My newest experiment: Locking myself into a routine

I have been trying to experiment with different ways of using Beeminder (Mary's Beeminder Experiments Journal) and my newest is as ill-advised, extreme, and convoluted to set up as any… and I’m super excited about it!

I’m locking myself into a 33-item daily (weekday) routine. Each item on the routine has a graph (some activities that are split have two, like starting work at a precise time in the morning and then restarting in the afternoon after my workout and lunch). Each graph as a deadline for an hour and a quarter after I should have started (so that my whole day can be shifted by an hour if I need to sleep in a little and so that there’s some buffer time to do data entry without having to email support to say that I did it on time but entered it too late. I would prefer not to have this buffer time but I have sleep issues and just skipping out on an extra hour of sleep when my body’s willing to take it isn’t a good idea.) I enter +1 when I start the activity (through a partially automated set-up). It’s the starting on time / starting in the right order, consistently, that I’m trying to reinforce, train myself into, and make into a natural habit.

My intention is to do this for 30 days during the weekdays (I have weekends off on all of these) and to try and get myself, by hook or by fire-baptism crook, to adjust to a specific new daily routine all at once. I expect this to be challenging! There’s a reason people suggest we only try to change one or two habits at a time and I’m very aware that I’m going against good advice in a rather extreme way, but I’m aware that it’s not the optimal way to make a new habit stick (or… 33 of them) and am trying it as a can-I-pull-this-off challenge that I hope might work rather than as a thing that I expect should or will be workable. And if I derail on all of them at once, it’s worth the $165 to me to give it that try.

I have set up a convoluted (but neat, if I do say so myself) shortcut in iOS that goes into a “Routine” view in OmniFocus, takes the next action, parses it for the Beeminder goal name, sends a +1 to Beeminder for that name (via email), takes me to OmniFocus to check that item off (waiting a few seconds so that I have the time to), and then takes me to Toggl, in case the activity is something I need to track in Toggl. (I’ve also set up a different shorcut for the watch, but it requires one extra tap due to some limitations and won’t take me to Toggl. Eventually, I intend to use “if” statements to start the Toggl automatically if it’s an activity that also has a Toggl goal.)

In the moment, my experience is just to quickly tap on the home screen icon, tap again when OmniFocus pops up in a sec, and then either tap start in Toggl, which has automatically opened, or just put my phone down. It’s actually pretty quick to do, but was a little long-ish to set-up. That’s just a one-time pain for a potentially huge gain though.

That gain: Getting my new, fairly complex routine to be second nature eventually… but… slightly less eventually than by adding one piece at a time. This is just the first step, since I’ll need to slowly take away one training wheel after another until it’s not something that needs any scafolding if it’s going to just be something I eventually am in the swing of doing. In the meantime, I hope to have a very nicely structured January to get 2021 off on the right foot. I imagine that if I were to manage to keep it up for all of January, I’d take a lot of progress on a number of personal items that I struggle to do more with because my time is too chaotically allocated right now.

Anyway… this is a terrible idea… but I’m excited to see how it goes!

[Edit: I’m only requiring 90% adherence to this. In other words, the daily rate is 0.9, with weekends off, which means that every ten days of following it, I will add a day of buffer, just to make it a little more reasonable! I’m not decided yet on what buffer I’ll start with on January 1st, either. Thoughts welcome.]


Good luck!

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This is amazing! I love this! I want to try!

@dreev this is a great use case for $1 goals. $165 a day is a little much. Over 30 days that’s $5000 at risk!

@mary How are you scheduling your days? Can we see more info on your daily routine?

How do you deal with things like meetings and calls that disrupt the daily schedule?

I want to do this but I’m not sure how to deal with deviations from the daily schedule.

How specific is your schedule? Like do you plan it project by project?

How much buffer is there between tasks - like do you have 15 minute tasks scheduled an hour apart, or is there not much of a gap?


@mary @dreev

also curious if there is fine print on these types of goals, of the form “work on project X from 3pm - 4pm unless I have another obligation that comes up during that time” and how you nail that down precisely to allow flexibility for whatever comes up in the month without leading to a slippery slope.

