Emergency days and failure to plan ahead

I started beeminding 6 months ago, and after derailing three times I’ve noticed a pattern to my derailments. So I wanted to share my experience here and see if the more experienced Beeminders around have advice!

Each time I’ve derailed, it has been because the Emergency Day for the goal I’m beeminding happened to fall on the same day as an even bigger and more important deadline. Most recently, it was the day before I was presenting to a large audience—and my presentation wasn’t ready yet. Once the emergency day hits, I think to myself “today, do I want to do a pomodoro of reading or pay $30 (or $10 or $5) for derailing” and the answer has been “nope, would rather pay.”

The fundamental issue is that the deadlines are foreseeable, and I could have built up a buffer on my beeminder goal earlier…but I haven’t. A few days earlier, I could have noticed “my emergency day will be on the day of a big deadline—do I want to do a pomodoro of reading now or pay $30 in three days” and would definitely have answered “do a pomodoro now!” But there lots of reasons why I don’t even think about that three days in advance: hyperbolic discounting, the stress of being a few days away from a big salient deadline, etc.

Do you have any advice or tips about planning ahead, so that when the EMERGENCY DAY hits it’s not coincident with a more pressing emergency day?


Great question! In hopes of getting the conversation started, here are two vaguely relevant blog posts that come to mind:

And @byorgey has some relevant advice in http://blog.beeminder.com/allthethings about how to beemind a million things at once by starting small, etc.

Thanks for posting some links to get the thoughts flowing, Daniel! The three blog posts you linked to all focus on how to beemind many goals at once. I’m encountering a somewhat different challenge: how to handle conflicts between my (extremely limited) beeminder goals and major deadlines in the rest of my life.

I’m beeminding only one goal right now—pomodoros of reading. It’s a goal I found particularly vulnerable to akrasia and hyperbolic discounting, because reading a bit on any given day is low importance. But making steady progress on my reading goal is very important to me. Overall, beeminding this goal has been a huge success! I’m reading more regularly and in greater volume than before.

But when an emergency day for my beeminder goal falls near an otherwise very important deadline in my life, it sneaks up on me. I had Give Presentation on my calendar and I was pushing hard for days beforehand to get everything ready for the presentation. I didn’t realize early enough that my emergency day for my reading goal would fall on the day before my presentation. By the time I did realize, it was too late: I was in crunch mode getting my presentation ready, and didn’t have time to spare for my “low priority on any given day” reading goal. I was definitely better off paying $30 and getting an extra pomodoro of sleep before my presentation. My only regret is not doing an extra pomodoro of reading 5 days before my presentation.

The most relevant topic I’ve found is @windairen’s thread about planning emergency days in advance. Which led me to @palfrey’s Beeminder calendar integration. (Without reviving a 4 year old thread, let me say here: I think the calendar integration would be an excellent feature to build into beeminder.)

I’ve set up the calendar integration plugin, so now my beeminder emergency day will appear on my calendar alongside the other big deadline dates in my life. I’m hoping that will help me notice conflicts earlier and address them in advance instead of derailing.

If others have their own advice or anecdotes to share, those would be very welcome :smiley:


I used that calendar feature quite successfully during the time I needed it! Agree that it would be a nice feature at some point. I don’t have as big a need for it any more, because my schedule is simpler now, but a couple of my goals would likely still benefit.


Really good thoughts! I know @kim also set up calendar integration recently via IFTTT. I’m not sure which way of setting that up is better but definitely agree it’ll be worth having built in to Beeminder eventually!

One other way of approaching this kind of problem is to embrace the akrasia and just always be skating the edge of your road. So doing a small bit of reading to eke back onto your yellow brick road and dispatch the beemergency would become part of your daily routine. Nothing to sneak up on you. :slight_smile: If you do a bunch of extra reading, ratchet your road to get rid of the safety buffer.

(I realize that’s a completely unsatisfying solution for some people. But others of us thrive on skating the edge…)

PS: Probably you know this but also worth mentioning that you can schedule breaks in your yellow brick road if you’re able to plan ahead and block out busy periods you want to ensure are beemergency-free.

