Beeminder Forum

Need Help Creating Goal

So I am trying to create a goal that will help me not procrastinate on my homework. I am currently doing where I need to have 3 todos related to school done today. However I dont think this has been helping as much as like. I thought of doing maybe time based (a certain amount each day) however I feel like this is less flexible if say there is a day in the week that I am gone all day or something and if I get homework done early for a week it really complicates things. With the 3 todos I can just choose smaller tasks. Any suggestions on a type of goal that you think might do better. So far all my other goals have been good, I am new to beeminder, I have only been doing it for 2 weeks. This is the only goal I am having issues figuring out.

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Welcome! And great question. It can be agonizing/paralyzing picking the most meaningful metric.

Two quick pointers for now that could be helpful:

  1. We have a blog post with thoughts and principles for picking a good metric to mind: https://blog.beeminder.com/whattomind
  2. There’s a very ancient but classic guest post about using Beeminder for studying that I recommend: https://blog.beeminder.com/gandalf/
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I’m curious - why do you say it hasn’t been helping as much as you like? What seems to be the problem?

It’s usually best to start small and try to do it consistently - so if you have been consistently doing the todos for 2 weeks, maybe give it another week or two and then add more?

I have a goal called frogs which is similar: I have to check off 4 a day from my to-do list. What I’ve noticed is that there’s a lot more friction for some tasks than others, either in terms of time spent, aversion to doing the task, or both. So I’ve added in a point system: each task gets from 1 (put on a load of laundry) to 3 (do my husband’s business bookkeeping). So far that’s been really helping me take on the things that I would otherwise push out until they became a problem.

The other thing I’ve noticed about using Beeminder in general is that it works much, much better for me if data is automatically sent to my goal from elsewhere, instead of me having to enter it manually. For this goal, I set up an applet at IFTTT to add data to frogs when I check an item off a list in iOS Reminders. (I had the list of tasks there already, and I was checking them off there already. Bonus Beeminder input!)

To incorporate the 1–3 point scale, I write each to-do item in Reminders as “1 laundry” or “3 bookkeeping” and then use NUM[] in the IFTTT applet to extract that number. I can imagine that at this point you’re looking at me like I’ve just written down the wave equation for pink elephants appearing over Miami. I’ll just put this screenshot here, and if you’d like more wordage, let me know.

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I’m also a student (undergrad Math), so ever since restarting Beeminder during this quarantine I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to Beemind my studies and have been lurking in these forums far too long not to reply to this!

Before starting Beeminder, my biggest issue was actually sitting down and getting started doing work. So, my first school work-related goal was beeminding 8 “tocks” per day automatically using Clockwork Tomato and Tasker (h/t Brent Yorgey). This was a huge improvement over the very small amount of work I was doing previously and the steppy graph was a huge motivator to keep going.

However, after doing a bit of reading of the Messy Matters and Beeminder blogs I started to question whether this was really the best I could possibly do. After all, tracking time manually leaves the possibility that you’re unfairly counting procrastination or daydreaming, which you can easily forget at the end of your tock or Pomodoro. Luckily, @dreev has done a lot of thinking on the part of everyone who has ever thought about this topic and expressed exactly this problem here along with the elegant solution to it in TagTime. I’ve used TagTime for around a month and a half to track my hours spent doing course-related work and can’t see myself going back; it makes way too much sense!

But okay, maybe you’re not like me and an umbrella “more time on all study” improvement won’t actually help you that much. That’s fair enough; it started to plateau a little for me eventually as well and I needed something more specific to strive for.

Another study-related goal I’ve been experimenting with is related to Anki. If you aren’t using Anki, you’re really limiting your study success opportunities. Again, this may seem like I’m looking for a silver bullet approach but after reading through a lot of educational psychology literature, I cannot think of a single subject that wouldn’t benefit from its use where the goal is long-term learning.

