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Max's beeminder journal

A bit of an wishy-washy update today. Full of empty promises and failed goals…

Reading goals

I finished my short-term goal to finish a book I was getting a bit stuck on ( I greatly enjoyed ticking it off and archiving it. I like the idea of having a few short term goals running to help me finish small projects, allowing me to try things out, learn more about what type of goals work for me, and keep a sense of novelty about what goals I am working on each day.

Since I have just started a new Chinese book I decided to stop my previous Chinese reading mini-habit goal (read an article or page of a book in Chinese each day), replacing it with a new goal to finish this book.

I need to read 5 pages a day, which will have me finishing in a couple of months, which should be sustainable. My Chinese reading speed is still recovering after a couple of years of neglect, so I didn’t want to set too high a goal.

I also want to restart my Anki habit soon, so to consider a page ‘read’ I must also have noted down any interesting sentences I want to review on those pages.

The goal has been running for a few days and is going well, it helps that it is a good book.

‘Stuff’ goal

I let the stuff goal die:
I was beggining to dread it each day, I think it was useful while it ran, but to make real progress tidying up and reducing the number our possesions I really think I need to schedule a few more big, focused clean-up sessions, like I had done with clothes. I have added something to my backlog to schedule some more in.

(Another thing I would like to do soon is set up a goal to whittle down my backlog. Unfortunately the task to do this is also on the backlog…)

Book / editing goal

This is still barely moving, and I have not done anything about it yet. I will, I really need to get the damn thing finished. Half-finishing things is something I often seem to have problems with, so I will focus on this soon.

Treating yellow as red

To try and avoid panics like last night when I had to rush to get ‘something, anything’ posted to avoid derailing my journal goal, I am again thinking of ways to avoid beemergencies.
I know some people have meta goals to keep every goal in the green. I don’t want to go this far yet, but I am going to try experimenting with a mindset shift of considering yellow to be an emergency, making red ‘a really really big emergency’. I doubt this will work, but I might as well try the easiest possible intervention before creating a meta goal to do it!


Work derailed

My ‘focused work’ goal derailed. Another day and a half of meetings wiped out what little buffer I had. This would likely by fixed by sticking to a rule of ‘treat yellow as red’, but I don’t feel too bad about it, since it was an unusual amount of meetings.
The goal has auto-restarted and is continuing without change for now.

Reading in general

I don’t track books read in beeminder because I am worried about:

  • incentivising myself to read a certain type of book or in a certain way (by page = choose quick to read books, by book = choose short books, by time = don’t focus, read slowly)
  • making reading more of a chore, I don’t usually need to be reminded to spend time on reading, so don’t need a goal right yet

I do track books in goodreads, and do have a yearly goal of 52 books which I have in the back of my mind as a very soft goal.

This year I am behind my goal quite a lot. I have been focusing quite a lot on writing, reading in Chinese, and other goals, which has taken a lot of time away from books.

I think this is a good tradeoff however. I like beeing able to focus on different things for a period. (This is another nice thing about short-term goals, it allows me to change my focus entirely whenever a goal ends, more fully than if I were to just make the slope very shallow for a while.)

Treating yellow as red

I’ve been somewhat aware of this the past week but I am not quite at the point where I don’t rest until I get everything blue or better. If I want to focus on this I might end up setting a meta goal for it.

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I like hearing people explicitly thinking about the tradeoffs of tracking by particular metrics. Nice job.


Thanks, I worry quite a lot about how different goals might affect my behaviour, and even more about when adding any type of enforcement mechanism like beeminder could erode pre-existing intrinsic motivation.
This is another reason I have avoided adding goals around reading and running, which I want to do all the time anyway.

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The main change I made this week was to add two new goals.

One for adding 2 cards to my anki deck each day.

One for clearing the ‘cards to study’ queue in Anki each day (slope is 5 days a week, to allow for some slack).

My relationship with Anki is similar to my past with Beeminder. Using it for a long stretch, then taking it too far, burning out, and stopping for a few months.
I have kept the number of new cards quite low to allow myself to get back into the habit and make the goal survivable long term without burning out.

