The once and future auto-dialer

Repeated from a daily beemail

I have a dream that one day when you create a Beeminder goal, Beeminder will let you specify as much or as little as you like about what you want to commit to. If you know an absolute bare minimum below which you’d want us to personally come to your house and beech-slap you, go ahead and tell us that minimum. Or leave it blank if you’re not sure. Similarly, if you know an upper bound, a theoretical maximum for how much it could ever make sense to do, tell us that too. If not, that’s fine. And of course you should pick your initial commitment. But even that, if you don’t know what to pick, you should be able to be like “I’m at your mercy, Beeminder, I’ll just start reporting data and you tell me what to do”.

This is what we’ve long called auto-dialing. If you create a Fitbit goal and have no clue what a reasonable number of steps is so you enter “100 per day” to play it safe, then, in the status quo, you just soar ever higher above a meaningless yellow brick road. That’s really bad, and is Beeminder being derelict in its duty!

Beeminder at the very least should bug you to bump up your rate. But also, this is the dreamy part, it should automatically dial up your road. This is one of the core principles of Beeminder, that ever-increasing awesomeness must be the path of least resistance. By default, Beeminder should always be pushing you. You can always say “that’s enough pushing thank you” but by default you will be pushed.

Building auto-dialing in to Beeminder will be hard so we’d like to start with a little 3rd-party tool, like @mary built years ago, though I don’t think that one was realistically usable for anyone but herself.

PS: The biggest insight from the replies so far – thanks to @dbyler – is that we need to be really thoughtful about how people opt in to something like this. It’s no fair holding you to something you didn’t explicitly commit to!

Straw Poll (check all that apply)

  • (1) Do you often have goals where your initial guess for the steepness of the road is way off?
  • (2) Do you often then fail to dial it to something reasonable for whatever reason (maybe just cranial silicosis)?
  • (3) Would you be a guinea pig for an auto-dialer?
  • (4) Do you hate the idea of Beeminder trying to be clever about what you should commit to?

0 voters

[the poll limits you to two responses, so if you’re a daily beemail subscriber maybe ignore the guinea pig option – you’ll be invited to participate anyway!]

Beemail responses were like so (also beemail respondents are encouraged to vote again above and they’ll thus be intentionally double-weighted because they matter twice as much as the rest of you plebeians):

1: initial slope way off  ***** 
2: fail to then dial      **** 
3: game for guineapiggage ************* 
4: boo hiss               ** 

Also I’m collecting very paraphrased excerpts from the beemail replies but I encourage you all to repeat your full replies as comments!

Beemail reply excerpts
  1. “This would be awful for many types of goals but ok for some.”
  2. “I kind of do this manually, starting small and slowly inching the rate up, and sometimes I fail to do the inching so this could be valuable.”
  3. “I love the idea of an autodialler because i both struggle with making my goals push me enough and also maybe struggle with keeping my goals realistic.”
  4. “I’d also want the autodialer to bump down my rate, too. Like if every day is an emergency day, it should lower the rate a little.”
  5. “I think in general I am not a super great use-case for the auto-dialler; I have specific aims with my goals, and the rates I set are calibrated to meet those goals, and then my weekly reviews make sure I come back to those decisions.”
  6. “It took me a few months to get to the point where my steps rate is high enough. I think an auto-dialer would have helped motivate me to make progress on sooner. ◊ I’m around 5 for 6 goals where my initial setting is pretty different from what would be ideal at this point. I think I’ve done pretty well at dialing manually though. My steps goal almost looks as if it’s exponential because of so many slight increases.”
  7. “I don’t agree that Beeminder should always be pushing you to increase your rate – some goals should have a fixed rate and that should be the default.”
  8. “I systematically underestimate how large of a commitment X hours/week actually feels like.”
  9. “I would probably use some thing like this, but I would rankle at its being automatic. (Not fair to make me commit to something I didn’t commit to!) A simple message along the lines of “You’re crushing this goal! Ready to level up? [Increase to n*1.5 units per week] [Increase to n*1.25 units per week] [Other] would probably suffice, where the Other button just takes you to the goal settings.”
  10. “I’ve always been excited for a feature like this, and have only had a few troubles with steepness, but largely due to my own ignorance of what the goal requires.”

