer I would give to the question…

But I’m not 100% sold.

The open question is how Bob’s new commitment to Alice compares to Bob’s previous commitments. If Bob only makes commitments of a particular difficulty, then Alice can correctly deduce Bob’s reliability given his history on But if this specific commitment is wildly more or less difficult than Bob’s typical commitment, Alice will probably over or under estimate Bob’s reliability, respectively.

So I don’t think it is about “inflating” your reliability relative to other people, it’s about inflating your reliability when you go on to make an unusually difficulty commitment.

But I think the problem is actually even more complex. I think we are implicitly assuming that reliability decreases with task difficulty, but I’m not sure I believe that. Personally I am often less reliable on more trivial tasks because meeting deadlines for major commitments is more important.

So I think what Alice really needs to know is Bob’s reliability distribution for tasks of this type, difficulty, flavor, etc..

The question about commitments to yourself vs others is just another type of flavor in this N-dimensional reliability space that Alice wants to observe.

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I think @drtall is right in theory. Ideally you’d have self-commitments in their own category, and anyone interested in your reliability would query it relative to the appropriate reference class. Like “non-self-commitments, of similar difficulty, made in a work context”.

But in practice, getting clever with reference classes leads to overfitting and self-delusion. It’s a slippery slope to adding things like “commitments due in the springtime” where you’re really just torturing the data.

Also it doesn’t feel realistic to ontologize one’s commitments like that. (Note to self about my blog post draft on Anti-ontologyism…)

Anyway, @krazemon, you said that if you’re flakier about self-commitments, that’s a big problem that you’d want to help solve. I’m not sure how I feel about that. But I guess my argument generalizes to this: Maybe you’re the type to more readily flake on yourself or maybe you’re the other way around but it would be a big coincidence if your reliabilities for self- and other-commitments were commensurate. They’re two different beasts – personal resolve vs reliability or something like that. Which means adding self-commitments is skewing your reliability one way or the other.

But I’m not super certain I’m right about this. Maybe there are other ways to frame your commitments, like predictions about work you will complete in the future, that let them span self- and other-commitments while being a meaningful measure of a coherent class of things.

It’s just for me personally that class of things is defined as times I literally uttered “I will” to someone. That was the original problem I wanted to solve. Making my future-tense statements to others be true or at least true in the sense of conveying the true amount of uncertainty. Saying “I will” paired with a link now achieves that!

Maybe it’s an important exercise to articulate your own class of things that your commitments represent?

I agree with @drtall and am not entirely convinced by your counter-argument that creating reference classes would lead to data torturing any more than beeminder in general enables data torturing. If you’re the type of person who would create a “commitments due in the springtime” category as a reference class, you also are probably the type of person who will tweak their beeminder measures in un-desirable ways. I don’t have data for this obviously, but the two seem intuitively similar.

That said, you make a good point about being about the space of defined commitments to others, not just general predictions about future one-time actions and I understand that.

Up to now, I viewed like a personal prediction book where any future action qualified as commit-able. For me, that included commitments such as:

  • I will not eat cake at that birthday party.
  • I will stay at that event for at least 1 hour.

I suspect this reflects different struggles and focuses. I tend to struggle more with commitments I make to myself than commitments to other people (I think, haven’t quizzed my friends to get a more unbiased perspective). I’m usually early for events and hate canceling on plans, so I gravitated towards using to deal with commitments to myself, which I perceive myself as breaking more often. I now see that there’s space for the thing and I described and what you described but that optimizes for the latter.


Oh yes this is exactly what I was trying to say, thanks for the link!

It sounds like you’re envisioning a scheme where you manually create categories and hope that you stumble upon the right ones? And I think I agree this will be a wasted effort because if I knew apriori which categories of commitment I am flaky on, then I’d be way ahead of the game. And if I don’t, then the categories I make up will probably not be useful classes.