I know @mary has written about having detailed fine print so I’d like to know how that works with this routine and how that works with Beeminder potentially moving more to a no-excuses model.


Oh, no no, this is an experiment that I might discover I can’t pull off. If I were to derail for $165 on a given day, I’d archive the goals and go back to the “right” way of building a routine, starting them one or two at a time and adding new ones when those become habits. I’m not meta-committing to keep going if I discover it’s not tenable or anything!

Hmm… Maybe? Let me ponder that a bit. I’d want to make some bits more private first, but let me see if I can put together something useful.

All of my meetings happen during my work hours and work is scheduled as two blocks at the moment and my meetings happen within those two blocks. I have a 30-minute “life admin / mucking” block in the afternoon, so I can make personal calls in those blocks. If I had work hours that prevented that, I’d probably also have a lunch scheduled and might make the calls during that time.

I guess the point for me is that I’m avoiding deviating from the daily schedule for about a month. If that weren’t possible, like if I had less control over my schedule or over what I can say yes/no to than I currently do, I think that I wouldn’t bind myself to do things in time slots during which something might pre-empt my plan. I might leave a particular space open for unexpecteds. I also have a day of buffer every 10 days and I have weekends off, so I could potentially try to use the buffer for those occasions.

I also only require that I start the time slot on time. Some of those have secondary goals that also require that I go for the full time, but many don’t. What I’m looking to build is the habit and the consistency and so I think if I knew I had something coming up in the afternoon, maybe I could shorten the length of some of my morning items to leave room for it, while keeping the order intact to build that consistency.

No gap, but since I only have to start on time (and there’s a little wiggle room between the schedule and the Beeminder deadline) this isn’t as rigid as it all sounds.


Nope, no fine print on these. The slots are broad enough and the experiment is short enough that that’s not needed for me here, I think. I would call not legit if I were sick (sick enough to call in sick for work) or some other thing of a larger magnitude happened, like if someone in my family were sick, but otherwise, if something comes up, I intend to try and schedule it into an appropriate time for it or do something else early so that I can use its time slot later for this other thing that came up.


Thank you for the detailed reply! This is very helpful! I’ve bolded some of the key concepts for me to refer back to.

If you could I would really appreciate it!

Another option could be disjunctive goals, which you’ve suggested before:

The trick will be specifying the disjuncts with enough clarity to avoid weaseling but enough flexibility to account for life.

Are you still into disjuncts?

I may try something like your plan but with disjunctive goals.

Yeah, I think broad work slots will be key. Sounds like you just have very broad “work” slots and all work projects fit into that, rather than have more specific time periods for specific projects, right?

I think this is really key and I always forget about this, but it’s always really helpful for me. Only having to start takes a lot of pressure off and helps me get more done.

And I love the idea of harnessing this for the purpose of building consistency in the sequence I do things in! That’s brilliant.


But do you leave any blocks of unscheduled time throughout the day (time that doesn’t correspond to a goal, that is) for breaks or mealtimes or anything? I’m thinking of putting in a few one-hour break slots or something like that.


I thought of a fairly obvious way of doing it: The goals themselves. When I created them, I titled them in ways that I’d be fine with others seeing, so why not just show them to you? Everyone’s routine would be very personal anyway so this is probably plenty of detail. So here’s a shot of my Reminders page, with some of the irrelevant, non-routine-related goals removed so they aren’t in the way.

The reminders are scheduled to start 45 minutes before I actually intend to start each thing, and the deadline is set 1h 15m after I’m supposed to have started each thing, just so there’s some flexibility there. (This isn’t risky for me in the way it might be for some. I’m not especially likely to let each thing drift so that I’m pushing up against the deadline and an hour and a quarter late on everything each day Even if I did, though, my schedule would be just fine, so this isn’t a problem for me and can come in handy on the days my body decides I’m allowed to a little sleep more.)