I love the idea of an autodialler because i both struggle with making my goals push me enough and also maybe struggle with keeping my goals realistic (at the moment i am in a world of pain because of an anki goal, but I’m getting through it as i keep dialing the road down :

I’d gladly be an auto-dialing guinea pig with the obvious proviso of being able to opt out of being charged if it’s dialing me unreasonably.

I’d also want the autodialer to bump down my rate, too. Like if every day is an emergency day, it should lower the rate a little.

I’d also be curious as to what it would do with my /mad/anki-combined goal, since on paper it looks like i’m managing fine (not derailing), even though I am literally dying (dw i have dialed the road so i just need to get through this).


As I understand it, Mary’s autodialer set the goal to the average that you’d done in the last week or so, as opposed to trying to increase awesomeness.

I really don’t agree that Beeminder should always be pushing you to increase your rate - some goals should have a fixed rate and that should be the default.

If I tell Beeminder I want to do something once a week, and Beeminder has no other info, then the default should be to keep it once a week, not bump up to 1.1. Otherwise we’d be changing our oil and getting a haircut every week…

And I’d love to try out an autodialer of some type.

Also @dreev there is a problem with the poll - it says “check all that apply” but it is only letting me choose 2. I would choose all four.


Doh! Thanks for catching that! That was my error in setting the parameters for the poll. Except, double-doh, the dumb polling software says it’s too late to change it. I guess that’s fair – no changing the rules on polls after people have voted. Except I’ve kind of spoiled the poll now. Grr. I guess just vote for your top 2 answers? Or maybe only daily beemail people get to be guinea pigs so don’t vote for that one?

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Just make a new poll?

Yeah, I’d vote for all four as well. The additional context I didn’t mention in my straw poll response is that this only makes sense given (at least) two conditions:

  1. The goal is in the category of things in which you actually want some form of continuous improvement
  2. The goal is something that’s either autotracked, or at least something where Beeminder has the whole picture.

I’d opt in for a trial because I like the experiments, but most of my goals don’t meet either of the above criteria:

  1. I don’t actually want to “maximize” most of my Beeminder goals, which are related to periodic things that I need to force myself to do every now and then. (Example: “clear my physical inbox” at my desk. An auto-dialer might assume that my fortnightly goal is way too easy and nudge me toward a daily routine. Sometimes I do it daily, sometimes not, and that’s fine… but my commitment is to not let it get out of hand, not to be always-awesome. Beeminder’s role here is simply to be my safety net.)
  2. Related: For manually-tracked goals, I typically only enter data for Beeminder goals that are red or yellow status. If I get on a daily physical-inbox-zero streak, I’m not going to log daily data points in Beeminder. I’ll just ignore that goal until it hits red status, at which point I think about whether I have data to backfill or just do the thing. (Or in the case of last night, derail :grimacing:)

*Fine print: #2 might not be a thing for me if I had the “Automatically trim safety buffer” option on my Infinibee plan, and if the Beeminder app were organized around daily data entry (vs avoiding derailments). But that’s just speculation.


How would it be organized around daily data entry?

Mine effectively is since I have daily goals.

For “organizing around daily data entry”, the main thing would be sorting for data entry (items that need data appear at the top, then shuffle to the bottom - even if the day’s data entry is null).

