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Max's beeminder journal


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The only issue would be that I will become out of date, or no longer interested in an article once I get to it, I see this as positive.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.


I made a small improvement to my use of Beeminder this week. I have added a weekly task to check over my goals, retro-ratchet anything that is ‘too green’, adjust slopes to be harder or easier where necessary, and – very important – book any beeminder holidays in advance (this is something I always forget until two days before a holiday otherwise).

This week I made my pocket and anki-learning goals slightly harder, retro-ratcheting them so they float back up into the blue/yellow part of my list, so I can’t forget about them.

As the number of goals increases, I find myself using the colors more and more, ignoring anything blue or better. This works great for goals that I need to touch less frequently, like the goal to write this journal entry, but for daily habits such as anki study, flossing, etc., letting the goal get ‘too green’ lets me stop doing it for a few days, which seems to weaken the habit somewhat.

I now understand the need for the auto-retro-ratchet feature!


Mixing paper and kindle books

I recently finished the kindle book I was reading and decided to re-read a paper book I have. About 90% of my reading is on kindle, so my beeminder goal tracks the number of locations read. I decided to track the progress through the paper book by multiplying the number of pages by 13 to get a rough location-equivalent number. Pages are not a very useful metric because their length varies so much between books, but 13 seemed to make sense based on checking the page count of a few similar kindle books I had finished recently.

Frugal(ish) lunch

My ‘frugal lunch’ goal failed this week. I have been slowly eroding its meaning by classifying various things as ‘frugal’. I caught myself trying to justify a (terrible) supermarket lunch-deal as ‘frugal’ and decided to buy it, but let myself fail, brining this goal up to $30, my highest level so far. I am usually motivated by very small amounts of money, but this goal has been stubborn. Upon failing I have reclassified ‘frugal’ as ‘spending any money at all’, so that I can either bring lunch from home, or skip lunch, or pay $30. I am worried that if I don’t control this “close enough” type of thinking, it will spread to other goals, stopping beeminder from working.


I also have difficulty with do less goals when it relates to money or food. You may find it useful to turn it into a do more goal in which you are on the hook for bringing lunch x times a week. I personally try to do this because it is easily measurable and I can set the deadline earlier in the day if I wanted to so I don’t accidentally leave my lunch at home.


Yes, that’s a very good point!

I was actually thinking this morning that the main issue is that the goal due date is the day after I need to have actually prepared the lunch, and that the goal should really be “prepare lunch for tomorrow”, not “eat packed lunch”! I originally did it this way to account for cases where I work from home, where the office provides food on a particular day, etc, but I could make sure that the slope is low enough to mostly account for these cases.

This might result it me making a packed lunch and eating it at home, but that is fine!

I think I will definitely make this change!


I do this too, but in reverse because most of my reading is on paper. I tell my script how many pages are in the book, and then use the kindle’s reported % progress to derive what page I might have reached.


Do less goals are hard in general, for reasons like this. My own lunch related goals have been of both kinds, effectively one of ‘spend less’ or ‘eat at home more’. Neither has been best over the long term.

I think a key Beeminder skill is noticing when the phrasing of a goal is no longer helpful, and being willing to experiment with finding a reframing that achieves the real-world outcome.

PS: it’s really great to hear the evolution of your beeminding. Thanks!


Yes! I’ve found this journal helps for this, without it I would probably just keep plugging away at the same flawed goal.

I have made the change discussed above to my lunch goal, far to early to tell, but it feels more ‘urgent’ now, less easy to game, which is exactly what I need.


I should really be asleep right now, so I will just mention two new goals I added this week:


I have hours of podcasts on my phone, but I very rarely listen to non-English language ones. This goal is to listen to 2 points / week of French or Chinese podcasts, which are an excellent way of keeping my listen skills sharp. 1pt per French podcast, 1.5pt per Chinese podcast. I can already feel myself selecting what to listen based on length, which might be an issue that requires some tweaking of the points later on (1pt every 30 mins of run-length maybe).


A goal to read the Iliad. I am meant to be reading something else right now, but keep getting sucked into this instead, so I decided to make a goal to stop myself feeling guilty and just read both in parallel. This seemed a better idea than trying to handle an odometer goal with two different books, I’m not sure how well that would work.


Todo goal

I have been using this goal for more than a month now, and it seems to be working well. It was a replacement for a ‘classic’ mustdo goal ( which I had been using successfully for quite a while.
I have tried to keep the aspects of ‘mustdo’ that were working for me. These are:

  • write tomorrow’s todo list the night before (for ‘mustdo’ this would be when you mark off the previous item)
  • once you have committed to an item, you can not reschedule whatever happens!
  • a very short list of things that must be done (for ‘mustdo’ it is a single task’)

I risked creating this new goal so that I could schedule more than one task a day. I played with various ideas, such as adding labels to two tasks on my todoist list every day, then tracking the number of labeled tasks completed, and setting the slope to 2/day.
Nothing felt quite right until I decided that everything on my todo list that is scheduled for that day should be done on that day! (This is not revolutionary, but I had such bad habits that it felt so. I would have tasks on my list that had been rescheduled for ‘tomorrow’ tens of times before being completed. Complice is another system that tries to tackle this problem, so I’m obviously not the only one.)
The goal is then very simple:

  • There is one recurring todo item at 4:30pm every day: “prepare tomorrow’s todo list”. I do this carefully, because I know that everything on that list must be doable.
  • The list is final at midnight
  • If I clear the list entirely before the end of the next day, I mark a datapoint of ‘1’ on the goal
  • If I do not clear the list, I let the missed tasks ride, they appear as ‘overdue’ in todoist

I generally book 4 to 5 tasks each day. (This excludes work tasks). I have a prioritised backlog that I pick tasks from, anything time-sensitive I just pre-book on the relevant day (ie. if I have to go to a conference on day X, I immediately add a todo item 2 weeks before to buy train tickets)

A few changes in my use of the todo list I have noticed so far:

  • The list is cleared most days
  • I am definitely completing more tasks, much more quickly. I have a problem with putting off tasks as long as possible (hence beeminder), so this is a big deal for me.
  • I am very careful to make tasks achievable, splitting them up (“list documents needed to submit for Y” instead of “submit form Y”, which might require a document that I don’t have yet) and adding conditionals where necessary (“do X if Y happens”)

A worry might be that I schedule very few tasks to ensure I can complete the list, but this doesn’t seem to have been a problem yet. I have an execution problem more than a motivation problem.


