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Max's beeminder journal


Phone Debacle

My pretty beeminder graph for this journal has a gap in it after my phone disapeared last week. I found some holes in my backups, which prevented me getting access to beeminder and email for a week.

In total, I derailed from 7(!) goals due to my missing phone. 6 were true derailments, 1 was because I was unable to record a datapoint.

As the cliche goes, I learnt something from my time without the phone: lots of little bits of time were freed up. It made me realise I need to refocus.
I had already blocked reddit and hacker news on the phone. Also youtube (but with relapses). This left three ‘blessed’ channels that I allowed myself to consume as much as I wanted: rss, pocket and podcasts.


  • I was subscribed to 112 podcasts.
  • I had 506 unread articles in pocket.
  • I was following 80 rss feeds in feedly
  • I had 106 items on my personal backlog

Some people are able to comsume huge numbers of sources each day, sipping from the internet firehose, reading only the bits that interest them. I am one of those people who feels the need to read every article, listen to every podcast, in every feed, in case I miss something.
If I do miss things, then I feel bad.
Luckily, I don’t seem to feel bad if I never saw the thing in the first place, so I’m just going to cut down the number of sources, so I can consume them all in a sensible amount of time each day, and do something productive with the time left over.

I don’t want to be thinking about the limits all the time, so I’m preferring a gorge and purge approach here. I have set some limits and added tasks to check they are met every two weeks.

Initial limits are entirely arbitrary, based on my previous level of items: 50 podcasts, 50 feedly feeds, 50 items on bh (big purge here!)
I also added a new goal to delete 2 pocket articles a day in addition to the 2 I read, to get rid of cruft.

For beeminder goals, I have previously limited myself to the number I can fit in the widget on my phone’s screen, but I now feel I can go somewhat higher. The only thing that I need to be careful of is that the most urgent possible beemergency for each goal needs to be savable within the day it occurs on. That way I can just ignore the green and blues and concentrate on orange and red on any given day, as long as the reds fit on one screen, so I don’t overlook any, I should be fine.
I will still try and prune out any useless goals, but I couldn’t bring myself to kill any of the ones on my list currently, which is a good sign!

I have already rebuilt a list of podcasts from a backup, and paired it down to 45 subscriptions. (I will have lost the data on which episodes I have already listened to, a huge amount of information, especially since I often start old podcasts back in the archives. I previously used pocket casts because it apparently backed up this info, but upon changing phones I found that it did not actually work, much to my frustration, so I manually marked episodes I had listened to for some podcasts. Not something I can do this time around.
I had a look at the google podcast app, but it is missing too many features to work for me currently. I think I need to just embrase the fact that I’ll miss some things, and listen to some things twice. No big deal.

For feedly and backlog items I have purged a good number of items and scheduled a few more purges to get down to a nice number.

(I am always better at quitting entirely than keeping to a quota when it comes to bad habits. Allowing myself 10 minutes of reddit would be harder to stuck to than my current ban for example, and feel like I was depriving myself somehow.

I’ve also found that for myself, banning mediocre stuff results in me ending up doing more important good stuff instead, without feeling like so much of a burden.
Sitting in traffic on the way to work this week, listening to bad music on the radio, I realised that instead of trying to fill my day with productive time, I could see it more as banning mediocre time. Banning swiping through youtube videos without opening any of them, banning listening to adverts on the radio, banning sitting in traffic, banning washing dishes instead of letting a machine do it for me, banning reading bad books, reading the news, following politics, hitting snooze in the mornings, small talk, useless meetings,…


Things are mostly back to normal this week. I have continued to purge my rss, pocket, podcast, backlog. I have also banner reading ycombinator directly, since that seems to have become a bit of a time waster habit (as soon as I am bored, type hckr… and read some comments), instead I have added an rss feed of all articles > 300 points, and have blocked hckrnews which is how I usually read the website. I can tweak the number of points up and down, but hopefully this should make my ycombinator reading a bit more concious.



Podcasts are down under 50 (46)
Backlog is down to 86, still more work needed there
Rss feeds are down to 65 (almost there)
Pocket backlog up to 555 (from 506)!

Whoops, it seems that pocket is still growing, although slower than before. I must be adding > 4 per day, which is quicker than I am deleting + reading. I have raised the deletion rate to 3/day, since I don’t want to spend more time reading these articles, maybe that will be enough to stop the list growing.

I do feel somewhat more in control of all the content that sprays at me every time I open my phone, but clearly I need to keep working on this.

Derailed: todo: work

Due to bad planning and not paying attention to my todo list for work items, I managed to derail on my work todo list goal. This is not because I was not doing work, I depend on jira to tell me what to do most of the time, the todo list goal is for important things that I want to do that risk not getting done otherwise. I have made a new filter for my todo list to show home and work items together, which may make me more aware of the work items. I may need to use the work todo list for more things, to make it a more integral part of my workday, if I want to make sure I pay attention to it.