To briefly summarise a vast (and really interesting!) field of research on factual knowledge, higher-order thinking skills and capacities that all subjects try to develop like creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, etc. are all intertwined with and depend on vast expanses of factual knowledge stored in our long-term memory (interesting further reading here, here )

Therefore, it’s really important that we have a systematic tool for learning all this knowledge. That’s where Anki comes in! Some timeless pieces on how to use it:

My current Anki goal is a do-more goal in which I temptation-bundle my Anki reviews with Netflix watching (shamelessly stolen from @dreev; thanks for the great idea!!). I have 1.5 hours a day in which I need to complete all my Anki reviews, counted using TagTime (so 2 pings). If I finish my reviews before the 2 pings, I get to watch Netflix for the remaining time. If I don’t finish my reviews but still get 2 pings of studying before the deadline, I’m done and don’t get to watch any Netflx. As Danny describes, it makes a slightly not-fun process more enjoyable because you’re working towards a fun temptation.

That’s actually it from me! For revision that isn’t factual recall, I use Ali Abdaal’s Retrospective Revision spreadsheet to guide my study. I need to Beemind this one as well but haven’t gotten around to it yet. I think anything more than that is probably a bit too granular for me personally because I have a lot of other commitments…

…which brings me to my last point. Another really important thing to recognise with Beeminder is that using it can help illuminate the apocryphal quote, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” Your productivity in your studies is tied to a lot of other, seemingly unrelated variables that you may not have considered. For instance, fatigue, anxiety and depression may rear their ugly head from too big a focus on only one thing. This might not be directly caused by studying itself but rather from the absence of other things. Beeminding:

  • your social life to meet your social needs
  • your exercise to meet your physical needs and boost your mental health
  • your study deadline to make sure you finish your daily tasks by 5pm
  • an old hobby to boost your mental health, among other benefits
    could all have indirect benefits and improve your study-related outcomes too (n=1, anecdotal etc. but focusing on all of these have really helped me)

I’ve really ranted on but please respond to this with any thoughts you’ve had since posting! I’m committed to Beeminder for the long run and recognise that my usage in the first 2 months is probably far from optimal :slight_smile:

EDIT: for miscellaneous tasks, I’m using complice.co right now and https://blog.beeminder.com/mustdo/, Trello and other things before Beeminder but am not really sure what the best solution is for a system per se here. Danny has published this: http://doc.dreev.es/fv which may be of use, i.e. beeminding chains of tasks in the system described. https://www.amazingmarvin.com/ looks promising and I might give it a go after finishing my Complice trial

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I think to offer more specific help to @linux535 we really need to know what the problem is with the current system. But here are some more things I’ve found helpful:

I did not personally find Complice to be helpful at all, to say the least - it just wants to shoehorn you into its own philosophy of how you should work, which I did not find to be effective. Instead I’d recommend TaskRatchet (by our own @narthur) or Boss As A Service (by our own @manasvinik). They are just far superior in every way in my opinion, more motivating, better designed, better interface, and much more flexibility to use the tools how you want to, instead of the inferior and ineffective way that Complice seems to think I should work.

Regarding Amazing Marvin, have you looked at MLO at all (My Life Organized)? It could best be described as “a thinking person’s Amazing Marvin.” Again, just far more powerful and flexible, with all the good things about Amazing Marvin. And it has functional phone apps, which is a must for me, unlike the seriously crippled phone app for Amazing Marvin.

So I’d encourage you to ditch the fairly useless (in my opinion) Complice and Amazing Marvin, and substitute far more functional tools - if you don’t like the ones I mentioned, there are plenty of others that don’t constrain you in such a frustrating way.

Can you explain what you mean by this? What do you mean about unfairly counting procrastination?

Say I set a pomodoro for 15 minutes. I don’t expect that I will always be functioning at 100% efficiency - so in that 15 minutes it’s likely there will be a little bit of distraction or slowness of some sort, which is fine with me.

I’ve found just the act of tracking time manually to help keep me on track, because I’m the one in control - I can choose exactly when to start and stop and write a new line in my notebook. I never had much luck with TagTime, mostly because I always keep my phone on silent and I would hate to be interrupted in the middle of sex or something. The last thing I want is to have to be monitoring my phone for alerts every waking moment.

