Experiment: Using Beeminder for the sting, but not as the cue

TL;DR: I’m going to try using Beeminder for the accountability part only, using other things to remind me to do the things I’m committing to.

Context: These are just thoughts about how I’m considering about using Beeminder for myself, given my productivity personality, and not meant to be prescriptive or meant to convey some “best” way of using Beeminder or anything!

I’ve been (again) toying with the idea of using Beeminder only as the tool that performs the accountability role, rather than as something that performs the reminding and/or scheduling roles too.

I already have a calendar and a to-do list and I’ve ruthlessly culled and curated my notifications so that only urgent and important things beep and pling and buzz at me, to keep them useful. I’m tempted to try to treat Beeminder, not like something that reminds me to go do something, but like a friend I made a bet with that I’ll do X, Y, or Z (let’s say swim an average of 20 minutes every weekday) and who sure as hell isn’t going to call me to get me out of bed to do it.

If that’s what I’d done, I’d make that commitment, feel the appropriate fear that I’ll forget & have to pay them, and set up 40 different ways of remembering to go swim: A slot in my calendar that I treat as an appointment but that I can reschedule if I need to, a post-it note on the coffee table so that I can’t forget and crash on the couch for the evening before swimming, an item on my daily to-do list until I get into the habit of it (and a plan for the creation of that habit that involves a cue or a trigger), a place where I hang my swimsuit every night so that I will see it before I shower, etc. etc. etc. I’d also want to work out a plan B for each, so that when my original plan-A time doesn’t work, I’m not just stuck for that day… and all the other things that contribute to good goal hygiene.

Then, I’d set my Beeminder deadline to the latest possible time I could ever reasonably consider this something that I’d done that day and set the Beeminder reminder’s start time to when I’d want to be reminded to enter the data, in case I’d forgotten to do so (instead of to remind me to go do the thing).

That way, Beeminder isn’t the cue to get up and go do X now; it’s what makes damned sure I implement the things that will support that in my life, because if I don’t, I’ll get stung. It’s also the reason that I don’t just ignore those well-timed notifications, cues, and to-do items from these other places when they come up.

Why, though?
One benefit of this, as I see it, is that this way I have to have a plan for when and how I’m going to do these things, rather than letting it be something I scramble to satisfy when it appears near the top of my dashboard, which is aversive for me as a way to approach these often sizeable and important things. It also means I’ll have to plan and set up my environment to support that goal, and to find a way for it to fit regularly into my life so that my remembering it and getting into the swing of it is supported by those cues around me and by a solid plan. The Beeminder part is there to make sure I don’t brush it off and ignore it, allowing those routines and habits to take hold. Eventually, I would hope to not need the Beeminder component for that goal, since it would become a habit or part of a routine and then I could replace that Beeminder goal with another, for something new, for the next item on the list of things I want to turn into habits.

There are some other problems that I think this solves for me, but this post is already getting unacceptably long, so…

Sounds hard
My brain’s major objection to that is, “Man, sounds like it’d be hard to set up all of those plans for all of those goals. It’d be almost impossible to switch to doing that overnight with the number of things I’ve planned to do.” To which some more patient, productivity-lit-reading, knows-myself-better-than-that part of me replies, “YEAH! DUH! It takes a lot to actually commit to something, at least at the beginning. So… maybe stop committing to 43 goals at a time, Mary! If it’s too much work to set up the conditions and reminders that’ll keep you doing the thing, how much work do you think doing the actual thing is gonna be?!?!?!?!”

How about you?
I’m curious about whether others have tried anything like this and how it went?

Stay tuned if you’re curious
I’m going to try this again over the next little while and I’ll probably weave how it’s going through us chatting about these kinds of things below.


I don’t think this is as out there as it seems.

This is closer to how I handle Beeminder than how most people use Beeminder, I think. Most of my goals are due after the akrasia horizon, and they only become things I think about as Beeminder goals when they start to get close. Ideally, all my goals would be due after the Akrasia horizon and I’d never even think of them as Beeminder. I know lots of folks would say “what value are you getting from Beeminder?!?!” but it still feels like a lot to me!


Yeah, same here. My ideal model is one on which there are some goals where I still do an “If you don’t do it right now, you will derail” kind of edge skating, for whatever reason, but many others of them are goals that the Beeminder accountability safety net only needs to come up some of the time, and still others where just the goal’s existence is enough to make me never even edge skate on it after I start getting into the real habit of it and that I can eventually replace with a new one (or keep, which is what I’d probably do for anything that’s autodata since… why not?!). Over the years, though, having a Beeminder goal (with the right pledge size for me) makes the will-do/won’t-do difference, no matter how much buffer I end up in the habit of maintaining.