New goals

Some old habits have been fading away so I have added two goals this week:

  • mobility: some back and arm pain I thought I had fixed has started coming back, so this habit will ensure I keep on top of some basic stretching and core strength work every night.
  • supplements: I lost this habit over the Summer, now that it is dark most of the day I need to be sure to get my vitamin D. (currently using zinc 200mg, B12 1000mcg, K2 75mcg, D3 5000iu).

I set mobility, supplements and floss slopes to 6.5 times/week, as I was finding that with floss, allowing myself days off just prevents the habit formation, so I am always skipping days and ending up in the red. 6.5 should force me to do it every day, while still allowing me to recover from a single missed day.


Glad to see someone else also doing this. Too often we (at least I) set goals with an optimal expected value and end up with a very rigid goal.


I often go too far in the other direction, setting it to 5/week and being ‘allowed’ to fail too often. 6.5 feels like a good balance for daily habits.


Prioritising projects

I came across a spreadsheet (I think in one of the SSC open threads) that is to be used for prioritising projects based on a rating of impact, efficiency, etc. and an estimated number of hours. I liked the idea and made my own with somewhat different criteria, and wasted quite a while playing with the calculation of the priority. The time was well spent, since it made me realise I was spending time on some small projects that were neither fun, important, learning-experiences or useful for others. The time spent on making the sheet has already been won back by killing a couple of things I was working on, but I will likely keep it up to date. Putting numbers on things really does help make obvious mistakes more obvious to oneself.

I have occasional urges to create a ‘system’, with categories, projects, sub-projects. Everything would be nicely tagged with the same slugs across beeminder, todoist, excel sheets, etc. There would be time tracking and reporting. Dashboards. Alerting.

Realisticly this sort of thing doesn’t work for me. I stop updating things, and the tags become messy and out of date. I end up back half way between ‘the system’ and complete chaos.

Somehow, my beeminder goals end up reflecting my priorities (sometimes those drift, and I have to update the goals). My todo list tends to have items that move move projects toward completion. Everything sort of ticks over, in roughly the right direction.

Just far too slowly.

The closer I get to the end of a project, the less interested I am in it, the fewer tasks I add to my todo list, the longer I drag it out. I have difficuly in keeping up momentum and actually getting things completed. This is probably my biggest issue right now. I am able to complete single tasks on time, but terrible at making sure I’m doing the most useful task I could be doing at that moment.



I derailed two goals:

  • Straight: I simply forgot to do the exercise before I went to bed
  • Work to-do: Over-scheduled and did not pay enough attention to priority when working through tasks on that day, I got quite a lot done, but not all the tasks on my list for the day. Small ugh fields on each of the tasks meant I put them off in the morning. Focusing on doing tasks in priority order in future, not in ‘want’ order.

Media reduction process update as of 2018-10-26:

  • rss exactly 50 feeds (win!)
  • podcasts 42 feeds (win!)
  • backlog 90 items (scheduled another purge - now down to 77, getting there!)
  • pocket 529 (going down now!, win!)

I’m considering this a success and have added a weekly task to check I’m still on track and purge anything that goes over my budget. I’m already feeling slightly less bombarded by articles and podcasts, although I could do with reducing further.


The prioritization spreadsheet sounds really interesting – what criteria are you using for that? I have a lot of projects/hobbies, and a hard time letting go of any of them, so I could see that being really useful for me as well.


Impact, Fun, Efficiency, Karma.

I am currently only using it for shortish projects, or bits of a larger project if I can break it down, since I also estimate the number of hours I think it will take to complete. To calculate the priority, I then take the average of the squares of the Impact, Fun, Efficiency, Karma scores (1-5) and divide by the number of hours.

It is a very unscientific, intuitive process. I have found that the main benefit is forcing me to think about things on those different axes and recognise when I’m not working on the top priority.

Impact is the size of the benefit, how big of a change would result in completing the project.
Fun is how fun the task will be while I’m doing it
Efficiency gets points if completing the task will make subsequent tasks easier. For example if it is a prerequisite for other tasks, if it will allow me to learn new skills, etc.
Karma is how much completing the project helps other people (family, strangers, etc.)

I take the square of the scores because that feels more intuitive, If I give something a 5, it has a huge impact in my mind, much bigger than projects that would earn a ‘1 impact’ score.

I’m not sure how long I’ll continue using it, or how I’ll end up changing it, but I’ll keep playing as long as its useful!


Small reading changes

I increased the slope on my novel goal from 100/day to 150/day
I also decreased pocket from 2/day to 1.5/day

I feel this is a better balance, novels were taking too long to get through, and it seems that whatever level I set things to, that is the speed things will move at (until I set it too high, and fail!)

I’m not really seeing a the ‘mini habit’ effect where I would overachieve. It might happen with auto-retro-ratchet, or if I set the the goal very low (as mini-habits suggests, to be fair). As it is, if I overachieve on a particular day, I usually leave the goal for a while until it goes orange again.

