Oulfis's Beeminder Journal

@grayson mentioned the utility of personal threads in building community, and I thought I’d bite the bullet and be the first. I’ll post here about whatever seems relevant, whenever I feel like it, and welcome comments to whatever extent folks feel inspired to respond! (It didn’t seem worth making a whole additional part of the forum when stuff like this was the intended goal of the “Life” forum to begin with, but I suppose the post could always be moved if it personal threads seem to be cluttering things up?)

Right now my intended “new forum post” trigger is “new beeminder goal or substantial change to existing goal” – it turns out I have twenty-eight Beeminder goals (egads) so I won’t try to start out by recapping all my current goals, but I’ll describe a new one I started today: translating La Nouvelle Héloïse extremely slowly!

I’ve been idly reviving my undergraduate French by doing duolingo (and Beeminding it, of course); in a year or two, I will need to demonstrate reading competence in French as part of my PhD program, and I thought it couldn’t hurt to start early.

I’ve also been increasingly intrigued by the Goldlist method of learning vocabulary (video link). It’s not worth drilling flashcards when I’m not actually trying to really learn French, but meditatively sitting with a notebook to enjoy writing out words with nice pens… that fits well with my current interests!

But one needs a source of words, for Goldlisting. I study 18thC British literature, and everything I’m reading for my special fields exam[1] kept mentioning Rousseau – et voilà! Julie, ou La Nouvelle Héloïse. I found online editions in French and in English, added them to my Goodreads, and was ready to go!

Except that I was going much too slowly to track my progress by the page. I’d never get anywhere if I couldn’t have a little progress bar filling up… so, enter my fanciest Complice-Beeminder integration to date:

I can “append” the number of words I read in any given session, and append more than once over the course of the day, and when I am done for the day and check off the task, my total words get sent to Beeminder!

The rate is still set extremely low – just 50 words a week – but I can ramp it up as I grow more serious about this task, and Beeminder’s running total will help me keep track of how many of the ~8000 words in volume 1 I have managed to get through.

In forty minutes, encountering 25 unfamiliar words that I added to my goldlist, I read four and a half sentences of the author’s preface. I am looking forward to getting faster over time.

[1] Yes, I started this time-intensive recreational reading project while I am meant to be studying for my special fields exam. It’s a productive form of procrastination, I’m not going to resist it.

N.B. It felt really weird to write “oulfis’s” at the top, but the S is silent… “oulfis” is pronounced like “ull-FEE,” so the possessive must be “ull-FEES,” so it must be written “oulfis’s” with the S… right?


Yes! As someone whose name ends with an S, this is a pet peeve of mine. :slight_smile:

And thanks so much for getting the ball rolling with @grayson’s idea of personal threads in the Life category!

Very interesting. I too have been slowly learning French. I was initially inspired by posts here about Anki, and looking at French again after taking a few years a long time ago in High School seemed like a great way to test it. I’m about halfway through Duolingo and still not quite sure what to think about it, but I’ve been making progress and will see it through. On one hand it seems to wait longer than I would expect to review recent words. On the other it feels like I can get bogged down reviewing 5-8 exercises before getting to a new one, and the reviews are often have several variations of a word I remember, so it is both doing too little and too much review. I was using the web version first, but wound up switching to the android app and that feels faster.

I hadn’t heard of the Goldlist method before. It seems like something worth trying, but it feels almost too good to be true. I guess the trick would be to pick appropriately memorable starting items in the list. I’ve been looking for things to do once I finish the Duolingo tree and this seems a good candidate.

Thanks for the post. I will be following this thread looking for more inspiration down the line.

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I’ve obviously done far too little Goldlisting to vouch for it one way or the other, but if it works for me it’ll work on the principle that something is better than nothing. I’m simply not going to study French flashcards. But I will sit down with a difficult text and make lists of all the words I had to look up and what they mean.