Instead, what if you used religiously for, say, 6 months, and then went back to try to identify the common pattern in your failed commitments. Would there be enough data + recollection to identify the patterns? Or would it all just boil down to ad hoc excuses and not reveal any general pattern? Could you identify some trial categories to use for the next 6 months and eventually converge on useful categories?

To be clear, I’m not trying to make any argument against’s mission or its efficacy. I’m just enjoying an old fashioned information theory debate :slight_smile:

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Noticed today navigating to that it’s awfully close to - which logs most active github users. Presumably if someone is following the build structure correctly they won’t end up there but might be something to look for.

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For the question “Can I create commitments to myself? Maybe even make this my to-do list?”:

As a new user still feeling my way around the system (loving it though), I fall on @krazemon’s side of this discussion:

Also there’s the cases of those commitments to yourself that are really low-level instances of a high-level commitment to someone else. @krazemon’s “I’m going to get to work on time today” example is really part of your wider commitment to your boss / coworkers / clients and so is relevant to your public reliability score. I’m finding that some of my “personal todos” that I want to put into fall under that category and I feel that is highly beneficial for them.

My current feeling is that if this Q&A goes into a FAQ, maybe vague-it-up a bit? For example, instead of “no, is not a to-do list…” something more like “The way we see is that it’s not a to-do list but if it improves your life / interactions with others, by all means use it as you see fit!”

In Habitica, where I’m a moderator (and you might get sick of me drawing parallels like this in my feedback :slight_smile:), we’re sometimes surprised-impressed by the creative ways that Habiticans adapt Habitica for their needs and we’re often telling new users “use this in any way that works for you!”. That’s part of its value and I wouldn’t be surprised if encouraging use of in a similar way increases uptake.

Disagreements welcome of course! :slight_smile:


A thought on making commitments to self: my first thought was that I would probably make commitments of that sort to an accountability partner (most likely my wife). I’ve done it in my various Slack accounts sometimes: ‘help, I’m procrastinating, if I haven’t done x-non-work-thing by [time], please look at me disapprovingly’. I find this more effective than just promising myself and suspect that making it concrete via a link could only increase that benefit.

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For me, it’s all about quantifying natural utterances of “I will” or “I’ll” or “I’m going to”. So it wouldn’t count to make an I-will statement to an accountability partner just to be able to log it in because that wouldn’t be a natural utterance.

I think @bee and @kim and I are the only ones using it quite that way though.

But I do think there’s value in imposing that constraint even though I see the temptation to extend the scope of to anything you want to, y’know, commit to.

Heh – to me that is a natural utterance of “I will”. :slight_smile: I wouldn’t be saying it in order to put it in – I’d be saying it anyway, would just record and codify it.

Or, well… me saying “Okay, I will clean out the bunnies before six, hold me to that!” is 100% a thing I would say, not necessarily to anyone I actually owe the commitment to, but as a, well… a commitment contract. If i said it to my wife, then, I guess that’s in the spirit of and natural utterance? But if I said it on a social channel on Slack as a way of shaming myself into doing it, it isn’t?

(In which case the actual rule of thumb isn’t record “natural utterance of ‘I will’” but “making a specific commitment to a specific and relevant person”, I guess.)

I’ve been thinking about #2 over my month or so of using and was encouraged by @dreev – to add to / revive this discussion after he noticed that I created and then immediately deleted a personal commitment based on my reservations about #2.

In my month of using it, I’ve done a combination of personal/to-do list commitments and interpersonal commitments. Lately, I’ve tried to use it more for the latter, intended purpose, but I see a use case for both.