This is fine, as long as I set the level appropriately


Love your journal, it’s a great read and helps a newbee to structure goals. Thanks for writing this, @penten!

In case you’re still doing Anki: This was exactly my problem for a very long time, but I fixed it and am now going strong for more than a year and a half.

What did the trick for me was to limit the number of new cards and reviews per deck each day (in the deck options). Start with a ridiculously low number, maybe even one new card and one review per day*.

This really took away my feeling of being overwhelmed by the number of cards due. I just do one deck at a time (which might be one card, or ten, whatever works for you, but it has to be capped). That is not a big deal, ten cards usually take less than a minute, right? Then I actually want to do more, so I do another deck, and before I realize, I am done with today’s cards. More often then not, I now “custom study >> increase today’s review card limit” because I want to study more.

*I am doing 10-20 reviews + 1-5 new cards on a few “main” decks and 1/1 on a couple of less important decks just to keep it going.


Thank you! I am finidng it very useful to continue writing this journal, so I’m glad someone else is getting benefit from it as well!

I am staying on top of my anki deck at the moment thanks to my daily anki-study goal, but I agree that your method sounds great if I do derail and have a backlog to work through. I am adding cards at a rate of 2/day right now, so I don’t need to spend much time on reviews! When I was deep in language-learning mode I was adding a lot, and reviewing everything was exhausting. Concentrating on flashcards for 30-60 minutes a day is hard!


Today the red goals are filling my phone widget (and I have a large phone screen).I am going to have to hurry if I want to get everything over the line in time, so I won’t waffle on.

Obviously I am not ‘treating orange as red’ often enough, although I do try and pick up any orange goals where possible, to avoid days like today!

Back to work…


Quick media update

Media update 2018-11-25

  • backlog 65 items (getting closer to 50)
  • podcasts 48 feeds (careful…)
  • rss 52 (scheduled 2 to be removed, will be tricky)
  • pocket 464! (under 500, dropping fast)

todo-home Failure

I had a task on my todo list that was painful enough that I ended up paying 5gbp and failing my todo-home goal. It had survived for so long! I immediately retro-ratcheted back to two days, since this has become my most important goal (esentially, just clearing my home todo-list every day, and not being allowed to reschedule things if I cannot complete them the first time round. This means that things actually get done, assuming I put them on the list!)



I have stopped my podcast goal for now. It was for listening to one French or Chinese podcast each week. I have moved all my novel reading to Chinese this last month, so it did not feel necessary, and there aren’t really any podcasts that I enjoy listening to enough that I feel it worth the bother.

Slowing down my whittling of pocket backlog

I dropped the pocket-deletion goal from 3 daily to 2, as I have removed most of the chaff already, and it is getting harder to find things to get rid of each day. This still has me reducing the backlog by 3.5 each day, although I probably add 2 articles/day average, so it will take a good while to clear out!


I considered lowering my reading goals this week. I am finding myself on the edge of failing every evening. It will only take one day where I don’t have ~1h of time free to derail on at least one of the two goals. I think I can find some time somewhere (lunch, mornings) to help build some buffer and get through the reading more quickly, so I am leaving it as it is for now.


I have not made any changes this week, I have been busy getting my goals into the blue in preparation for this Friday, since I know I will have almost no time all day for reading or any other time consuming things.

I am still considering reducing my reading and ‘adding sentences to Anki’ goals slightly, but really don’t want to! They feel very fragile, but I feel like I should be able to read that much (I used to read much more), so I’m going to try and stick to it a little longer.



Stopped the novel goal, stopped the anki-add goal, renamed enbook to ‘read’. I am now back to having a single reading task. To encourage me to continue reading Chinese books, their locations count double (I read at maybe 60% of full speed in Chinese). Doing two books at the same time is good in that it lets me jump between them when I feel bored of one or the othe. Unfortunately it means that I finish books more slowly which makes processing notes slightly harder. It also felt like a bit too much to get through each day with the 1h30 of free time I’m getting each evening.
I also increased the goal slightly, from 300 locs/day to 400 (or 200CN). That should have me reading an average book in 1-2 weeks, which tends to be about right for note processing, since it means I have the whole book in my head still (5-7 days would be better – depends a lot on the length and density of the book of course).


Pocket deletions dropped to 1/day, pretty happy with the reduction in backlog


Merry Christmas! Many of my goals are on pause this week, the others are humming along well. Nothing much to adjust.

For a lot of people, this is the time of year they think about big life changes, new habits to start, bad habits to break. I believe that if you want to make a change you should do it immediately, not wait for a particular day. There will be no particular change to my life on the first of January therefore. Changing habits should itself be a habit, after all.


I think I disagree about the importance of January 1st! It’s a culturally significant temporal landmark and those matter for the reasons discussed in the classic post about Schelling fences.