Cards are primarily sentences pulled from my Chinese reading. I decided I needed some proper delibarate practice if I want to make any more progress at moving to the right along the long…long…tail of fluency.



I have made my anki learning goal slightly harder (must complete all reviews 6 times a week, rather than 5 times) and retro-ratcheted to get rid of the buffer.

In the past, I usually burn out with Anki if I miss a day or two of reviews and end up with a huge backlog, so reducing my beeminder buffer and making sure I study each day should help avoid that.


I have archived my work goal (not because I have retired, sadly) since my current way of tracking “focused time working on important tasks” is starting to grate on me. The small amount of friction when changing task is enough that I have begun avoiding it, not tracking the time carefully, making the goal less useful.

I have been playing around with tagtime (would be great for this, and avoid me having to stop and start timers, etc.) but have never been able to make the tagtime habit stick in the past, so am not certain if this would be the best way to go.

Work productivity has been very good recently, so I’ll probably wait for a few weeks before making a choice, and see if I feel the goal is still useful.

Tracking nebulous tasks

I enjoyed Dreev’s blog post about tracking nebulous tasks: How to beemind nebulous projects like doing your taxes or fixing a neurosis

I have been finding this journal useful, and generally find that writing clarifies my thoughts about a problem and makes me more creative in solving it, so I was very excited to try this idea.

I make a lot of notes in Evernote, so tried to track the wordcount of a project log in evernote using beeminder.


Regardless of the true number of words, the word count URL Minder picks up is 1042 words.

Looking at the page source, it loads an empty page and then requests the actual content via ajax (because it is 2018 and this seems like a good idea to people). I presume 1042 words is the count of this empty page?

I tried using the content URL itself, but unfortunately it requires a particular referrer to be set.

Bethany kindly confirmed that URLminder is essentially curling the URL and counting the words, so would only be counting the Evernote container page, before the content is loaded. Annoying that Evernote would not make it easy to fetch the content of a pubicly shared note.

I’ve got code lying around to do a combined wordcount of all evernote articles in a particular tag, used for tracking the progress of my book goal, so will throw something together to track project journals as as well.

Next update in a week!


Technically just a forum post but probably worthy of blogging!

That sucks about Evernote. Probably worth us special-casing that. If it were as easy as following a redirect that would sound worth it. Not sure how hard the AJAX thing is. If you have code to deal with that maybe share with us?

The code is pretty simple!

Assuming a share URL of

where xxx is the note ID and yyy is the share key (

The following will pull back the content:

curl '' -H 'referer:

I’m just using the official API to pull my note out using my credentials right now, since I had that set up already. The code is not good, but I’ll post a link in the next update.

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ah, so we’d need a per-user key? (not that that’s a dealbreaker, just means this isn’t a 2-line change we can make so suddenly urlminding evernote works) (@bee’s investigating this now too)

If the note is shared publicly you shouldn’t need the user credentials (edit: the ‘share key’ is part of the publicly shared URL, it is share-specific, not a user credential – more info at the link to the evernote docs in my previous post)

An actual example below: I just clicked ‘copy share URL’ inside Evernote to get this link

Following that URL will redirect you to the canonical link page, the one I tried to add into URLminder:

When this page had loaded, it requests the actual content via AJAX:

Curling that directly will net you a “Page not found”, but if you add the referer:

curl '' -H 'referer:'

Then you get the actual note content!:

<div class="note-content"><div class="ennote"><div>Hello beeminder!</div></div></div>

So pseudocode, I would imagine something like this:

IF (this URL looks like an evernote share note URL)
     curl_args += -H 'referer: $url'
     url += '?content'

optionally it could also follow the initial redirect if someone enters the ‘pretty’ URL (

Hope that’s clear!

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Just a quick one with some more details on how I am tracking these project journals.