Work todo

I have created a new goal to track completion of work todos. It has the same details as the ‘home-todo’ one described in the last post.
Its usually easier to get things done at work, because there are people waiting for me to complete tasks, but this should help me get the important-not-urgent tasks moving more quickly


I’ve been making some changes to how I take notes when reading non-fiction books. I’ve been enjoying having a fiction book to fall back on when I’m feeling tired of this, so I’ve renamed the ‘iliad’ goal to just ‘en-novel’, and I will continue to read two books in parallel once I’ve finished the Iliad.



I have not made any large changes to my goals this week. I have archived two goals that I felt were no longer improving my life.

One was the ‘surfaces’ goal to keep various tables clear of stuff. It is not a hard thing to do, and I usually manage to get it done just before sleeping, but having that red thing there every day felt so annoying that it cancelled out the nice feeling of having a clear table in the morning.

I’m not sure why this particular goal feels so unpleasant to me, but I’l killing it anyway in the meantime. I hate maintenance tasks, things I have to do every day just to stay in the same place, this might be why it felt unpleasant.

The true solution to the issue is an in depth tidy, getting rid of stuff we don’t want, adding more storage or shelving (as a last resort). Previous places I cleaned out in this way are still tidy, and my partner’s things, which mysteriously appear in any drawer I empty out, are becoming much more tidy as well.

I’ve added a few todo items to do some targeted tidies, and I’m also considering tracking how long I spend on maintenance tasks like dishes, cleaning, tidying, etc., so I can work to reduce it more effectively.

My hunch is that spending a few days optimising these things will pay off (, in the past I’ve ignored incredible obvious time savers like not buying a dishwasher until this year, so there’s probably plenty of low hanging fruit.


I am feeling much better about my list of goals now that the two ‘ugh’ goals are gone. I have actually made a lot of progress since killing the ‘surfaces’ goal, possibly because it was making me feel like I was making progress in some small way, so I didn’t need to do anything else towards tidying more permanently.

I imagine that in the past when I’ve felt burnt out and stopped using beeminder, it was because more and more of my goals were no longer relevant, badly worded, too easy, too hard, etc. and I ended up feeling ‘ugh’ toward the entire system. By maintaining my list every week, this has been staved off so far (at least for 7 months so far).


Little interesting to say this week, other than to notice that my ‘en-novel’ goal, which had been skimming the red at 100 locations read/day, suddenly leapt up to 600+/day when I happened to pick up a book that I couldn’t put down (“Annihilation”, although I don’t know if I can say that I really loved it, just that it was hard to put down!)

Real intrinsic motivation is a powerful thing, but you need to give yourself opportunities. I probably would not have been reading a novel did I not have a goal for it. With writing as well, most days I was grinding out some words, but now and then, 10% of the time, you get into flow and it comes easy. If I was not writing at all, I would have no sessions like that, I would not wake up one morning full of inspiration and pour out 20,000 words all in one go. Unfortunately.


I had a derail this week, on my ‘floss’ goal. I had in fact flossed that night, but forgot to enter the datapoint. This is the second time that happened so I decided to leave the derail to smack myself for not being more careful with my data recording.

Beyond that, the only change I have made to my goals apart from retroratcheting after a train journey that resulted in lots of reading getting done, is to book some holiday from my anki-add goal (adding new cards to anki) to free up some evening time for another project. The project should make it easier for me to add those cards in future, so it seems like a fair trade.


No changes to my goals this week. Everything is going well, I have had a few days where I didn’t have the energy to get everything done, but my buffer has allowed me to drop tasks here and there without derailing.
I am now nicely in the red on many goals, and feeling motivated.


We have a trip coming up so I have scheduled in holidays for all the goals that will be going on pause (I actually did this quite a long time ago and got the dates slightly wrong on some goals since we hadn’t purchased tickets yet. This is thanks to one of the little maintenance todo items I have every week ‘book holidays and retroratchet/increase slope on beeminder goals where necessary’. I have quite a few of these, often created after being stung (beeminder, credit card overdraft fees, company parking rota, etc.). They help life go slightly smoother.

The only daily one is ‘prepare tomorrow’s todo list - everything must have a time’, reminding me to check the next day’s todo list is

  • feasible
  • but not too easy to clear
  • has times for everything so I don’t end up missing something time sensitive

I’m still not very good at actually doing the non-time-sensitive things when I originally booked them, for example I often skip things booked in at lunch and do them last thing in the evening. I am considering some sort of punishment for this, like if I don’t complete it in time I consider it failed, and can’t tick off my ‘todo-home’ goal for the day, but I’m not sure if I’m willing to sacrifice the flexibility yet.

All my reading goals should do well over the next couple of weeks as I while away time on trains and planes. My todo list should become easy to clear when it contains tasks like ‘enjoy delicious gelato’ and ‘look at beautiful things’.


Still on holiday, reading goals going great as expected!