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I think this is a really cool idea, especially for those of us who are self-critical and take being continually barraged by beemergencies (or close beemergencies) as not doing enough.
It seems like a way to be more intentional about the behaviours you really want to change. I find when Beeminder is the cue for such a behaviour, I definitely have the scrambly feel of focusing to dispatch those stings.

I haven’t really tried this for myself, as I mainly use beeminder for a selection of habits that I want to maintain and track data on over the very long haul.

I’m interested to see how you go with this if you decide to do it!


It doesn’t seem out there at all to me - it seems totally normal.

I take it as a given that as well as Beeminder, you need some kind of system for keeping track of what you need to do, and Beeminder on its own doesn’t necessarily suffice for that - though the Android widgets are great and they’re a big part of my system, I also use a paper journal, binder for my to-do list and project list, calendar, schedule, reminders, and so on.

Beeminder isn’t intended to be an all-encompassing reminder system and personal organizer, so it doesn’t seem strange at all to me that someone would choose to deactivate those features (or use them for very limited purposes) and just use the monetary ones.

There are also people who do the opposite - just set up freebees and use Beeminder to log data and remind them, without the monetary kick.


I’m skeptical of this part, though - see Do habits exist? for why. (tl;dr: habits might not exist as we think of them, and they may not become automatic through sheer repetition.)

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Not for me, I don’t think. Too much additional house keeping and alarms that will go off in awkward moments because I forgot to turn them off in advance and then they jump at me during… me laying on the dentist’s chair or during a date or the movies or when the phone is in the other room.
But I’m interested in hearing how it’s turning out and I do think it might, if nothing else, encourage the growth of intrinsic motivation more than Beeminder on its own might do.

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Well … if it’s out there, then I’ve been out there with you all along. I have never used beeminder as a cue, except as a “you are in the red - make sure this is on your todo list for today and do it or you’ll be slapped!”. For me, I really wouldn’t like the feeling of the beeminder overlord standing there with a clipboard to see if the task was done by 2pm precisely, when 3pm is actually fine too. I think I would also find the fine-tuning of the alerts too labour-intensive and fiddly: that’s what calendaring and to-do apps are really good at.

But I guess I’m not an edge-skater, either. Everything not in the green is a cue for me to do it, and things mostly stay in the green even without the queue.

The value than I then get from Beeminder is as a record of what’s done (quantified self), a cue to increase (or decrease) frequency by varying slope angle, and also as the ultimate backstop in ensuring the things get done.


I’m skeptical of this part, though - see Do habits exist? for why. (tl;dr: habits might not exist as we think of them, and they may not become automatic through sheer repetition.)

For me, a number of initially beeminded things have transitioned to habits. That’s a definite win for me - I would far rather automatically do something than have to be nagged. Sometimes I still beemind them (for quantified self reasons), but often I’ll stop doing so, because they are now part of the daily routine.


I think that this scrambly feeling is one of the benefits for a lot of users (I’m lookin’ at you, @dreev :wink: ), but for me, scrambling to prevent a negative consequence feels aversive and I’d like to limit it to only those goals for which I can’t break away from that (yet!). (I do like to scramble for fun, though, or when the consequences are trivial or silly, like a competition with someone, but that scramble feeling breaks apart from what makes me stay on track.)

I’m probably not going to wade into that thread, but whatever you want to call the mechanism that makes brushing my teeth before bed “the natural thing to do” to my brain is what I’m talking about when I say “habit”.

I’m not going to disagree with it not being for you; that’s totally your call! What makes the cue/trigger have to be an alarm, though? Depending on the goal and on what someone knows works for them, can’t it be a gently quiet post-it note or leaving your running shoes in the bathroom so you see them when you wake up or putting the tea where you usually keep the coffee?

I’ll probably always be an edge skater on a few things at a time, but for most, I’m a non-edge-skater in an edge-skater’s clothing… I just end up there when I fail to plan for what works best for me. (Luckily, Beeminder’s there to catch me even when I do that, though!)

Yeah, exactly. It’s my safety net and it provides whatever degree of motivation is required for the height of each goal’s wall to get over and get it done. For some goals, it’s enough to have a $5 pledge charge that would be triggered “at some point in the future if I don’t keep doing X enough” and for others, what’s needed is an $810 pledge charge that will trigger “in 15 minutes if I don’t answer 2 starred/flagged emails right now!”

