I don’t think Beeminder’s reminders are as nice as they could be, but they’re more than sufficient for me. I am not against improving anything in Beeminder, except when weighed against the opportunity cost.
(This whole thing comes from User me, not Beeminder Engineer me. At Beeminder, I try to stay on the implementation side anyways, rather than on the “steering the ship” side, so really don’t read anything Beemindery into this at all.)
I find the philosophical assertion about reminders here quite interesting.
Folks don’t make progress on their goals for a variety of reasons. They may not be ready to make progress, and need to spend more time preparing (they need the right tools, or need to be at the right place). They may have unrealistic expectations, and not schedule enough time to do them. They may have all the tools and equipment, have a suitable plan, have an appropriate amount of time, but impulsively do something different that feels more enjoyable. There are a million more reasons here, but if we step back a bit and look at more foundational reasons…
I found a lot of value in The Procrastination Equation, which says that motivation is boosted by expectancy and value, and diminished by impulsiveness and delay. Expectancy is both how much you expect to succeed, and how much you expect to get a reward. Value is both how much you value doing the task, and how much you value having the task done. Delay refers to the discounting our poor intra-ear meat performs on future tasks costs and benefits.
How does Beeminder improve motivation?
Beeminder dramatically reduces the delay aspect of this. If you ride the line, you have a deadline every single day.
I personally find a lot of value in Beeminder and its graphs, even without the financial sting or even reminders! (I don’t think I have ever derailed on my weight graph, although I had tried to lose weight for many years in many different way. It’s been 4? years and I’ve kept something like 60 pounds off…) I have often wondered about why Beeminder helps me so much, and The Procrastination Equation helped me come up with a few insights.
The graph and daily expected progress is an overlooked but also key way Beeminder helps people achieve their goals. There’s a negative feeling when you see that you should be on page X, or have ran Y miles, or have painted Z paintings, and you didn’t. See things like commits.to for more proof of this. I think one of the ways that people sabotage themselves is by ignoring this. See Nick Winter’s success spirals for a way to build this up if this paragraph seems foreign to you.
Beeminder’s financial sting is the another aspect that improves motivation. It’s a negative value assigned to not doing the task, on top of both the negative value of not doing the task, and the commitment-breaking feeling above.
How does improving Beeminder reminders improve motivation per this framework? I think it would have to lie with impulsiveness. The thought is that you know your goal, you know how to work on it, you’re perfectly ready to work on it in every way, but you forgot it was a goal of yours so you dinked around on YouTube instead? This is pretty foreign to me, but not 100%. I get like that sometimes, but for me, a notification from Beeminder isn’t going to “knock me out of it” and get me doing the hard work I should be doing instead.
I’m not saying users who are perfectly ready to do their goals but don’t because they need a perfectly timed email don’t exist, but that I am not that user and that I have a hard time mentally modeling them. I am skeptical that that level of impulsiveness is cured by a perfectly timed email. If an incoming email from Beeminder can get them off their previous task and onto their goal, what’s going to happen when their next email comes in? What about when someone walks in the room and starts talking? These are genuine questions, not rhetorical.