The code used for pushing word count to IFTTT is here (it is just a personal script I have running in cron, not something I would suggest others use!):

My current process for setting up a new journal is now the following:

  • Create a new note in evernote, it has to be tagged ‘nebulous’ and have a title like ‘neb_xxx: My journal about XXX’
  • Create a new odomoter goal in beeminder (named XXX Journal mabe)
  • Create a new IFTTT recipe that adds a datapoint of {value1} to the XXX Journal beeminder goal when the webhooks are called with an event of ‘nebu_xxx’
  • All done!

In practice this takes less than 5 minutes, which is quick enough that it would be worth setting up for lots of medium sizes projects, if it works well for me.


New goal: pocket

I like pocket, it is similar to the classic ‘mustdo’ goal: you split choosing the task from its execution. This way, forward-thinking ‘you’ gets to decide what to do, and beeminder handles forcing akratic ‘you’ to do that thing. Pocket is the same for articles, it allows me to force akratic me to read things I want to read, but that require a bit of effort.

Since I have not been tracking my pocket backlog, it has been filtered down to contain only the least approachable articles. These are left there to rot. I thought quite a bit about how to best handle the backlog (split backlog from new articles into separate goals, or value articles read by their age, etc.) but decided in the end to just add the simplest possible goal of ‘+1 for each article read’ and see how that goes. The incentives aren’t great, I can see myself adding lots of fun, short articles I might previously have just read immediately instead of saving in pocket, and ignoring the old articles, but it might not be a big enough issue to justify making a more complicated goal to combat.

Beeminder dependance

Recently I was lying in bed after finishing my Chinese reading for the day. I thought of reading a pocket article (this was before I added the above goal), and also grabbed my kindle for a few seconds and considered doing some English reading, but caught myself thinking “what’s the point, they don’t count toward any beeminder goal”.

I am finding that I am increasingly loathe to do anything that doesn’t get tracked. I am worried about this; losing intrinsic motivation due to relying on external systems to motivate myself. Thinking about it, I am better off with my dependance right now, even if intrinsic motivation is down, the system is allowing me to accomplish more things than if I were without it. One way of working out this issue would be to lean into the addiction and just add more and more goals… that seems to be where I am headed!

New goal: Mustdo work

(I am slightly worried about the number of goals I am building up, but it seems manageable so far. I can stop any time.)

I am trying a new mustdo-type goal for work tasks only. I use todoist for todo lists, and am now tracking the number of tasks marked with a label of ‘mdw’ (must do work) each day. I have a task in my todo list to define one or two of these mdw tasks at the end of the previous day, so I am sure to work on important things, not just urgent ones.
I am not sure it will work as well as my ‘classic’ mustdo goal (used for personal tasks only), which somehow is super motivating. I have not changed the old ‘classic’ mustdo goal to this method yet, despite it being easier to use and allowing a slope of more than one a day, since I am worried that some aspect of the current goal makes it effective, and changing it in a seemingly harmless way might break that. For example, choosing exactly one must-do task might be key, or having to enter the new task when I complete the previous one, etc.


[bites fingernails] I definitely want to keep hearing how this plays out!

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Anki study

This has been ticking along nicely. I retroratcheted it again to ensure I continue clearing out may due cards each day and avoid a backlog.

Another new goal! Reading

I picked up my kindle last week and found that it was actually covered with a layer of dust. I decided to go ahead and add this reading goal I had been avoiding.

I decided to go with a ‘pages read’ type goal (odomoter) since that seems to be the one that should affect which type of book I choose the least. I am actually using kindle locations rather than physical pages to track progress, so I couldn’t even choose picture heavy books to try and get through the pages more quickly!

I usually assume a reading speed of 800-1k locations per hour, depending on the book. I have set it low at 250locations/day for now while I see how it goes. The equivalent of 15-20mins or so

Once I finish the current book, I’ll reset the odomoter ready for the next one. In the last few days, I have not found an issue to get this much reading done, and am happy to be back reading some non-fiction in parallel with the Chinese novel.