You mentioned Anki as being helpful (though I would personally be very cautious of anything Gwern says - I haven’t found his writings to be fair, helpful, or accurate). One thing you might also consider is Dual N-backing - it’s similar to Anki in that it works your memory, but it increases your working memory, basically giving you more RAM or “desk space” in your head to process stuff. I can literally feel my mind getting bigger when I do it!

Hey, now, there’s room enough for many approaches. :worried:

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Fair enough - I was just saying what I personally found helpful and unhelpful. Some people may really mesh with the Complice philosophy and find it to be a useful tool.

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Yeah my Complice trial finishes today and I don’t think I’ll buy a subscription but I do appreciate that it got me thinking much harder about how to connect short term tasks to long-term goals, which I’ll carry over into my Beeminder usage.

I’ve seen a few of those applications in passing and will look over them today by 11pm, which is going straight into my commits do more goal that I ripped from @dreev’s I-Will System! SIdenote: Unfortunately I have zero clue how to code or program so I don’t think I can qualify for usage of the actual commits.to, but I’ve found that this makeshift goal has been really useful in all areas of my life. Given the topic of the thread is study, I’ll mention that the group assignments I’ve done this semester have vastly benefitted from me modelling and following through on these explicit deadlines for other group members.

I’m realising now that I’m coming off super preachy in this, as though I’ve read a few Beeminder blogs/forum posts etc. and am suddenly the world’s authority on Beeminder usage…I can totally relate to not wanting to check my phone every few minutes as I have notifications turned off for basically everything, which I started doing after reading a lot of Cal Newport’s writing. I’m also wary that this could have an adverse impact on productivity, but I don’t know the literature well enough to have a super informed take on this. All of these things are really an n=1 experiment in productivity and I’ll say that for me personally, I wasn’t satisfied with the accuracy I was getting from tracking 45 min blocks and “unfairly counting procrastination” refers to me having the timer count tocks automatically and thus I’d have some tocks where I’d be daydreaming/doing something else in the tock but still counted equally as a fully focused period of time. More than anything, I was curious about exactly where my time was going, so I decided to try out TagTime. This is more of an ongoing experiment than a full-on adoption of TagTime everything.

I’m not really a big reader of Gwern, although I do have a lot of his stuff saved in Pocket to get through eventually. I included him there because it’s an article that is referred to by many when speaking about SRS and the extent of the literature he cites shows that it’s not just some study-hack gimmick. I’ve only recently heard of Dual N-backing in particular but I’ve read a tiny bit of the discourse around the working memory training literature. One meta-analysis:
Currently available working memory training programs have been investigated in a wide range of studies involving typically developing children, children with cognitive impairments (particularly ADHD), and healthy adults. Our meta-analyses show clearly that these training programs give only near-transfer effects, and there is no convincing evidence that even such near-transfer effects are durable. The absence of transfer to tasks that are unlike the training tasks shows that there is no evidence these programs are suitable as methods of treatment for children with developmental cognitive disorders or as ways of effecting general improvements in adults’ or children’s cognitive skills or scholastic attainments. (link)

While I don’t think it’s totally impossible to increase your working memory capacity (I just don’t know the science and literature well enough), my primitive understanding of educational/cognitive psychology on memory and learning leads me to personally believe that it’s a better, safer bet to focus on increasing the knowledge you possess in your long-term memory, the capacity of which is basically unlimited. This kind of hacks your working memory in itself, because if you have more knowledge in long-term memory you can ‘chunk’ connected pieces of knowledge together and get around the infamous 4+/-1 limit on working memory.