The goal names aren’t visible, but I think you can mostly get the gist. The 6:20 AM one (5:35 reminder) that starts with “mh-write…” is a dissertation block that has an associated Toggl goal. The mh-Beeminder…" ones are both work blocks that have associated Toggl goals, and my cardio and strength goals also have separate auto-dialled goals. I also take breaks during my work and dissertation times and try to squeeze in some short cardio during those breaks, so that it doesn’t have to be just a separate block on its own.

I swing between getting up extremely early (between 3:30 and 5:00) and being awake for a couple of hours in the night before sleeping until 7ish and my partner needs a lot of sleep and has a recurring early morning meeting, so I go to be very early, hence the 9:00 PM lights out.


(I think that most of the rest of your Qs were probably answered by the screenshot, but let me know if I left anything unanswered that it didn’t or if others come up.)

Thanks :slight_smile: I’m just trying to get myself used to that “after this, do that” sequence for a new routine. It changes a lot from my old routine, which is why I’m being so specific and including even the very tiny things, some of which I don’t actually really need help with. If I didn’t have a way of having this 90% of the way to completely automated, I don’t think I would dare be so over-planned. The friction of that would be too much for me.

This is still just an experiment! It might fail!
I just want to reiterate that this is still just a crazy experiment that I’m trying and it might crash and burn, so I would be very reluctant to actually recommend it to anyone! It goes against basically all good behaviour-change advice and if I hadn’t been using Beeminder for nearly 20% of the time I’ve, you know, been alive, I expect it would be harder than however hard it’s going to turn out to be. Not sure!

That said, I’ve been sort of practicing an easygoing implementation of the routine for a few days to see if there are any last-minute changes I want to make before starting the 30 days (turns out there are, but they’re minor, like pushing my workout back by an hour or so). So far, I have to admit that I’m actually kind of loving it. I’m a creature that likes structure. I find that from the position of a solid structure, I can afford to add a lot of variety and spontenaity, but without a base structure, it’s sort of just chaos for me and I lose the freedom to do extra things because so much time is spent navigating the chaos. I’d let my structures fall away (Thanks 2020… and 2019…) and am reminded of how great it is to have one. I also love that I’m no longer spending time wondering if I should be doing something else, if some This is really the right thing to be doing right now, if I’ll have time later to do some That, and that I have scheduled in time to keep in touch with people again as well as dedicated time to relax, guilt free. It’s still VERY early, though. Let’s see how it handles bumps and detours and days where I feel like doing precisely no things!

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Again thank you for all the detailed info! This has inspired me to take up your challenge!

Thank you! Still curious about your views on disjuncts, i.e., goal is satisfied if task X was done or conditions C1 through Cn occurred.

Also wondering if you left any blocks of time that don’t correspond to goals, since you don’t list the end times, for break times. Is every minute assigned to a goal or do you do something like: 9-3 scheduled items, 3-5 break, 5-7 scheduled items, 7-9 break, 9-11 scheduled items ?

Also my OCD compels me to note that mh-ablutions has a 3 hour gap between reminders and deadline instead of 2, making it out of order - not sure if that’s a typo or intentional.


Oh yeah, that’s a typo. It should be 12:05 PM.

I’m glad it’s been useful in thinking up your own! I hope both of our experiments are either successful or informative!

Disjunctive goals

I don’t really have any disjunctive goals at the moment, I don’t think. Oh, I have some must-do-tasks goals that require that I either complete The Thing or work at least 45 minutes on that specific task, but that doesn’t feel in the spirit of a disjunctive goal.

I could imagine having a goal like “run x minutes OR if it’s raining, use the elliptical for x minutes”, but I’d probably just end up consolidating that under the umbrella of “x minutes of cardio”. I wound up worried about disjuncts that were of a different kind (“run x minutes OR it’s raining”) and have been thinking about ways, like the above, to pull them under one umbrella in a way that keeps the type of activity the same and just allows multiple ways to satisfy it that are all of a kind.


After a week of this, I’m pretty happy with it so far. The me-friendly rules I have make it easy to satisfy these graphs and come in handy but not in ways that are working against my objectives, so far as I can tell.