Beeminder Dependance

I am still feeling this, for now I can only try and align my beeminder goals with my actual goals and try and keep everything at a maintainable level. I am not sure this is actually a problem, just an interesting (concerning) change I noticed in my behaviour.

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+1 to “people enjoying reading your journal”!

I’d love an update on your surfaces goal is going. My partner read Marie Kondo’s book a few years ago and loved it, but your journal convinced me to pick it up soon. I’m wondering how/whether it applies to something like keeping the dining room table clear, which requires your entire household’s cooperation.

To quote Kondo:

If you put your house in order in one mammoth effort, you will have tidied up completely. Rebound occurs because people mistakenly believe they have tidied thoroughly when in fact they have only partially sorted and stored things. If you put your house in order properly, you’ll be able to keep your room tidy always, even if you are lazy or messy by nature.

In other words, my ‘surfaces’ goal is a terrible bandaid and I do not suggest it!

It keeps our living room tidy, which helps my mood in the morning, so it is useful, but the true solution would be to fully tidy the house, getting rid of things we do not need, finding a place for everything. Why do bags appear on the table during the day? Because they do not have a fixed ‘place’ in the house to go. Why do various baby toys find there way up there? Because we have far too many baby toys that we need to give away.

I have only tidied two categories of item so far, following the suggestions in the book: my clothes, and the family documents. Both categories have stayed effortlessly tidy since. It really does seem to work. I got rid of many items which makes things easier, but beyond that, everything has a place, and I am very aware of where that place is.

Areas like the living room table are tricky because they gather all sorts of items throughout the day, so I imagine that only when we tidied every category would the problem be fully resolved.

I think a better goal would be to tidy a category of objects every week, or something along those lines.

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Quick one this week, I probably should have counted the reply post I wrote on the 24th, but I wanted to keep my goal due on Sundays, with a nice straight graph.

My todoist backed must do task goal has been what I have focused on most this week, it seems to be going well, and is giving me as much feeling of urgency as my ‘classic’ mustdo goal. I am likely going to switch my personal ‘classic’ mustdo goal to be todoist backed as well, so I can set myself a rate of, say, 8 tasks a week, instead of being stuck on 1/day.

Must do tasks

I am still working on the implementation of these two goals, I need to do some more thinking and testing this week before I know what I am going to do with them.

Pocket reading task

I worried about my new pocket goal before creating it, considering ways of giving higher points to older posts, wondering if I should split off a backlog to handle separately, etc. In the end I added a simple +1 per article read as a ‘better than nothing’ solution with the intention to revisit it later.

Instead of messing with the goal, I found a simpler way to nudge myself to read through the older and ‘harder’ articles: I found the setting to reverse the list order in the pocket app.

I now see the oldest articles first, and need to scroll allll the way through the list to see new ones. I am working through the backlog, causing the ‘harder’ ones to float to the top, and removing the incentive to add a bunch of quick, easy things I would previously have read immediately instead of adding them to pocket.

The only issue would be that I will become out of date, or no longer interested in an article once I get to it, I see this as positive. Few of the things I save to pocket are time sensitive (few of any of the things I read are time sensitive). Things that no longer interest me I can delete, saving myself reading time.


That might be one of the most ingenious solutions to the backlog problem that I’ve heard! I bet it would be helpful for a lot of kinds of backlogs… It almost makes me wish for a reverse-chronological-order view for when I want to clean out my email inbox.


I have killed and added various goals around must do tasks and todo-list items this week, but everything is still very much up in the air, so I will write about it once everything has crashed to the ground and I have inspected the pieces.


One straght-forward goal I added this week is to make one metaculus prediction each week. I used predictionbook quite a lot for a year or so before losing the habit. Metaculus recently added the ability to create private questions as well as adding predictions to the well written public predictions, so I decided to restart that habit.
I like making predictions, I feel it makes me think more clearly by making me frame questions in a precise way (one needs to state clearly in which cases the prediction will resolve as correct – the world tends to be messier than expected). In theory, making lots of predictions might make be better calibrated as well, and thereby make better decisions.

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