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I have an essay I’m working on about how I use Beeminder to my areas of responsibility like I use a task manager to my projects.

One of the pieces I’m still developing is that there’s a huge body of work on how to plan projects and execute them, but there isn’t really the same equivalent for areas of responsibility.

“Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.”


I’d be very interested in reading your essay! Can you describe how you do it a little or give a short summary?

I’m a little confused about the quote, though. Are you comparing Areas to maintenance and Projects to building? I don’t see it that way - when I review an Area it’s much more like “building” because you have to decide what new Projects to start, whereas working on current Projects is more like “maintaining.”

So I’d say, everyone wants to build (look at the Area and start new Projects) but no one wants to maintain (continue with the current Projects).

It’s easy for me to get carried away with birds’ eye view Area thinking and get all excited about planning and starting new projects, but it’s the follow-through that I have trouble with (ground level Project thinking).

Interestingly, areas of responsibility (or governing values, as I’ve adopted from the Franklin Covey system) is the piece of my personal system(s) that I feel like I’m the happiest with. I’ve used the same system since I was 18 and feel no real friction in maintaining or using it, so I’ve had no reason to change it much at all. (It’s in some of the steps between those and specific-task execution that I feel there are still some gaps in need of tightening up!) Let’s chat about this sometime in case there are any pieces of what I do that you might find resonate or be useful at sparking ideas.

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I’d love to know about your system for areas of responsibility.

I’m curious what you mean when you equate them with governing values - to me that’s a different topic. I think of areas as being like “relationships,” “family,” “career,” and so on.

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Experiment: Using Beeminder for the sting, but not as the cure

That’s what I keep reading instead of the actual title :sweat_smile:
And it is strangely on point!

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I think we can all agree that Beeminder is the cure. As for the cue, what I do these days is use 5pm for all my deadlines and then have my dashboard open all day. In the evening I often see what non-work beemergencies I have and try to get some of them dispatched so I don’t have to worry about them during the workday.


I’ve started a Beeminder Experiments Journal so that I can report on how the individual goals do while relying only on the external triggers and talk about what triggers are and aren’t working and etc.

It’ll take a while to get them all in there as I update each and review or build their triggers, but I’ll work towards getting each done one by one.

Aside about values and life areas

I think of them as being very tightly connected because those things/areas only matter cause I/you value them. (I have an “Instrumental” category for things I have to do but that I don’t value intrinsically.)


This is actually one of the main reasons I recently quit beeminder.

I want one place to track all habits (the beeminder graphs are great) regardless of priority and don’t want the low priority ones to “sting” (the $0 pledge plan is way too expensive). I want more flexible options for scheduling and goal visibility. I would like to have separate reminders/goals for both the cue (ideal goal) and the sting (bare minimum goal).

Since that wasn’t possible, I found myself going back and forth between having lots of non-legit derails (which flooded my inbox with busy work requiring an email to explain them) and goals with so much buffer that I didn’t see them often enough to create habits.

The lack of a fully-featured habit tracker in Beeminder created so much administrative overhead that I had to stop using it and go back to other tools, which is unfortunate because I feel that Beeminder has a lot of potential.


Is there a habit tracker that does more of what you want for all of your goals and habits and that can be plugged into Beeminder through autodata for the goals you want the accountability for, so that you only have to interact with one place but still get the accountability?

Are they the kinds of things that you could use Complice for? Or Habitica or Trello, or maybe even google sheets? Those all connect to Beeminder either directly or through services like IFTTT and Zapier.

Just a thought!

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That’s a really good idea especially to use Google Sheets. Although two downsides are that it’s slow to load (especially once there’s a lot of data) and the mobile app isn’t really ergonomic.

I’ve previously used (and paid for) HabitBull for a while and it was nice, but it didn’t support all the goal types I had, so I eventually dropped it. There was no desktop app either and it encouraged looking at my phone which was unproductive.

I didn’t really get Complice. And Habitica and Trello don’t fit with how I like to do things.

I currently track habits along with daily todos in a wiki-style notebook (called Zim Wiki). There’s no visualizations / tracking which is a huge downside, but I keep it in my own standard format so I can eventually go back and script something to graph progress. There’s also no mobile app, so I sometimes note habit updates in Google Keep on my phone or on paper and then copy them over. I also use Google Calendar events and reminders for some habits.

I know I’m probably too picky about my apps. My current system is pretty low tech and far from perfect, but it’s been working decently enough for now. If I find something better and more specifically suited for habit tracking, I’m definitely open to switching over.