For good UX examples, look at some of the better habit tracking apps, which depend on being really easy to use to stay sticky. Most have adopted some simple UX patterns that make it really fast to do data entry, including:

  • Items that need attention are at the top, and move to the bottom when acted upon (data entered)
  • No guilt induction for things you’re not doing today :slight_smile:
  • Many apps further distinguish between time-availability for filtering: Morning, Daytime, Evening, or Always available. So if you have a thing you only do in the evening, you don’t even see it during your morning app session
  • Items can be “completed” easily: swipe right to log the default data for “I did this”, swipe left to say “I won’t do this today”

Here’s a quick screen recording from, which I enjoy using (it’s beautiful and fun) but never stick with for more than a couple months at a time, because I don’t actually have to. You can see how easy it is to get through all the day’s data:

(Apologies for taking this somewhat off topic!)


Here are my comments from the Beemail reply:

"I think it would be useful on some goals. I’ve mentioned before that hourofreading has now achieved the goal of making an hour of reading per day into a habit, and the graph sort of looks like cranial silicosis is happening. But I don’t want the road to dial to make me do more. At most I’ll consider ratcheting it once I’ve got over being entertained at the way changing other habits has enabled me to make it swoosh up like that… but the rate of an hour a day should be constant. That’s the time I can promise to reading; I can’t promise more. There’s also other stuff like my five page a day goals; they’re falling-off-a-log easy for a reason, because that balances making reading a chore to complete and making sure that I make progress on certain books every single day. (Those goals do auto-ratchet, though.) And I can only brush my teeth once each morning, more would be silly.

I think in general I am not a super great use-case for the auto-dialler; I have specific aims with my goals, and the rates I set are calibrated to meet those goals, and then my weekly reviews make sure I come back to those decisions."

I actually originally thought I’d love it, but I can’t think of any goals it would apply to right now… Maybe I’d come up with a new goal to try it!

I would like an autodialer that is responsive to how I’m doing – i.e. if I’m not achieving my goal, I definitely wouldn’t want it to increase it. I think it would be very awesomeness maximising if it adapted by dropping the rate a bit to help me get on track again, getting me back into the routine and then starting to increase again. Arguably the flat spot after a derail could do that, but in practice I find it doesn’t, unless I explicitly resolve to at the time of the derail.

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I have a widget for each goal on my homescreen. Whenever you enter data for the day it shows a check mark, so it’s easy to see what needs data.

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My beemail reply:

I often start my goals with low rates as a matter of policy, and then slowly inch them up. Usually I’m pretty good about doing it, though I’ve had some goals stay too easy for too long. I don’t hate the idea of an auto-dialer, and I might be game to try one.

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Yeah, I quite like the idea of an auto-dialer for some of my goals, but not others. More than half of my goals are just daily tasks (there is not much advantage in journaling more than once a day) or have an upper bound based on reality (can’t do more laundry than is created). But, assuming I could set an upper bound, my most valuable goals that are related to work time could definitely benefit from some gentle pushing. I would definitely increase my post-derailment safe days though, to give me more breathing room if I ended up in a bad stretch.


Hi folks, I’m the one who cobbled together the autodialer for myself a few years ago. Here are a few thoughts on how I tend to use it personally.

A Max is a Must
For one, all of my goals have a max (or min, if it’s a do-less) beyond which the auto-dialler will never take me. If I cap my goal at 100 thingamabobs per week, even if I’m averaging a thousand, it will never change my rate to be harder than 100.

Working Up to a Daily Habit
I use it even with goals that I want to be doing daily. Not because I want it to be making me do daily things more than once per day, but because if I’m starting with a new habit, going straight to “No problem, I can do this every day” is probably unrealistic for me. I need to get into the flow of the habit, discover what the obstacles are and what plan-Bs are needed and etc., so I use the auto-dialler to work myself up to 1/day, rather than using it to push me past it. Then it just caps at 1 per day when I get to that rate.

Sometimes I Need to Hit the Breaks
Sometimes I go through a period of doing way more on a goal and it turns out not to be sustainable, even if my max was set above that number. In those cases, I just set a break on the goal for a couple of weeks with a lower rate. That brings my average down again and makes it more sustainable until I can work myself back up again in a more sustainable way. This has helped me find a more reasonable, actual max when my ambitions were unrealistic or became unsustainable. I’m only ever locked in for a week, so the worst case scenario is that I have to continue at my average rate for one more week before the break that slows it down again starts.

I Like a Longer Assessment Time
I’ve tried autodialling my goals to the most recent week and to the most recent 2, 3, and 4 weeks. I prefer 4 weeks. I find 28 days to be a long enough cycle for many of my goals to give me a good feel for what I can do overall. Each week is too variable for me to really want to be forced to keep up with a particularly good week. If I had to continue keeping up with working out as much while working, for instance, as I can when I’m on vacation because my road got set to its highest then, that would be… non-ideal.

That Said…
Sometimes I want to ramp up more quickly on a given goal and am impatient to see it improve, especially if it’s something I’ve been neglecting for a long time. (These are the goals I’d otherwise be tempted to try to jump straight to my ideal and then find it very hard to maintain because it turns out that habits are often harder than we think they’ll be.) For these, I tend to just set an autoratchet (a.k.a. max safety buffer) so that it keeps me working on it regularly, even if I can easily stay above the initial rate and am impatient to be accountable for something more ambitious.

Set It and Forget It
I love not having to think about whether I’m being unrealistic, about how hard it’s going to be, or about how long it should take to get better for this particular goal. I like setting my dream rate and then, for the most part, not having to think about it at all beyond that.

No More Face-Plants
When I want to start a goal with a bang (which, in the past, has resulted in me overcommitting, being bummed out, taking two (or five) steps back, etc.) I have to lead with action. “Oh really? You think you can do 150 of these a day when your max for all of last month was 12? Well, if you want that rate, I guess you’ll have to push yourself to do more right away so you can get there, won’t you?”

All Gain, No Pain
What I love most is that when I improve a bit, I maintain that improvement. It’s a really gentle approach that keeps nudging me to be more and more consistent, more and more ambitious, and closer and closer to what I want, but only by making me keep up the improvements I’ve already made. I love seeing the notice on my autodialling page that tells me that I’ve hit my target max rate after working on a goal for a while and knowing that it was done in a sustainable enough way that I can just keep on going with it.

Anyway, YMMV but I’ve loved its effect on my goals.


I love all of that, it sounds awesome! I’ve occasionally tried to do similar things manually (“hmm, I’m working more than 5 hours a day for the last few weeks, i could probably bump this goal up”) but I’m often stymied by the fact that there’s no easy way to see your actual slope in numbers (and manually summing up 28 points is tedious and error prone). Have I been doing 6 hours of work a day on average? 5.5? 5.02? An autodialer would do all that math for me!


The visual road editor works beautifully for this! Just drag the road to match your data and look at the resulting road matrix.

(Btw, very preliminary preview of a redesign of the visual road editor at – it doesn’t actually work yet but if you want to peek at how much better it’s going to be, there it is!)

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I’ve only skimmed this thread and this comment is mostly a joke, but Beeminder auto-dialing just makes me think of the people who set their alarm to wake up early to train their Nest to know what time they want the heat to come on instead of just setting a schedule. :slight_smile:

I’m not sure I understand - how does it remind you of that?

The whole problem is not knowing what level you want your goal at, which would be like not knowing what time you wake up and want the heat on in your analogy.

If people knew ahead of time what rate they wanted their goals at, they could just set the goals to that rate - but the whole problem is that we don’t know what we can reasonably do.

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I’ve been pretty indifferent to the idea of an autodialer for a long time, but recently I’ve started getting more excited about it, and reading @mary’s post in this thread is really making me think I want this. :laughing: Also, influenced by my wife, I recently created some exercise rep goals (just simple stuff–pushups, sit ups, jumping jacks) and I can totally see how having an autodialer for goals like these would be amazing.