I’m not worrying right now about picking “good” words – I suspect that a lot of my reductions will come from saying, “oh, I don’t actually care about knowing this word,” or “oh, I wrote down three meanings / forms of this word, but I can combine those.” I suspect the words I’ll actually remember will be the basic grammatical terms that I am already writing down a lot (it will perhaps reinforce my claims not to really know French if I tell you that I have written down “aux” more than once).

I do definitely like it so far in conjunction with Duolingo, since Duolingo is very focused on kinds of French that I am unlikely to use. I’ll keep y’all posted.


I thought an update was in order, since I am preparing for a little work retreat and found myself adding a long flat spot to an important goal yet again:

This is, of course, a classic “outcomes” goal rather than an input goal, but it’s serving as a grim reminder that although I feel like I am working toward this goal, none of that work has translated into outcomes yet.

By the time I’m hitting the job market at the end of my PhD, I want to have an ambitious number of publications on my CV! I think of myself as someone who writes a lot and is well-suited to ‘publish or perish’, but despite my double-digits stack of respectable manuscripts which only require revisions for submission, I haven’t yet figured out how to get a paper over the finish line.

The “scoring” of the goal tries to give me proportional rewards for all the important milestones: 1 point per publication that I’d list on my CV: 0.1 point for a submission that could realistically lead to such a publication; 0.4 points upon revise-and-resubmit; remaining 0.5 once final manuscript is accepted for print and I know which issue the article will appear in.

At this point, I clearly need to beemind some more inputs too, to keep things moving on this goal, but it’s hard to know which inputs. I find that I write best when I have several well-timed uninterrupted days to push out a draft all in one go. If I’ve got all my mental groundwork laid, I can write 250 words in 25 minutes, and I can repeat that every hour until the whole paper is done (so I only need 28 working hours for this paper!) – but if I haven’t put in the work to prepare to write, it’s like pulling teeth.

I have three weeks coming up cleared for “uninterrupted research, broadly” so I’ll see how that goes vis-a-vis balancing paper revisions, dissertation research, and studying for special fields. Based on that experience, at the start of May I’ll try to come up with a plan for beeminding “real writing time”.


I’ve been tackling that important publishing goal and making some good headway! I’ve decide to try a Maniac Weekend to push through the last bits, before I let myself get distracted by all the brand new research I want to do from scratch.

I did one of these two years ago that was (despite all the distractions shown on screen) really successful for me – I finished my weekend goal by 9pm the first night!

So this is my public commitment to work just on this journal article[1], as much and as fast as I can, from 1:30pm Thursday to 11:59pm Saturday – and to post a video documenting my impressive work ethic some time on Sunday!

I want to send a completed, possibly-print-ready draft by that deadline. I’m still seriously dithering over sending it to a professor for feedback versus sending it straight to the journal I’ve picked out, so I’m not going to commit to one or the other, but I have to send it to someone.

See you Sunday!

[1] Ok, a bad sign to already be making exceptions, but there’s a small editing gig I have been procrastinating even though it should barely take an hour, so I’m going to start tomorrow by eating that frog – but then it’ll just be the journal article.


I love maniac week(end)s! This is just a quick comment so you can’t convince yourself that maybe no one noticed your commitment. (:

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Wellllp. On the one hand, I am not ready to send this draft to anyone yet. I have 12 ready-to-go paragraphs, and 16 that still need work. So as far as “accomplishing my clearly-stated goal” goes, not a particularly successful Maniac Weekend.

But by other metrics, I did pretty darn well:

My midnight-Saturday meeting was cancelled, so I ended up working from 1:30pm Thursday to 1:30pm Sunday, 72 hours. According to RescueTime, I spent 40 of those hours on “Very Productive Time”, a 55% “uptime”. Basically a whole work week in three days :open_mouth: And I mostly even liked it!

So what was the problem? Well… I got scooped! Shouldn’t have waited three years to publish :frowning: I had to throw out 2/3 of the paper and start over. According to Toggl, I only spent nine of my 40 hours focused on writing – the other 31 were research of various kinds.