1 Like

I personally have a rule that I can only have one time consuming goal at a time (e.g. spend 20 hours on Japanese a week). All of my other goals must be able to be done within 30 minutes. To make this work you can make your goals smaller.

An implementation would something like this:

Big Goal:

  1. Spend 20 hours working on a business a week

Small Goals:

  1. floss
  2. 5 minutes of meditation
  3. Call parent
  4. Rinse out sink

I have thoughts but as per usual I might be processing them externally. I’ve definitely had the same experience you have had @michaelstepner, where it’s 11:30PM and I don’t have the time, focus, or calories to keep myself from derailing. Where I’d gladly give anyone (including Beeminder) $30 so that I didn’t have to think about the issue for a while.

•So first off, I think that’s a legitimate response. If part of the cost of getting the presentation done is that I (or you) need to pay a fee to put a beeminder on autopilot, I think that’s acceptable. I haven’t found it entirely effective to be guilty and beat myself up for taking a hit. Sometimes if work or family trumps my ability to stay on the road, I’m working on gleefully stepping off.

•The problem comes up if it’s habitual. My first attempt at regular exercise was “go to the gym 3x a week,” and it failed miserably. Sunday through Friday I’d be busy and put it off, and Saturday there was no way I was pushing through three workouts. So the beeminder derailed all the time and I started getting frustrated. I think of myself as an active person, but I also worked at a startup, and it was very hard to make things happen.

Resolution there was that consistency reduces complexity. Instead of working out on any three of seven days, I set myself a daily goal of 80 reps (initially of pushups). I could do those in the gym; I could do them in 8 hourly sets at my desk. Point being, I had to work that goal into my daily routine, and make it light enough that it could fit.

@cgamer1 made a good point. If you only have one goal (and it’s a big one) then there’s no reason to log into beeminder until they’re about to commandeer your credit card. I.e. the issue here could be that you don’t remember beeminder. Something simple (especially something that you might already be winning at, like flossing daily) will remind you that beeminder exists and let you figure out how to work in happy reading time. I check in on beeminder as I set my alarm for bed, and sometimes that involves quickly doing a set of pushups if I’m short for the day. (My wife thinks this is weird.)

•Final thought – it could help to work this issue in to your morning ceremony. Unless the phone starts ringing and you have to hit the ground screaming, you probably have some sort of “plan out my day” thing in the AM. I’ve scheduled “meetings” for reading on my own calendar before, and just told everyone I’m unavailable then. Or I’ve worked a 7:30 - 4:00 so I can jet early and catch up (or so I can read from 7:30 - 8 before people get in the office).

But end of the day, it’s worth looking at the commitment itself. 30 minutes might not be manageable right now. I read an article somewhere once re: productivity that talked about starting habits in insanely small increments. Like, read one page a day. Floss one tooth a night. Literally. Use that to establish a beachhead in your habits, which is kinda the hardest part.

OK, hope something in here was helpful. Calendar integration could be helpful, too. But in absence of that, here’s this.


I suspect the insanely small increments thing was something by BJ Fogg. He does a great job (and the course is free…). http://tinyhabits.com/

1 Like

@erijohns, in your post full of thoughtful points, your first point really resonated with me:

In this particular case, my goal is manageable, I derail infrequently, I don’t forget entirely about beeminder because I’ve set it to send reminder emails a couple few days in advance… and beeminder is working! I’ve made way more progress on my goal in the last 6 months than I did in the previous 6 months :white_check_mark:

So I’m going to try some techniques suggested here to try to be more aware of my goal in the days leading up to the emergency day:

  • I’ve used calendar integration to put the emergency days on my calendar
  • I’ve set a second beeminder goal, to keep me coming back (and making progress on a new goal!)

And, as you recommended in your first point, I’ll forgive myself for derailing sometimes! The $30 at stake kept me on the road for weeks, and when I needed to step off the road it was money well spent.

Thanks everyone for contributing an excellent collection of thoughts and advice. (And the post remains open for further musings if anyone else is thinking about this issue!)