Beeminder Forum

How to build a habit of finishing things?


One input that briefly had some success for me was “running through a pre-work checklist”, which was meant to make me record in a google form exactly what I was going to do and why… but staying on task is only one reason I track outputs; the other is to have an accurate picture of whether my inputs are working. What if the pre-work checklist isn’t keeping you focused on completion? How would you know?

I also tend to find tracking outputs really invigorating, because it helps me get creative about all the ways that I can influence the output as directly as possible. If I just track inputs I get too complacent and can overlook obvious wins.

So for my ongoing “dissertation output metrics” quest, I have made another goal (whittle-down of a Trello to-do list). I am now using all of the following goals to push myself to write my dissertation:

  1. - input, general: tracks Toggl entries tagged with “Real Work”
  2. - input, general: tracks RescueTime usage of writing software
  3. - input, diss: tracks staying in contact with one of my committee members
  4. - ???, diss: tracks commits to my dissertation GitHub repo
  5. - ???, diss: tracks the current wordcount of my diss draft
  6. - output, diss: tracks the submission of complete chapter drafts to my committee
  7. - output, ch 1: tracks completion of a Trello to-do list

I also have the following goals meant to increase the general quality of the diss:

  1. - input, breadth: tracks exposure to new research in my field
  2. - input, depth: encourages memorization of key dates and facts in my period
  3. - input, depth: tracks progress reading a dense history of my period

Part of what this conversation has made me realise is that both “commits to a GitHub repo” and “total word count” feel like they are outputs, but actually it’s possible to increase those numbers forever without getting closer to the true output of “finished chapters”.

With word count in particular, deleting words is often crucial to finishing, and adding words can get a draft farther from done: it’s necessary to track, but it can’t stand in as the sole metric of “completion.”


I do track an input (time spent on project) and also output (planned tasks that are completed). The input goal is useful when a task needs a lot of effort which can be demotivating. The output goal is needed to drive focus on delivering value to the client or finishing that document instead of endlessly doing research.


Yeah, it’s often said that focusing on the wrong metric can lead to failure as you try to satisfy the metric and miss the actual goal.