I intend to make it a little more strict (making the deadlines closer to the ideal times, having less of a buffer, different things like that), assuming this keeps working out, but I’m really glad to have started with weekends off (but allowing myself to build up a buffer), with the rule that I only have to start the activity to get the point, and with the rule that I’m able to split blocks so that I can do something early in order to free up time for something that I need to do in a block scheduled for later.

By next week I might start finding that there’s a little too much freedom, but for now, easing into it like this (if you can call this easing into it) has been good and I’m happy with it overall.


I love this idea.

While yes, probably everyone recommends that doing something this strict is a terrible idea, that is often a bit of a motivator for me too to try it for a limited amount of time. A sprint of focused effort can sometimes charge the momentum on things even if in the long term it would not have been sustainable. Heck, my thesis was written unsustainably despite all efforts and it got done.

I’m doing something similar-ish. I have my phone lock me into morning and evening routines that cycle me through apps that I know will do me well. Morning has things like a motivational video, my mood tracker, starts a new Notion page in my journal that I can track throughout the day, and touches Habitica once so all the tasks get reset and my automatic logging throughout the day works etc. Evening opens that journal for me to finish and reflect and some other apps. I use Android so it’s with Tasker.

Having this railroading implemented has honestly changed my productivity and well-being. My natural state is entropic, aka the couch. Reminding myself of some ambitions and automatically setting a focus etc has been the difference between me just watching twitch all evening and me now getting up at 5:30 in the morning to have some extra time video editing. I wish I was kidding, I know this sounds way overblown, and of course there’s ups and downs, but even when I fall off the wagon (mental health etc), I still get on the horse easier, because my phone routine just runs and I can just let the current sweep me with it instead of painstakingly building it myself.

Oh and of course it’s all hooked up to some beeminder goals, but not all and not super strict. But I think I’ll steal some inspiration from some of your set up to enhance my habit railroad.

Good luck!


This ended up going great. Locking myself into it longer than a month would feel unsustainably difficult for me, but the month (during which I still had a lot of flexibility and what I was asking of myself was more moderate than it seems at first blush) really forced me to keep at it and to learn where the tricky parts are and what would make different pieces of it hard to sustain long-term.

The three biggest things this experiment helped remind me and further reinforced:

  1. More structure is great for both work and downtime.
    My work time is more productive but it’s also spread over a shorter span and so my down time is more plentiful. It’s also more free in virtue of being less encumbered by the stresses of responsibilities and work that drag and stretch and expand to fill whatever space you let it all.

  2. It’s easier to be spontaneous.
    A common thing people say when we chat about routines is that they don’t like being that restricted and want to be spontaneous. What I witness (in myself, mostly, but also in others) is that what actually happens is that when you’re “spontaneous” 100% of the time, most of it gets kind of crappily spent, half in-between tasks you don’t want to start just yet but haven’t committed to do at a particular time, and so the time drips, drips away. Then, when something spontaneous does come up, something that’s really interesting and that you want to participate in, more often than you’d like, you can’t because you don’t have any time left. You let all of your deadlines wait until the last minute and now you have to choose between failing to meet that deadline or skipping out on this rare and interesting activity. But hey, at least you “spontaneously” doom-scrolled Twitter whenever you wanted all week, right? When mostly following a routine, things get taken care of, tasks get done when they ought to, and there’s a planned time for when you’ll continue working on them so you can put them out of your mind and take advantage of the occasional, actually exceptional, spontaneous opportunity without stress or flaking on responsibilities.

  3. Reminder: my affective forecasting is hot garbage.
    Over and over again, I predict that being on the rails, so to speak, of a structured routine will feel terrible and I’ll be bored and bummed out all the time, but I end up feeling much better, getting more done, and generally enjoying the day more. (And then I wake up the next day and dread getting back on the rails, cause that affective forecasting module in my brain seems to update very slowly…)

I’m trying, now, to follow a version of the routine I was following during the month (modified in light of some of what I learned) but without the accountability. I might re-add bits of accountability later for items I seem to resist more often, depending on how things go. I’m working to just keep refining the balance between consistency and sustainability and to keep reminding myself of those 3 pieces above, the remembering of which I seem to need to re-up every once in a while!