The "Death Grounds" method to using Beeminder

I’ve recently been back n’ forth’ing with co-founder Danny Reeves through email.

And one of my comments struck him as worthy of posting on the forums.

So here I am, sharing what he found worthy enough to be shared with my fellow Beeminders.

A bit of preface:

I started using Beeminder because I was getting a bit “too comfortable” with my current lifestyle.

(In fact, even if did absolutely nothing for a few months… I’d be still be a-okay - no consequences for laziness at all)

And as I shamelessly learned, this is DEADLY to your productivity levels.

I’ve tried numerous tactics to overcome this (e.g. setting deadlines, using, even hiring an accountability coach with mediocre results)…

But could never quite find something that worked long-term.

It seems I was unable to “trick” my brain and body into the idea that it was “necessary” to work on my goals… no matter how important they are to me.

(This is one reason self-imposed deadlines never work with me, either - it’s a “false” deadline with no real repercussions)

Then I came upon the “Death Grounds” idea.

I saw this mentioned in the book “33 Strategies of War” by Robert Green and it really stuck with me.

The idea is that when you put yourself in a situation that’s “do or die,” you’ll find the “power within” to succeed at any cost.

(Think of pulling all-nighters to study for a test)

So when you’re suddenly left with no choice but to make it work… you somehow make it work.

…Well, I liked the idea but HATED the setup for it.

And that’s because I am NOT a fan of last minute rushes… or truly being left with no recourse and needing to “fight” your way out.

So I adapted this approach to Beeminder, here’s how:

The first thing I did was created the “stakes” portion of the “Death Ground” method.

I did this with pledges.

I have 3 goals at the moment, pledged at $30, $90, and $270.

(Good, now I’m aware that there are consequences for laziness and inaction)

But step number two is equally important:

Creating momentum through “daily” actions.

So rather than long-distance goals or even weekly quotas…

I focus on DAILY habits instead - meaning I have to complete certain tasks each day instead of looking towards any future goals.

So I can’t rely on days off at all - I MUST maintain daily momentum or I’ve gotta pay the piper.

(Weekends off seems to be okay, though)

This has given me a sort of “sweet spot” in terms of daily tension:

I can’t not think of working on my daily tasks because of the high cost of failure… but at the same time, I’m not overwhelmed to the point of being unable to think straight or work on said tasks.

The result?

More focus. More productivity. And especially more efficiency as well.

(Each and every day)

So I really can’t complain.

Okay, now here are the key elements that make it work:

  1. High stakes (i.e. pledges that actually make you feel a bit nervous to gamble with), and…
  2. Daily habits/quotas (because short and immediate feedback loops keep your thoughts focused on the NOW)

…And that’s the gist of the adapted “Death Ground” strategy.

Now, having said all that:

If any of you have done (or do) something similar, please lemme know.

I’d like to get some more ideas of how I can expand on this approach as well.



I’ve been moving closer to something like this, recently setting up morning and evening waterfalls filled with one-per-day tasks. But right now my stakes are all really low, mostly not more than $5. Side effect of having joint finances with my wife. :slight_smile:


I imagine that having a joint bank account already increases the stakes, lol.

“What the heck is this $5 charge for?”

“Oh, I forgot to brush my teeth this morning…”


Haha, yup :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


Yeah… My wife doesn’t know what Beeminder is except that I’m paying for a monthly membership. So yeah, we’re in a do-or-die situation here, too!

As for “Death Grounds,” I hesitate to say I’m eager to try something like that myself. My depression occasionally turns what would have been a fantastic day into two or three days of nothing. So with that in mind, perhaps using a “Do More” goal of X times per week instead of X times per day?

I’ll definitely be checking that book out soon!


Yeah, I can’t imagine many people would be willing to gamble beyond the $20 limit, lol.

The tough part is finding that practical balance between “okay, I can do this!” and “oh god, what mess have I gotten myself into…” when it comes to this method.

I think your approach of “x times per week” would work for sure, and the flexibility is definitely a plus as well.

But I’d need to be careful of creating a “last second all-night study session” situation at the end of the week (from stacked tasks I didn’t take care of)… which I desperately would like to avoid, haha.


One thing I’ve learned about recently that sounds like it might help you is the Waterfall method or the idea of 5 PM deadlines. The waterfall of deadlines would encourage getting things done iteratively instead of “Oh no! I have six things due in 45 minutes!” Instead it would be, “Okay, I have this thing due in 10 minutes, then the next thing due a little while after that.” Or the 5 PM deadline would have you getting things done before “late night” even starts. Maybe experiment with each?

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Yeah, those sounds pretty interesting.

I think I’m already naturally heading towards the waterfall method after using the Death Ground strategy so far. I’ll put into use even more so this week and see how things pan out.

Great suggestion, thanks!


Curious if you try this what you think of it – I find it useful to keep myself focused on the next chunk of work on a timescale of minutes and hours rather than days and weeks like beeminder:

I find it most useful when I more or less know what I’m doing, less useful when I’m exploring and don’t really know what I’m doing.

It’s a bit like pomodoro technique, but it’s not the same. The pomodoro thing never grabbed me, this did for whatever reason.

I’m also reminded for some reason of the person who semi-seriously described how he always has a task that he’s supposed to be working on so that he can procrastinate on it and thereby get some real work done. Of course the task should be notionally important (I guess according to some bureaucracy) but not really. Who it was escapes me. Seems crazy enough to be workable maybe :wink:

Edit: I just looked at how the workcycles thing describes itself on the webpage again, I don’t do this part at all:

During a Work Cycles session, you’ll be working with your video camera on, in real time, with other participants working away.

and that works fine for me. I don’t use the spreadsheet either, I just have a text file template where I fill in headings (there’s slightly more to it, I recommend the video on that page, assuming it’s the same one I watched more than a year ago).

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I believe you’re thinking of structured procrastination.