My preference for building up knowledge also stems from the fact that I had a pretty limited education in primary and higher schooling in regards to the social and physical sciences, so Dual N-back training is less of a priority for me personally than, say, learning about the Cold War or how chromosomes actually work, which is knowledge that would be strange for an educated adult not to know.

sidenote: this is genuinely the only online place that I’ve posted/participated in other than Twitter, which I’ve commented on sparsely and my first comments have been exceedingly long. I wonder what draws people to be so active in this forum? Is it because the founders are dogfooding by leaving comments and starting threads about how they use their own product? Is it the sunk cost of purchasing a subscription? Could it be a selection effect from the friendliness/willingness of people to help around here? I suspect it’s obviously a bit of all of them but curious how of the variance in people’s commenting each of those reasons explains

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TaskRatchet looks really well-designed! I am excited to try it later today :slight_smile:

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I think realizing that you’re in an n=1 experiment is a pretty great insight. I go even farther–if something works for you, but no one else… it’s probably still be valuable :slight_smile:

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I feel like it is hard to define what a proper todo for school is. As some tasks are way easier then others so 3 todo’s one day might be 10x easier then another day. I guess it just feels inconsistent and hence I dont get as much as I should done. Thanks for the reply sorry for the delay its finals week and things are just now starting to calm down

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Hi, sorry for a delay in response its finals week so things have been crazy. First I would like to thank you for your detailed reply you have given my some ideas on what I might do.

I have normally used Quizlet for studying but Anki looks really interesting, I plan on looking into during my 3 week break from school. It uses LaTeX which is something I actually want to learn to use.

TagTime sounds really interesting but I was having issues finding it, do you have a link?

I am also going to look into this also. Again thank you for your detailed response it is greatly appreciated.

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I messed around with TaskRatchet a bit and seems kind of like GTbee without the ability to delete tasks. However GTbee has been effective for short term tasks. Boss As A Service seems interesting but a bit costly. Thank you for the recommendations.

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I like the idea of a point system this is something I will look into. Thank you for the response. Sorry for the delay in response it is finals week at my university and things are just now starting to calm down.

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Yeah this is why I kind of hesitate to Beemind to-dos (other than a single must-do which I linked in my other comment). However, breaking your projects down into atomised units still seems pretty useful. Here is a really nice anecdote by an education writer named Daisy Christodoulou that illustrates why:

In my first week at university, I remember buying a small notepad to keep a list of all the things I needed to remember now I was living away from home. Amongst some quite mundane tasks like “register with GP”, “get a library card” and “find out if the union will be showing West Ham’s next match”, I also absent-mindedly added in “write essay”. The first few weeks of term slipped by and while the other items on the list were quickly ticked off, “write essay” remained. I started new lists on different pages, but “write essay” remained, looming horribly at me amid reminders about milk and discount travelcards.
A few years later I read David Allen’s productivity book, Getting Things Done , which offered some brilliant advice on avoiding this problem. Allen recommends that when you are trying to get something done, you should “write down the very next physical action required to move the situation forward”. The advantage of this is that it gives you more clarity about what you have to do.
Based on this, some of the items on my list were great. For example, “go to the union and ask if they are showing West Ham’s next match” is great. It’s very clear what to do and easy to tick off once it has been done. “Write essay”, on the other hand, is terrible. It’s the kind of list item that ends up scaring you because it’s too big. It’s so vague that you don’t know where to start – so you don’t get started. And even if you do put in some work on it, you probably won’t be able to tick off the whole item, which is demotivating.

My memory might be failing me but I think I remember a forum post in which @zedmango and @narthur were preaching the virtues of that same book to @dreev haha; it has a lot of really interesting insights around to-do systems but that’s one that I think about and use often

Here’s the link to install on PC but it’s a very involved installation process! I don’t know my way around computers so have resigned myself to using the Android version, which you can find on the Play Store by searching TagTime.

All good, feel free to keep the thread going and keep us posted with your progress :slight_smile:

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Yes definitely. I love that book and I had a similar “write essay” experience - when I read the book my mind was just blown. He explains it all so simply and clearly.

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I tried this watered-down version of GTD before Beeminder but it never really stuck. Do you still use straight up GTD and if so, what kind of Beeminder goals do you use to support it?

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Just wanted to jump in real quick to say that TaskRatchet is a super early-stage service, so please, please, please don’t hesitate to email me at nathan@taskratchet.com at the first sign of brokenness, bugginess, frustration, or missing features. All feedback is valuable!

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