Completing your PhD with Beeminder

Continuing the discussion from 2016 Planning (aka Resolutions):

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A custom sub-category on RescueTime with just the apps/sites that are part of your editing process is a good metric for me (using this for a couple of projects).


In the spirit of ‘should’, yep, that’s a great place to start. Do that today! You can always swap it out for something (or things) more suitable later.


Already done!


Personally, I would double up for this one, I think. I would absolutely have a goal for hours spent working on it, and then I’d have another that represents some kind of progress on it.

If you’re at the point of doing a proofreading kind of editing, it could be a “Number of pages completed” goal (odometer type), and then you could just work your way through it. Otherwise, if it requires a lot of major editing (moving sections around, etc.) which isn’t very linear, I’m not really sure what I would suggest for progress tracking. Maybe something like the one-must-do-task-per-day goal, but just for your PhD. Or perhaps have one document with the original version, and another blank document with a new, edited version, and you can move all edited pieces into the new document as they’re completed, and keep track of the word count as you move it over. And you can do an odom-reset each time you start a new rewrite. I’m just spit-balling, but I’m sure there’s something like that that could work for whatever your preferred editing method is.

(I’d probably also make both of them pretty moderate goals, myself. You’ll have some redundancy built in anyway, so that you won’t end up just floundering.)

As an aside, I think we should create a thread, or maybe even a forum section, for Beeminding academic goals sometime and exchange ideas.


A few years back I tried reverse-engineering it by chapter (i.e. I have a certain amount of time, so each chapter must be done in y days), but that didn’t work and the moment I got behind there was no way to recover. So I need goals that keep me working to start with, and only later when I have a better idea of how far on I am can I start doing chapter-by-chapter goals.


Multiple goals:

  1. Time - As covered above

2-n) Per task percentage goals.
eg: Read how to write a Thesis by end of month,
Finish first draft by 3 months from now.

The value of the values you enter on these percentage goals can be variable, and the last 10% of the work always takes 90% of the time, but they give you an indicator of where you need to be making progress.

(If you don’t want too many goals and are happy with serial tasks you can use an odometer goal for the second one.)


Makes sense to me.

Pre-Beeminder story: “If I don’t submit it by X, I will only be able to submit it months later after the professors’ vacations”. That’s what made me wrap up the PhD. It was more powerful than any of the goals I set myself, e.g. “proofread everything by end of the week”, “incorporate feedback this week”, “make a list of every remaining obstacle, and estimate how long each one will take”.

Nowadays, at work, I estimate weekly what (parts of) tasks I can accomplish the upcoming week. Then I review last week’s goals - how much I shipped, what kept me from getting more done, and where I mis-estimated. Finally, I tell my boss. Daily goals complement the process.

Also, I’m anal about good work habits. Things I’m trying, to varying degrees of success: No surfing, chatting, breaks at my desk. One todo-list and one calendar to rule them all. Breaks as soon as I don’t feel productive anymore. Strategy Monday for prioritizing and big-picture work. Updating a soft-skills introspection diary after each meeting. Drop or delegate one task every week.


Congrats on being ABD!

One piece of editing advice that I’ve implemented partially for other projects and intend to do for my own dissertation some day is just… printing out and re-typing the whole thing. It makes it really easy to see and take advantage of the small ways that individual sentences can be improved, and gets you into a mindset where the default action is “change it.”

I also like to edit things in order of how embarrassing I find them, so that the whole process is one of improvement, and so that the worst stuff will definitely be taken care of even if I don’t have time to edit the whole thing.

(These two habits are more easily combined because I write in Scrivener, but this probably isn’t the right time to switch word processors.)

In terms of how to beemind that – well, if you were retyping, you could track words. But I haven’t found things-accomplished metrics to be nearly as helpful as time-spent, since a lot of times the thing you need to do is spend an hour looking up information for what turns out to be a really short footnote, and it’s a bummer when your things-accomplished metric doesn’t really recognize that.

My personal experiments this term revolve around making sure I have really high-quality work sessions. I have one goal for the number of times that I initiate a really serious work session by running through my checklist (work playlist on, FocusTime on, phone off, etc), and setting a task and period of time to work, and another goal tracking the hours I spend working in this kind of focused state. You might think about what things contribute to really good work for you – going to a cafe, or getting a good night’s sleep, or whatever it might be – and add goals beeminding those habits, too.

I definitely err on the side of tracking a couple different things, and archiving the ones that don’t turn out to be helpful. Big amorphous projects can be hard to get a handle on except by trial and error.

It sounds like you’re really close to the finish line! Good luck!


While tracking time can be more “fair” (e.g. you measure input, how much effort you put into the project), it’s important to also track progress (e.g. output, and for improved effect: progress combined with deadlines) as @insti suggested.

I’m currently trying a relatively easy way to track both input and output at the same time for a writing project: I put in my Habitica to-do list items like

  • 15’ spent on project (i need a goal as small as that in order to get into flow)
  • 30’ spent on project
  • 45’ spent on project
  • 1h spent on project
    as well as
  • reach 200 words in chapter X
  • reach 400 words in chapter X
  • reach 600 words in chapter X

Basically i just keep fooling my lazy mind with imaginary digital points :slight_smile:


I did a Odometer goal with the number of pages in my thesis draft.


i.e. tracked the number of pages edited once you had established a target ?

Just an update here. And thanks for the advice. I created a time goal, which I coupled with some things I’d been reading in Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work.

This morning I reached 95,531 words, which is about as much as I’m going to get away with including in my dissertation. There isn’t much to be done now. Some polishing, but overall I’m feeling pretty good with this draft. My supervisor is happy.

Obviously I could have done it without Beeminder. Nobody from Team Bee wrote it for me. But this deep work goal and an earlier 100,000 shitty-words-of-a-first-draft goal a few years back really have kept me focused.


Congratulations, Alex! (Or pre-congratulations?) And thanks for this update! This is the kind of feedback we live for.

By the want-can-will test you necessarily could have. But would you have? :slight_smile:

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