But, I did it!! And I have proof and everything:


I am very excited to announce the completion of a venture heavily enabled by Beeminder! After nine months, I have just finished the last exercise of Learn Python the Hard Way! :smile:

It’s kind of hard to believe that only nine months ago, I couldn’t code at all! I’ve written two different programs to assist with research since then!! [1]

When I got stuck on one of the exercises (which was often), Beeminder really helped provide motivation to push through to complete it so I could get the datapoint. I feel really good about how far the “slow and steady” approach managed to get me!

To reinforce / build on this foundation, I want to finish building out the little text-adventure game from some of the exercises, so my friend Olli can play it and it will make ver smile. It already has one secret shortcut inspired by ver suggestions:

So, I’ve set up a GitHub repo to develop it in, and a Gitminder goal with a deadline to finish it by ver birthday in July. I’m excited!

And I’m also proud that I’ve made it ‘over the hump’ with programming – it was immensely satisfying to archive this goal, shut off the Complice integration, mark the book ‘read’ on Goodreads, delete the bookmark, etc… I finished something! :smile:

[1] Well – I still haven’t written anything independently, since I had to call in the assistance of my computer-scientist family members both times to get it fully running properly… but I can write most of a program, and actively contribute to the troubleshooting process when it’s being recalcitrant, but that’s still closer to ‘programming’ than not!


yesssss! this feeling is THE BEST. congratulations!!

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Very good. As a programmer, I can relate to the feeling of crossing ‘over the hump’. Congratulations on your achievement.

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I started two new goals recently, to make sure I was making good progress on studying for my special fields exams. I am kind of embarrassed that I haven’t had these Beeminder goals all along, since it kind of feels like not Beeminding it was admitting outright that I didn’t intend to actually stick to my schedule, and why would I do that to myself??

I have a pretty detailed spreadsheet of my reading list for my special fields exams:

(The “week” numbers are a little off because I managed to complete zero readings during week 15, so I rolled them over into week 16 for now and haven’t yet re-figured the whole schedule.)

This spreadsheet includes a “dashboard” of my progress toward completion (with some space for me to decide that I’m not trying to achieve 100% completion):

The somewhat dangerous thing about this exam is that I get to set my own deadline – it will be scheduled whenever I feel ready for it – and while it would be “better” for me to finish sooner, I have already reschedule from November 2017 to January 2018 with no consequences. January is an eminently sensible deadline! I want to meet it.

So, why wasn’t I Beeminding this? The desired measure, “percent complete”, is already right there! Manually typing it into Beeminder whenever I have an eep day is a piece of cake. I even considered making a Beeminder goal for all five metric when I first set up the spreadsheet – but I flinched away from the idea because I imagined spending longer mornings reading before I start the rest of the day, and late nights working frantically to avoid a derailment, and cancelling social plans or working while in transit, and it all felt like an awful lot of work.

Well, it is an awful lot of work! Which I actually intend to do, and will therefore Beemind, so as to regularly confront reality while I try to do it!

This studying has definitely been a lower priority while I’ve been mainly focusing on other things on my plate, but an extra hour a day before bed would have gone awfully far. So I’ve also stepped up my special-fields Toggl time-tracking goal, which was probably past due for this adjustment:

I want to enjoy my birthday in February with the clear conscience of a Ph.D. Candidate, with my exams safely behind me! Also, y’know, I love the work when I actually do it. So here’s hoping Beeminder can keep my feet to the fire and I can pick up the pace!


I just did my semester-ly refactoring of all my goals, which involves changing the “window” of the x-axis to have them all cover the same time span, in this case from August 1 to January 1. I like defaulting my goals to the same x-axis setting because it lets me see at a glance how the semester is going for me:

For example, I’m noticing that I haven’t touched horrid-novels yet, but I’ve been doing fine keeping in touch with Alyssa (the person I do horrid-novels with, long story) – so maybe I actually want to archive that goal, after talking with her about it.