Tangent about my adventures with using various platforms to incent me to complete my thesis

My original interest in using (along with being intrigued by the idea and drawn to the commitment-to-contribute as a means to become a beta user) was sparked by trying to find a system that will support me to finish my thesis after years of it being a fairly stagnant work-in-progress. I’ve used a variety of tools and systems for this (Beeminder, Trello, WorkFlowy, Complice, TaskJuggler, Toggl, Todotxt) with mixed success. I’ve found quantifying my progress (via a word count or time tracking) takes my mind away from the substantive work and doesn’t necessarily lead to the qualitative milestones I need to reach. On the other hand, while Complice has been a big help for me in setting daily priorities, through the encouraging social pressure of the co-working rooms, and reflecting on the “enough” question each day – I’ve found that I table many intentions from one day to the next in deference to other more pressing tasks (namely work and caregiving responsibilities) or plain old procrastination. I have used the Beeminder-Complice integration to ensure I complete a number of intentions each week, but even with that it’s difficult to distinguish between whether I’ve made enough progress or not, or if I completed the most salient/the “right” tasks. As well, without an accountability partner, my lack of progress can be pretty invisible as the time slips by without sufficient progress.

RE: Interpersonal Commitments – I am compelled by @dreev’s original post that there is a distinction between personal and interpersonal commitments and that is intended for and better positioned to work for the latter. But as with @shanaqui, I don’t see the distinction between natural utterances and intentional “I will” statements made to an accountability partner as particularly salient.

RE: Personal Commitments – I think my experience was well summed up by @alys – that many personal commitments are a low-level instance of a higher-order interpersonal commitment. For my thesis, for example, I don’t think my advisor would want to be bogged down in the minutiae of code-interview-two-by-friday but may be more interested in an interpersonal commitment of draft-interview-key-themes-by-dec-13; however, without completing the first task by deadline, completing the second becomes less likely for me. While I could use other tools to keep me on track in meeting the larger interpersonal commitments (hence my attempt at TaskJuggler – which was probably overkill and a distraction from the actual work), having both of these commitments on the same platform would be beneficial. As well, I do appreciate / am motivated by avoiding the consequences of failing to meet a commitment deadline and by the second/third/nth chances provided by the Schelling fences. And I like that using for my personal thesis commitments provides a level of visibility to them via their presence on the homepage and, even if it’s to a community that is disconnected from my thesis work, and therefore a behavioral incentive to maintain my commitments.

Long story short:

  • I am going to use as intended for interpersonal commitments – at least primarily.
  • I think it would be beneficial to also use for personal commitments of the like that @alys mentioned (perhaps this could be accomplished via nested commitments).
  • I do see the difference between personal and interpersonal commitments as salient; perhaps both could be accommodated via adding a field to the data structure – a self-commitment boolean, or a simple, mutually exclusive category field (Personal / Interpersonal)? It wouldn’t be as granular as @drtall’s category suggestion, but could perhaps address #2 while avoiding the data torture slippery slope? In the meantime, I’ll add #self as a tag in the details field for any personal commitments I continue to make via
  • This post is brought to you by I definitely would have procrastinated on this if not for the interpersonal commitment. So thanks, @dreev!

Did you end up writing this? I’m eager to read if so!

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It turns out I don’t have much of a draft besides this old tweet:

And this nugget of advice:

start with exactly one category in your ontology and add new ones only in response to an actual thing in the actual world happening that makes you actually need a new category

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Thanks, @dreev. I’ve been working on coding interview transcripts and getting way too detailed with nested codes. A reminder to take a more parsimonious approach is helpful and timely.

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OK, so I have an overdue commitment to answer in this thread. How meta!

I read carefully and here are my (short) comments.

Will be able to show a graph of how my reliability score was changing over the course of time?

I disagree with that.


I’m not convinced about that. A man of high integrity (not me, mind you!) will not care who the commitment is made to, no?


And for me, this is much more a commitment to my wife and children (as of now, I’m the sole breadwinner for them). And is useless for my commitments to them, since they don’t speak English well enough!

Don’t you ever say that to yourself? I’m asking seriously.

Maybe the real dividing line isn’t commitments to others or myself, but natural vs. “unnatural” utterances of “I will”?

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It sure ought to! Really good idea.

I guess not! Not in a verbal way, at least. I think even if I did it would feel completely different from saying it to another person.