Maintaining a level (aka why do I keep starting new books)

I am back with another “hmm, how do I best set up…?” thread. So, uh, I have a problem. The problem is that I am currently reading at least five books at once. This inevitably leads to one or more going on the backburner and not being touched for literally months. I’ve tried informal goals and resolutions and it’s not working, so it’s come down to figuring out a way to Beemind it.

Trying to figure out how to set it up, I guess I want a Do Less goal with a target number of, say, two. (Typically I have a non-fiction book and a fiction book on my reading stack concurrently, or sometimes both fiction books but one of them is a daunting doorstop.) Then that’ll have me whittling it down towards two over time, and then it should flatten out so I’ll be okay as long as I’m reading only two books (or less) at a time. When it goes over that, I’ll derail.

(Now I’ve written it out, it seems obvious, but I’ll record it for posterity and for anyone to chip in and say “Nikki, you overlooked xyz”.)

…I might make it three, for situations where another book suddenly becomes more urgent, like a library book or something…


I think many of my goals have turned into something like this!

Weight, email, Pocket…

One of the things I want to for these maintenance goals is see if we can do a better job in the UI and alerts. Some things get silly when you have a flat road, depending upon goal type I think. I think, usually, by the time a user gets to maintenance on a goal, they’re experts and some of the things that would bother a new user no longer bother them (talking about end dates for a goal that “doesn’t need one”, road widths, … )

This might be a good thing to reevaluate after YBHP. I know I had a friend try Beeminder and try to set up an email inbox goal as a maintenance goal, and some of the weirdnesses threw them off enough they quickly left, so it isn’t solely an expert user problem.


As someone who’s tried email maintenance goals multiple times, and had to email support for help literally every time, I second @adamwolf’s point!

Good question and something I’ve been mulling over as well – though your post helped clarify the problem a bit for me. My goals:

  • Read more, and
  • Finish what I start
  • Don’t introduce perverse incentives (in my case, I don’t want to penalize starting books as that could stifle curiosity)

I think the way I’d like to address this is:

  • Keep my Do More reading goal, and
  • In this goal, stipulate that the reading goal only counts toward the top n books on my Goodreads Currently Reading list (or equivalent)

Since Goodreads has ordered shelves, I can just say that only reading toward books in the first three slots counts as credit for my reading goal. I’m free to add any number of books to the list – or even reorder the list if my priorities change – but the focused carrot leads to progress toward finishing books.

The fine print: I automatically track Goodreads progress to Beeminder (via Twitter+IFTTT, as suggested by someone else on the forum), which means in practice I’ll need to avoid updating progress in Goodreads for unqualified books.


I worry about the perverse incentives point, but I also get so overwhelmed by all the books I’m reading at once that it gets counterproductive, and I never finish them. I’ve got… I think six on the go at the moment, which is actually not as bad as it has been (coughthirtycough) but it’s enough that some are definitely being neglected.

(I do have an incentive system for that – I’ve gameified my reading list so I get a certain amount of points based on the length of a book, how long I’ve owned it, how long it took to read it, etc. It mostly works, hence not having thirty books on my currently reading stack, buuuut…)


An idea from @bee in another thread that sounds relevant to the general problem of actually finishing things instead of always starting new things: Beeminding crafts

Specifically this bit:

Right now my major problem with crafting is starting things and never finishing them, so I’ve got a very low rate / long term goal to finish things, with 1 finished object due per month. I can enter partially finished objects, but I can’t jump around once I enter something. So I estimate this dress I’m sewing is 80% finished, and enter a 0.8, then I’m committed to finishing it (or frogging it) before I can start counting something else… I’ve only made it through a few months, but it seems to be going well so far!

Rules for my reading goal (a page-count do-more): I designate one book the top priority book. I am only allowed to enter pages from books I finish or from that book. If I finish that I get to pick a new top priority book. I find this solves the problem making me actually finish books while also allowing flexibility of both whether I have to finish every book and being able to do one day’s reading at a time when I’m close to my road.

I should probably have some escape hatch for if I pick a terrible and long book as the priority book.

Huh, I like that method. I might adopt it! …Once my exams are over and I have more time for leisure reading. :scream:

@shanaqui Can you share a bit about what is driving you to read so many books at a time?

Is it boredom with the books you’ve started? Excitement about a new book that’s caught your attention? Coursework requirements? Are you “more of a starter than a finisher” (like me) in general? Etc.…

I have a hunch that the best Beeminder strategy for you will be something that helps address whatever your “root cause” is.

Generally excitement with a new book, sometimes feeling like I’m just not in the mood for an old one. (I completely abandon books I don’t like: ones that stick around stick because I do want to finish them, just not necessarily now – and I won’t want to start from the beginning again.)

Generally I’m fairly good about finishing my non-fiction books in a short time, so it’s usually fiction that’s subject to moods – though I’m reading a book on AIDs at the moment which is terribly slow going.

I do also have the problem of having various times where I need to move a book ahead in the queue for some reason – to meet a goal, or to get a review written before the publication date. Then those books sometimes stick forever because there’s an obligation and I am contrary…

Okay, then consider ways to Beemind overcoming “not being in the mood”. Perhaps a goal where you log a point each time you begin a reading session by picking up the book you last put down (regardless of mood). A week or two with a flat road would allow you to calibrate how often you’re doing that already, so you could set a rate that pushes you to do more.

@bluetulip’s “priority book” suggestion is similar. I think both of these approaches have unique advantages.

You might also consider a separate goal for reading that you have to do to make review deadlines. It sounds like with those you’re procrastinating on something that you definitely need to get done eventually, which would mean you have to rush at the last minute when you can’t put it off any longer. If that’s correct, Beeminder is perfect for spreading consequence out over several days, forcing you to make incremental progress with a lot less stress.


One more thought. This only applies if your fiction reading is entirely for pleasure, not out of professional/academic/some other obligation:

What if you just stopped considering this a problem, and allowed yourself to go ahead and read what you’re in the mood for? Pleasure reading sort of requires being in the mood to get actual pleasure out of it, for me at least. I find it hard to get through even a paragraph if I’m not actively interested.

I imagine that if you successfully make changes and read fewer books concurrently, you may end up proud of your new habits but at the cost of getting less enjoyment out of reading overall.

Just a thought, based on limited information.


I’ve tried the “stop considering it a problem” thing, but the number of books I have lying around part read genuinely adds to my stress, even when I’m trying to be cool with it and just read what I want. :frowning: It’s a bit of a balancing act.

Thank you for all the suggestions/thoughts, though!