I think about my life in terms of “semesters” even though I don’t have coursework because I find that the academic calendar shapes a lot of the rhythms of my life, and because four-ish months is a pretty nice period of time in which to accomplish medium-sized projects.

Some goals have their own date-scaling those, goals that have real-world begin and end dates which are relevant for understanding my progress… goals like my special fields goals. I’ve talked to my advisor and tentatively set December 20 as the date for my oral exam, which means I’ll have the first phase of the written three weeks before Dec 20. And I think I that will work out!

Tracking my completion percentages directly has kinda sucked, but was also definitely the right call. I added in some historical data (I screencap my status for each issue of my newsletter, so I could recreate those datapoints) and am clawing myself toward a successful work rate:

[![read-percent|300x235](upload://yjFsXKQaBmPR8HFMjUcLBXXOx6R.png write-percent study-percent

(The percentages sometimes go down because, when I hit a multi-part work in the spreadsheet, I break it down into separate rows for its composite parts in order to read as strictly chronologically as possible, which means my denominator keeps growing…)

That increase in my “hours spent on special fields at all” goal particularly shows that I am now feeling the pain, I think – I went from lots of green to eep days every day:


I think this is a lot closer to how much time I do need to be spending on studying, so the pain I’m feeling mostly feels like good growing pains. But I am STILL not completing each week’s assigned readings, so I will have to keep strategizing about other projects I can get off my plate, to free up more special fields time…

The biggest project eating away my time is my big move back to Toronto, which has involved a LOT of cleaning. I was gone for six months and my now-ex housemate did not exactly take excellent care of the apartment. It takes a bucket per wall to scrub away the grime on the baseboards. A friend came to do a long weekend cleaning push, but I still have a big mountain on the horizon, and it gets harder and harder to face every day. So of course I’ve begun an exploratory Beeminder goal to keep making progress on it!


Right now it’s ‘two Complice intentions with the word “clean” in them per day,’ and as this one progresses I’ll figure out what I actually think about it to calibrate the rate and the timeline. I’d like not to be moving back into my apartment for the next six months, but well, if that’s the rate that’s realistic, I can get used to anything that does constitute progress… slow and steady is better than nothing. Wish me luck, I suppose.


I’m noticing that I’ve been resisting posting here, because I’ve raised my own standards unfeasibly high for my next post! So this is a short note to say that my last few weeks prepping for Special Fields were not my finest; a lot of derailments and lowering of my sights. The two-week examination period itself was, as a result, pretty stressful and unpleasant. Instead of having several days to do things like buy groceries and tidy my work space, I was reading dense bibliographies for six-hour stints the last few nights before the exam, and I still didn’t reach the 100% completion that I’d had my heart set on.

BUT, despite it not going entirely according to plan, I DID pass the exams, and am now officially a PhD Candidate!!

I am working my way through my major end-of-year goal reflections and system refactoring, which I will probably post about here afterward… but not too elaborately.


It’s okay to have derailments, as long as you learn from it. (my take on it)

congrats :slight_smile: on the phd candidate thing.


I started 2018 with some well-defined goals in a Goal Manifesto, but never did do a systematic review of Beeminder’s role in that goal landscape – the year kind of got itself started faster than I was ready for, and I’ve been in a sprint to get through a very busy semester since January.

