Is Total Buffer a better metric than Urgency Load?

Thanks to @skorytnicki for proposing this in the forum thread about a custom Beeminder iOS widget. The question is why not beemind the sum of your safe days across all your goals (but capped at 7 for each)? The original reason was that we thought it might be perverse if you could improve your Total Buffer by adding new edge-skatey goals.

But, to repeat myself from the other thread, maybe that’s actually ok? Maybe it’s a bit like an ice cream truck loophole. Realistically you’re not going to be tempted to dispatch your “get more safety buffer” meta goal by creating a new Beeminder goal. Unless you want a new goal anyway, in which case, so bee it? :thinking:

To review, here’s the explanation of Urgency Load in its current form:

The idea of Urgency Load is to construct a single number that captures how edge-skatey you are across all your goals. One way to do that would be to sum up how many safe days you have on all your goals. So the higher the number, the more safety, the better. But it’s not great how adding additional edge-skatey goals adds more total safe days across all your goals. More goals means more (potential) urgency; that shouldn’t improve the metric! So Adam cleverly flipped it around: Every day of safety buffer less than 7 is a day of urgency. Sum those over all your graphs and you have an urgency metric that you want to keep as low as possible. A beemergency adds a full 7 to your urgency load, having 6 days of safety buffer on something adds 1, etc. And adding new goals can at best leave your urgency load unchanged, if you keep them at 7+ days of buffer.

Here’s the official Urgency Load formula:

\sum_{g\in \operatorname{goals}} \max\mathopen{}\left(0,\min(7,m_g)-b_g\right)

where m_g is the number of days till goal g ends and b_g is g's safety buffer.

The formula for Total Buffer would be this:

\sum_{g\in \operatorname{goals}} \min(7,m_g, b_g)

In words, just sum up your safe days on all goals but you can never get credit for more than 7 safe days nor credit for more safe days than there are days till the goal ends.

What do you think? Is it worth the added confusion of the Urgency Load metric in order to close the loophole that additional goals can create more urgency but also create more total buffer?


Maybe one problem is that as goals legitimately end because you finish the book you’re reading or writing or whatever it is, that’s going to decrease your Total Buffer and could derail you, despite achieving less edge-skatiness.

The “so bee it” answer would be to just get more buffer on other goals or create new goals to replace the ones that are ending. If you want your number of goals (and thus amount of ideal total buffer) to go down, just dial down your meta goal for Total Buffer. That should be doable as the end dates of other goals approach.

The advantage of Urgency Load is that it’s more universal. You always want to keep decreasing Urgency Load regardless of how many goals you have. But it means you can let all your goals end and beemind nothing at all and have a perfect Urgency Load, which is arguably the most perverse of all!


I think folks should feel free to add up their safety buffers however they want and however they need–but I don’t think this would be useful to me, and it would definitely be less useful to me than urgency load.

I created urgency load in order to be a leading indicator helping me judge if I had the capacity to say yes to additional things. I wanted the metric to go one way if I was on top of things, and the other way when I’m slipping.

If I have 10 goals with 7 days of safety buffer, I don’t feel more overwhelmed than when I have 50 goals with 7 days of safety buffer.

If I have 10 beemergencies today, having 20 other goals with 7 days of safety buffer doesn’t feel less overwhelming than having 1 other goal with 7 days of safety buffer.


I strongly prefer Urgency Load to Total Buffer, because “0”, the natural limit-point of Urgency Load, actually has meaning: all goals are immune to the akrasia horizon. There’s no “endpoint” for Total Buffer, there’s nothing to strive for—it would, for me, have effectively no meaning.

Edit: I think “the perverse incentive of Urgency Load is to have no goals” is a far more ice-cream-truck loophole than “the perverse incentive of Total Buffer is to not complete goals even if they’re actually done”.

More edit: I had a wrong argument, because I missed the min(7,...) part of the proposition.


The endpoint is your number of goals times 7! I.e, perfectly safe on all goals, same as Urgency Load of zero. So it’s like I was saying about universality. Urgency Load’s endpoint doesn’t depend on how many goals you have.

If, hypothetically, we put Total Buffer in the UI we could potentially always also show that denominator:

Total Buffer: 23 (out of a possible 4\times 7 = 28)

I’m not sure yet if that would help at all with Adam’s objection. My intuition is that it would mostly be a matter of getting used to it – building up an intuition for what different values of the metric mean for you. But maybe that’s just harder to do for Total Buffer since it changes depending on how many goals you have?

I’m not sure if that’s the extent of the objection (not to say it’s not a dealbreaker for some people) or if I’m missing a bigger point.


i personally always found urgency load highly unintuitive and thus never used it for anything. but i guess reading this discussion makes me wonder if i just never gave it enough thought to try it out and to try to get over the weird negative numbers thing. (trying to strive for a lower number is less intuitively satisfying for me than trying to strive for a higher one. also, striving for “0” just sounds way less appealing in general than trying to strive for “100%”.) anyway, where can i find my urgency load again? (the glossary and digging around in my settings for 5 seconds didn’t help, unfortunately.)

i really, really love the new (to me) idea of “% of total buffer days / max buffer days”! much more intuitive and easier to grasp at first glance, for me, compared to urgency load! (maybe also because % is always more intuitive for me than a non-percentile-number?)
i probably prefer this also because i don’t (yet?) need a number to tell me if i’m overwhelmed / if i could take on additional things. tracking what @adamwolf describes for these reasons just doesn’t sound useful right now, to me personally.
on the other hand, making sure that i stay on top of the few goals i already have here is important to me. i want to derail less. i like the thought of having a number that can show me how well i am doing at accumulating buffer, and at staying on top of my goals even when they’re green. (i guess urgency load would also do this?)

that being said, both options lack a certain flexibility, for me. it would be truly amazing if i could set the maximum amount of buffer days from the “ideal 7” to something less, if a goal or two requires that.
one of my goals is “didn’t do the thing yesterday,” which ideally gets +1 every day, but could never get more. and i wouldn’t want to be able to accumulate any buffer on this, it’s a beemergency every day for a reason. so depending on the time of day, this one always has a maximum of 0-1 safe days. (so if this were my only goal, i’d always have an urgency load of 6/7 and i’d always have a total buffer percentage of 0% or 14%; when in reality, those numbers should correlate to 0/1 urgency load or 86% / 100% of tbp, to match attainable reality, and to look more motivating.)


I have found urgency load to not be super helpful. As it is not very intuitive. Why not something more simple like average buffer? If a number is over 7 then just make it 7 in the calculation for addition. That way like urgency load there is a number you can aim for 7. Maybe call it “Capped Average Buffer" or CAB for short.


It’s a different metric, that’s for sure. There’s a definite human bias toward perceiving higher-is-better, possibly in everything except race results and similar rankings.

Zombie goals seem like they could be an issue with total buffer; I daren’t archive or finish anything without planning it in advance and adjusting any meta goal to accommodate the shift.

Without such a meta goal with its line to remind me where I ought to be, I can imagine folks struggling with resetting their expectation of having a particular level of total buffer when the number of goals changes.

Urgency load has a similar issue in reverse; adding more edge-skating goals makes the metric worse, but in that case the IRL situation actually is worse — I’m potentially overloaded!

Yes, in the absurd case, no goals => no urgency, but that doesn’t seem very type bee.

For the folks who find it unintuitive, perhaps think of it like an inbox zero goal. Humans are pretty good at viewing diminishing backlogs as a good thing.

In the end, we each individually need to figure out what motivates us. If growing buffers or all-green work for you, go for it.


I think the issue with straight average buffer is that it wouldn’t reflect the number of goals. It would give you the same output for a single goal in the red and a hundred goals in the red, even though the real-world situation would be vastly different.


Why only these two metrics. Are there some more?



Most folks here are motivated by brrr number go up (and realize it!)

Find a problem you’ve got, figure out a way to make a number mostly go in one direction in one scenario, and make it mostly go in another direction in the other scenario, and try it! If it works for you, cool cool cool. Post about it here as something that mostly works for you, and maybe it’ll help other folks too.

I had recurring continual problems that are pretty perfectly handled by urgency load. It gives me actionable insights. I hope I didn’t advocate anywhere as it being a universal solution or a universal help–if I did, Past Me had even more to learn than I thought. That guy.

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Part of the reason I would like the metric to be that way is so the amount of goals you have would not effect it. As from what I’ve heard people use Urgency load as a edge skating level metric. Adding a new goal does not necessarily mean your more of an edge skater. Also just generally I would like that type of metric to have an upper and lower bound. Though if you are using urgency load more as the name states to see how many thing you urgently need to get done then I agree.

Though one aspect of urgency load I don’t like is that auto ratchet goals tend to make it go a lot higher. I feel like if you are at your max buffer than it should add zero. As you are not doing anything bad such as edge skating you simply have chosen to cap the buffer.


It’s in the Statistics tab, under the Due By table:


I think that just means that for you, your ideal Urgency Load is more than zero. (Or your ideal Total Buffer is less than the theoretical maximum of 7 times however many goals you have.)

Averaging has the disadvantage that beemergencies become less concrete and actionable. How much do I need to actually do to bring this average up/down? Related: Should You Beemind The Moving Average? | Beeminder Blog

(Ah, @narthur’s point is similar to this.)

Ooh, yes, great point.

Got other candidates? But one question here is about which one to promote in the UI and to treat as canonical. Adam and others are correct that everyone should be free to use whatever metric works for them.

Great point, though I’m loathe to add yet another min/max to the formula.

Now I’m wondering if we could show both Urgency Load and Total Buffer in the UI. And Total Buffer, when showing the denominator in parentheses, could account for autoratchets. Namely, your maximum possible Total Buffer is the sum of your autoratchet setting on each goal, or 7 if you don’t have an autoratchet.


Metrics that easily improve by adding more unhelpful Beeminder goals feels self-serving, doesn’t it? Is this just me?

“Ahh, my Total Buffer is too low. Lemme go make an eat_donuts goal!”

That’s actually my claim from way back at the top of the thread:

Maybe it’s a bit like an ice cream truck loophole. Realistically you’re not going to be tempted to dispatch your “get more safety buffer” meta goal by creating a new Beeminder goal. Unless you want a new goal anyway, in which case, so bee it? :thinking:

But, yeah, the minute someone found themself doing the eat_donuts thing, they’d want to change that metric.

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Maybe its a veggie doughnut?

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Though actually now I think of it more there could be a legitimate use. Could be a goal to reward yourself for following your diet goals every two weeks. Though would probably want it to be a do less goal with an allowance of doughnuts maybe every two weeks.

What’s Total Buffer a metric for? It’s hard to judge if something is a good metric or not without knowing what it’s supposed to indicate.

Derailments $ total or per datapoint; “you paid $15 to lose 20kg”. Good deal. Derailing it is nailing it.

What I would promote in the UI is refreshed UI and calendar heat map chart you know from my other threads.
Sense of achievement creates stickiness.

What business are we expecting to improve? Churn (when), conversion to infinibee?


:joy_cat: I had no idea it was there. Always wondered what my urgency load was.

Not least because that’s a terrible place for it to live — all the other statistics on that tab are about the individual goal.