Services that won’t buzz off

I’ve long maintained that one of the best things about Beeminder is that it doesn’t go away just because you can’t be bothered. You can’t ignore it, and you can’t just vaguely not feel like it. You can always actively decide not to use it, but it doesn’t get you off the hook for another week, so you can’t give in to temporary weakness.

I’ve recently figured out a usage pattern for this that is working out quite well for me that comes as a direct application of this idea: By roping them to Beeminder, you can give other services the same property.

Lets be concrete:

I love Todoist. I think it’s genuinely great software. It’s well designed, has a great Android app (it has an iOS app, I assume it’s also great), has a great API, and just generally seems like they’ve put a lot of effort into it. It’s in the category of software for which I don’t really need the premium features but I pay for them anyway to support the free version (Beeminder is also somewhat in this category, though I do make use of precisely one premium feature).

But… there’s a problem. I find TODO lists mildly aversive. I don’t have crippling TODO list dread or anything (I’m not being facetious here. That’s a genuine thing people experience), but they make me a bit stressed out so I will tend to default to ignoring them if I can. It’s totally fine when I actually get around to doing them, but I will put it off nearly indefinitely if I can.

Which is where Beeminder comes in! Through a careful application of If This Then That (the only service mentioned in this post that I don’t pay for, and that’s only because they won’t let me pay them. IFTTTT, if you’re reading this, please give me a premium option?), you can rope Todoist to Beeminder’s refusal to be ignored.

So this is what I’m currently doing:

  1. I have a Beeminder goal called todone. It is a do more goal which tracks the number of TODO items I complete. I am required to complete 8 per week. The goal is set to trim the safety buffer so I can’t build up more than 8 days (the fact that these numbers are both 8 is a coincidence. They’re “slightly more than one a day” and “slightly more than a week”) of backlog, although I started this at a short safety buffer so I haven’t quite reached that point yet.
  2. I have an IFTTT rule using the Todoist and Beeminder channels that enters an item into that goal every time I complete any task.

It’s important to note what this is not: This is not a goal about being a productivity machine. 8 TODO items a week is not a large amount, particularly because many of the TODO items are recurring tasks that I would do regularly anyway. I have recurring scheduled tasks for things like “change my pillow cases” (which I always put off for a couple days more than I should) or “shave my head” (which I always intend to do more often than I do. Though given how cold it is right now maybe not). This blog post alone is netting me two TODO items because I have a recurring blogging task (every 6 days) and am now entering draft blog ideas into their own Todoist project (I heartily recommend doing that by the way, in the general interests of writing more). It does also contain more significant tasks – contact a particular client, submit a talk to a particular conference, etc. But I get to choose the mix of task difficulty, so 8 tasks a week is not hard.

The purpose of this goal is twofold:

  1. Keep me using Todoist
  2. Do not increase the stress level of using Todoist. I have previously had a more elaborate Todoist system that was more “productivity machine” focused and that was stressful as all get out and made me hate both Todoist and Beeminder. Do not recommend.

And it seems to be working rather well for this. It turns Todoist into a regular feature of my life, and it makes an excellent piece to add to my Exobrain.

This was originally designed to help me get out of various aversive behaviours, and I think the jury is still out on whether it’s succeeded at this, but it seems to be helping a bit. Even if all it does is keep me using Todoist though I think it’s an unambiguous win and I heartily recommend the combination.

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