My 2018 goals (the short version):

(Arranged in order of priority)

Publishing: submit two articles to journals
Dissertation: write outline; draft a chapter 4 times (redrafts count); apply for summer thesis fellowship
CV items: apply for a course instructorship; apply to CSECS and MLA conferences; some tasks to elicit information on the job market
Sharehouse: some goals for the shared living house that I’m part of
Finances: deposit a set amount into my TFSA; set aside money for birthday travel; pay some particular large expenses; apply for 3 funding sources
Hosting: some events I want to host
Life Rhythms: be mindful of sleep and reading
Personal: a grab-bag of pleasure items
New Skills: pass my Reading French course; learn at least one other skill

So far, I’ve already crossed these items off the list:

  • wrote diss outline
  • applied for (and received!) course instructorship for the summer
  • applied to both conferences
  • applied to (and received!) one funding source
  • hosted two of the things I wanted to host

Troublesome goal: publishing

My main struggle is with the publishing goal. It’s my most important goal, but my beeminder graph still looks like this:


To support this goal, I organized a writing group that meets weekly; we’re making our way through a book called “Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks,” and it seems like everybody else is having a great deal of success writing their articles! But not me, yet. :frowning:

I’ve started a Beeminder goal for actually completing the various steps outlined in the book, which is at least making me regularly face up to the fact that I’m struggling to put in the prerequisite time:


Whenever I do sit down with it, it’s very enjoyable and I’m excited about the paper, believe in the quality of work, etc – the problem almost seems to be that it’s so enjoyable and personally satisfying, that I treat it like “optional fun stuff” when I’m triaging my weekly schedule, and cut all my writing sessions in favour of more “urgent” work like grading, committee meetings, etc. I probably need to get more brutal in cutting other, less-important tasks to find the time to write.

Success story: French

I am really, really pleased with how all my French goals are paying off. I archived my Duolingo goal, since after an entire year of doing Duolingo French every single day, I felt like I had gotten to the stage I wanted to be at with it.

I am now able to read La Nouvelle Héloïse in French, extremely slowly. I started this goal a little while ago, then paused it, and picked it up again with great satisfaction. I’m going at 150 words / week, which is slow enough that I really do try the sentences on my own before I look them up.


This semester I am enrolled in a mandatory course, “Reading French,” which was the motivation for the Duolingo a year and a half ago – and I am passing it so easily that I have stopped attending the (optional) seminars. Slow and steady has really turned out well for me!



I have finished my “Reading French” course, which means I will finally allow myself to bring a new language to the forefront! Between now and my 30th birthday[1], I hope to complete all 53 drills in All The Arabic You Never Learned The First Time Around:


The goal itself is set up as an odometer, connected to Complice, so it’s beautifully frictionless to track. When it’s time to do the next drill, I just add “drill 4” to my to-do list!

This goal also means I am now using all four of Complice’s integration modes, which pleases me:

2018 goals

I also finally opened a TFSA, and put some money in it, which marks some satisfying progress toward my financial goals this year.

Publishing: submit two articles to journals
Dissertation: write outline; draft a chapter 4 times (redrafts count); apply for summer thesis fellowship
CV items: apply for a course instructorship; apply to CSECS and MLA conferences; some tasks to elicit information on the job market
Sharehouse: some goals for the shared living house that I’m part of
Finances: deposit a set amount into my TFSA; set aside money for birthday travel; pay some particular large expenses (0/3 done); apply for 3 funding sources (2/3 done)
Hosting: some events I want to host (2/4 done)
Life Rhythms: be mindful of sleep and reading
Personal: a grab-bag of pleasure items
New Skills: pass my Reading French course; get my Arabic back into working order

[1] I’m tentatively hoping to travel to Jordan for my 30th birthday (February 2019), because I’d like to do something “big” and I’ve been dreaming of seeing Petra ever since my first Arabic class eight years ago.

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Oh, I almost forgot – my big French success recently was that, while joking around with a friend online about the silly names that French radicals adopted for themselves during the Revolution, I casually read a blog post and an academic article in French! It was my first time reading something in French not as a purely academic exercise, but because I wanted it to tell me something, and I barely even noticed that I was doing it until I got sucked into the argument being made by the academic article. I haven’t taken French “seriously” at any point in the last two years (I just wanted to pass a class for my PhD), so this is way more actual French knowledge than I ever expected to acquire :slight_smile: