What do graph / goal colours mean in Beeminder?

Posting my very naive question here. There have been a lot of changes in the past year. One of them (decisions around road colours and the meaning of weekends etc) led me to completely stop using Beeminder for a few months. I’m back now — BM is too much embedded into how I work, it seems — and I’m still stuck with a question about colours.

I’ve posted about this in the past and I think today’s question is related, but not fully answered by my previous post. Things have solidified since then and I think there’s meant to be more consistency with how BM deals with this issue.

Thing is, I don’t understand it. Is there some canonical place where the BM gods describe what the colours of goals do or mean on the web version?

We have green and orange and blue and red. We also have ‘weekends off’, which does something to the ‘road’ (has the concept of a road been retired? I vaguely recall reading something along those lines? or was it the yellow-brick road?) which means that you won’t derail on weekends.

But if you set a goal to weekends off, weird things start happening to colours on Thursdays and Fridays.

In the past I used the colours of goals to know when to work on a goal in order to stay on track. I think this new (new as in, dating to the previous year+) BM behaviour has changed this so I have to keep in my mind what rate I need to complete during the week in order to not have to work on the weekend.

Right now, I can get my goals to green on Thursday and Friday (expecting to not have to work on those goals over the weekend, if they’ve been set to this) but then see that they’ve turned blues and oranges overnight. Then I find myself working on Saturdays and Sundays. It seems that this workflow will no longer be possible; that’s fine / I’ve made my peace with that. But I don’t understand what colours stand for, then.

So, I’m asking my naive question: what do colours mean in Beeminder?

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The answer is as simple as can be: the colors represent how many days you have until you derail, if you do nothing.

If a goal has three or more days of buffer, the goal is green. 2 days is blue, 1 day is orange, and no buffer at all is red.

Viewed through this lens, it’s not weird at all. Your goal is ticking down from green to blue to orange to show you how many days you can ignore them for: so if a goal is green before the weekend, you’re fine to not work on it through the weekend. Yes, through the weekend it will “tick down” to blue and then orange, but that’s fine—that’s just an indication of you using up that buffer you gave yourself, regardless of if you gave yourself that buffer by accomplishing your goal faster than your rate through the week, or if it’s because you set the road to be flat over the weekend with “weekends off”.

Again—if a goal is green on Friday, it will be blue on Saturday (if you don’t work on it), then orange on Sunday, then red on Monday, and you’ll have until end-of-day Monday to get back out of the red before you derail. This is true no matter the shape of your road: the shape of your road is taken into account when determining what color to show you on Friday. Green on Friday means that you will not have to do any work until Monday, exactly as you want.

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Ok thank you @zzq. That’s useful.

I guess the functionality that I’d want is to ALWAYS have the buffer. If I lose my buffer then for some goals that means weeks of getting it back into green.

So I’d like the colours to encourage me to stay within my buffer, etc, rather than a functional ‘you won’t derail until Monday’. I don’t care when I derail. I care about when I lose my buffer.

If there where colors higher than green, say one which represents 4 days of buffer, and one which represents 5+ days of buffer, that would give you what you want: information of how close you are to getting down to the 3 days of buffer you want as a minimum.

This leads to a somewhat absurd conclusion. If there were a color representing 5+ days of buffer, that would be the new green, and perhaps you’d target it as your minimum amount of buffer. The cutoff of colors at 3 days of buffer seems reasonable enough. However many colors there are, if you’re targeting being in the highest color, you’re not going to have colors to tell you how far away from that you are.

Still, if it can’t be a color, at least it can be a number. And indeed, the goals do list the number of days until derailment. Subtract 3 to get the number of days until you lose the buffer that you want. If on Friday a goal says it has 5 days of buffer, you’re safe to not do it all weekend and still be back in the green after doing it on Monday.

I can see why you’d want colors for this, and not numbers. Numbers are harder to take in at a glance. But as the hierarchy of colors can’t be infinite, the colors it has are reasonable for most people. And again—if green was 5+ days (and there were intermediate colors for 3 days and for 4 days of buffer), wouldn’t you anyway probably try to aim to keep your goals in the green? If so, there’s no way to assign the colors that would work for you!

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Right. That may be true for now, but in the past (perhaps 2-3 years ago), BM did what I’m describing: if I had something selected as ‘weekends off’, it’d preemptively start warning me on Thursday and Friday to make sure I did enough (colours and all) so that I wouldn’t have to work on the weekend if I wanted to preserve my buffer.

I guess I’m mainly miffed now since BM used to do this in the past and it changed. I don’t need / want extra colours. I guess there is nothing to be done about it now.

My colour-based use of BM was even sort of implicitly endorsed in this blog post.

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Yes, true. The way Beeminder used to do it was weird. I can’t say what exactly the colors meant back then—certainly not safety buffer. Well, OK, I guess I can—green meant “above the road”, blue meant “on the right side of the road”, orange meant “on the wrong side of the road”, and red meant “off the road”. That seems to make sense—but what even is the road in the first place, and why should you care?

And indeed, the relevant change was the elimination of the concept of the yellow brick road, and the direct assignment of the colors to amounts of safety buffer. (Or to put it another way—making the colors actually mean something about when you’ll derail and how much safety margin you have until then.)

It’s a change for the better, I think, but yeah, change is always going to disrupt someone’s workflow.

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100% :slight_smile:

Maybe a different way to ask my question is: is there any way to get back the old way? i.e. some configuration of the settings where:

  • during the week it’ll tell me you have to do x amount in order to reach a total of 40 each week (or whatever arbitrary goal I have)
  • I won’t have to think about the goal on weekends at all
  • so long as I follow the instructions from BM (i.e. the numbers for ‘how much to do’) I can retain the same (arbitrary) buffer amount – be it 1 day or 3 days or 10 days.

Is there a way to do that? Or do I always have to make that calculation in my head on Thursdays and Fridays to do extra given this behaviour of the ‘weekends off’ option? i.e. I’m trying to think ahead to take into account weekends off, make the appropriate calculation, and then do extra so that I don’t get caught out. (I guess maybe this violates @dreev’s anti-magic principle? What’s magic and what is just ‘functionality’?).

Or in other words, is that behaviour just gone now and I have to think about goals in this new way? I guess I’m perplexed that others who have goals combined with weekends off don’t find this weird behaviour.

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The concept that is gone is lanes. This was a fuzzy fudge factor that meant that you could be a little bit off from your target, and still be OK, and what “a little bit” was a little esoteric as well. See https://blog.beeminder.com/ybhp/.

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