Category Archives: Beeminder

Randomly productive

Note: This is me pre-registering a Beeminder based productivity experiment. I don’t yet know if it’s going to work, but it feels like a good idea.

You know that thing where you have multiple projects and you use them all to procrastinate on each other? And you know how it results in some projects getting sidelined even though you actually really do want/need to work on them?

I’ve got a lot of that going on right now, and I’m not very happy about it.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to do better about it. Given my proclivities, this really means that I want to figure out how to define a Beeminder goal that will reduce the incidence of it.

Well, I think I’ve figured one out.

The idea is to structure the goal in a way that forces me to keep on the wagon for my active projects. It’s not there to make me “do enough” on them, only to keep the amount of time since I last worked on them roughly bounded. This should be sufficient to end the procrastination loop where I keep putting them off – once I’ve done some work on them I’m more likely to do more.

And the way to achieve this is the productivity deck.

The productivity deck is a deck of index cards each of which has a project name on it. They’re not necessarily disjoint projects – some may overlap, and the same project may even be in the deck multiple times.

The productivity deck is used to select today’s nominated project by randomly shuffling the deck and picking out a card. That is now today’s project. There is then a beeminder goal (using tagtime, so this is doubly random) which is “time spent working on today’s project”.


  1. If I pick a card and go “This is a stupid project I no longer want to work on it” then I may rip up the card and pick a new one. Note that the requirement is “I no longer want to work on it at all”, not “I no longer want this project to be in the deck”.
  2. If I just don’t want the project in the deck I may accept it for the day but not put it back in the deck.
  3. Cards don’t really have to be “projects” per se. e.g. I’ve got “brainstorm” and “Start a new project” as cards in the deck. I also have a “Pick a card of your choice” card.
  4. I do not have to pick a card each day, but on days where I don’t pick a card I just don’t get to record any progress on the goal.
  5. I may not add new cards to the deck until I have picked the day’s card.
  6. If there is legitimately nothing I can do on this project today because I am blocked on something external I may put the card aside and pick a new one. I may also do this after I have done some work on the nominated project if I get blocked.
  7. If I can’t think of anything to do on today’s nominated project then I should be planning new things to do on it (which counts as working on it).
  8. I am of course allowed to work on projects that are in the deck but not today’s nominated project, I just don’t get any points for them.

Attempts to describe this as “gamifying productivity” will be met with swift and harsh retribution.

I have already started this experiment and today’s card was “blogging”. Tagtime pinged while I was writing this, so I get to record 24 minutes of progress for today, yay (update: And pinged again while I was crafting the tweet to post this, which I’m totally counting)! Points for me! In a totally not gamified sense at all!

As I said, this is mostly a pre-registering of this experiment. We’ll see whether it works – it has the characteristic complexity of my trying stupid things with Beeminder that turn out not to work, but I’m still reasonably optimistic and think it’s a good idea. Of course, that is also characteristic of things that end up not working. But hey, it might work and hopefully it’ll be fun finding out whether it does.

Giving up on giving up on caffeine

Yesterday I paid Grayson Morris £75 for the privilege of getting to have caffeine again (when I set up the pre-commitment in May I foolishly specified it would be $90 rather than the equivalent number of pounds, which back then would have been £62. Thanks Brexit).

The context is that I set up a community policing policy for my caffeinefree beeminder goal in which I precommitted to keep it going until May next year and that I would pay this penalty if I didn’t. Yesterday I decided that I wasn’t going to do that and was instead going to pay the penalty, and Grayson was the one to claim it.

This is a post-mortem for that goal, and a discussion of what’s going to happen now.

Why did I decide to archive the goal?

The core reason I decided to archive the goal is that I concluded that I was almost certain to want to archive the goal between now and the deadline, the cost would remain constant, and I didn’t feel I would derive significant benefit from an additional period of the goal being active. Additionally, given my currency is not doing very well and is likely to do worse before it gets better again, the cost of archiving it was only going to go up.

In particular I decided that I would get more than £75 worth of benefit from being able to drink caffeine again regularly. I’ve spent about 5 months without a caffeine addiction, during which the longest period without any caffeine at all was nearly two months. At this point I feel like I have an adequate grasp of what life without a caffeine addiction is like and I don’t enjoy it very much.

What’s wrong with life without caffeine?

A couple of things. First, I can reasonably conclusively say now that caffeine is not the culprit for my bad sleep. I still sleep terribly without caffeine. This isn’t something wrong with life without caffeine per se, but it means that life without caffeine doesn’t have to just be not bad it has be actually good.

And I’ve not really found that to be the case. The only concrete benefit I can point to being without caffeine is that I’m a somewhat calmer person.

Set against that, there are some major downsides to life without a caffeine addiction for me:

  1. I don’t actually like being a calmer person very much, because it tends to just result in me being a more depressed person.
  2. I still have bad days where I haven’t slept properly or am just exhausted for some other reason and there’s nothing I can do about it. This is especially bad as I have been doing a lot of longish distance driving recently, so there’s a real possibility that a lack of caffeine could actually kill me, but even without that this sucks.
  3. Occasional caffeine use is much worse for me than regular caffeine use. It turns out that when I haven’t built up my tolerance I’m just really sensitive to caffeine and then even fairly small quantities do significantly disrupt my sleep.

What went well with this goal?

I’m mostly pretty happy with how this went. It’s been by far my longest period in my adult life without a caffeine addiction, and this goal definitely helped me achieve that. I thought this goal structure was great and I might well use it again in future for other things.

I also found the community policing thread really helpful and will probably use it again for other hard to commit to goals.

What would I do differently in retrospect?

I think I committed to this goal for too long and for too much money. If I were to try something similar in future I would:

  1. Not commit to it for more than 6 months
  2. Commit to it for maybe half the original amount of penalty
  3. Commit in my local currency. But in my defence I didn’t really expect a popular vote and an unelected borderline fascist government to decide to tank said currency.

What are the expected consequences of being back on caffeine?

I expect my energy levels to be higher and more regular.

I also expect to be an angrier person.

I’m not making this up. The two things I forget or underestimate every time are that caffeine withdrawal makes me intensely depressed and going back on caffeine makes me angry. I always get to the end of the day and go “Why am I so depressed/furious? OH RIGHT CAFFEINE”.

I think a large part of this is not caffeine itself but my temperament and how I respond to having insufficient / too much energy (I’m basically always somewhat depressed and always somewhat angry, but how much I am of each depends on how much energy I have to express them), but these are also just physiological consequences of how a body responds to caffeine.

This effect will be more pronounced in the near future as my body acclimatises to caffeine and I adjust to having more energy. I apologise if I am unnecessarily short with you as a result and you should feel to call me on it.

I’m going to be trying to offset this effect by supplementing my caffeine intake with theanine. Anecdotally it seems to be somewhat helpful for this but doesn’t make the effect go away.

Closing remarks

Thanks to everyone who participated in the community policing thread, and thanks to Beeminder for enabling this. Although I’m terminating the experiment early and the result is more negative than I was hoping for, I still consider the experiment to be a success and am glad I did it.

This entry was posted in Beeminder, The War On Sleep on by .

Backpressure 2: Backpressure harder

You might remember that I implemented a thing for beeminder that I’m calling backpressure. If a goal has less than a week to derailing it generates a datapoint each day. There’s then a “do less of that” goal.

It required a bit of tinkering at first: My initial rate was really low compared to what I actually generated on this front, so I had a few days of scrambling panic to get it under control. Additionally I realised it only worked well for “do more” goals where I can actively work towards making things better as opposed to just not doing anything to make that goal worse for a few days.

Once I got things under control I also decided that my intended rate was too generous, and dialled it down to one which didn’t allow me a full week of leniency: If I have a permanent rate of about one a day being inside the backpressure window than I will derail.

The result is pretty great. I no longer have eep days, I have “oh dear” several day periods (needs a catchier name). When something enters the backpressure window I tend to immediately bat it out again by doing some extra work on it, but it’s no big deal if I need to leave it a day or two. It’s an altogether much calmer experience.

But there is one slight case where it fails to be calmer: Because most of my goals tend to hover a bit outside the one week window now, I still suffer from the correlated eeping problem where multiple things enter the backpressure window at once and I have to deal with both of them because several things in backpressure will cause me to derail much faster. It’s still not nearly as bad as having multiple simultaneous eep days, but it could be better.

I have a couple ideas for how to deal with this, but the easiest one involves me going “Hmm… I’ve got this hammer in my hand. I wonder if I can solve this problem by hitting things?”

So the solution to backpressure’s problems? MORE BACKPRESSURE.

I’ve created a second goal, backpressureharder, which tracks how many goals I have with less than two weeks of grace period left. The idea is that this will be different because it will have a much laxer rate. My current plan is to keep it to just under 2/day, so that I can safely let a single goal slide into the full blown backpressure window, but if two are in there at once I need to deal with it or I’ll derail (or at least burn through my bufffer) – it shouldn’t derail fast. I don’t want to be frantic about it, but at some point in the week I should do something about it.

My initial goal setting on it is not anything close to that because I want to avoid the frantic scrambling around of last time, so I’ve actually got it set to 10 a day. My plan is to clear things out of it gradually, adjust the road dial downwards and retroratchet aggressively to keep myself honest.

P.S. No I’m not just writing this blog post to get my blogging goal closer to being outside the two week window. Why do you ask?

Playing beeminder on hard mode by adding backpressure

So as you might have gathered I really like beeminder. A proper advocacy post will follow at some point, but for now this is just a report on a new experiment I’m going to be performing with it.

One of the things I don’t like about beeminder is the eep days. That is, days where you’re about to fall off and need to do some panicked activity to prevent you from doing so. In principle they’re fine – they provide good motivation and remind you of your duties as a good anti-procrastinator – but there are two main problems I have with them:

  1. They tend to bunch together. Generally if I’m getting eep days it’s because I’m falling behind on ability to meet my goals, usually do to energy or time constraints, so I can get several goals eeping at once or in short succession.
  2. They tend to reoccur. The problem is that goals are necessarily set at a reasonable daily rate, so necessarily if I just do a reasonable daily rate on an eep day it will reoccur tomorrow.

It should be relatively easy to prevent eep days from occurring. You just work a bit extra when you have the energy to do so to build up a buffer, then resume a normal rate and you’ve got this nice comfort zone.

Of course, it doesn’t work out that way. I naturally procrastinate until things become pressing and the buffer gradually dwindles away and the eep days happen.

Hmm. What I need is some sort of tool to stop procrastinatingSay, a way to be reminded of it and penalised for it.

Do you know of such a thing?

Oh, right. There’s this thing called beeminder. I could beemind my beeminding.

So I wrote a simple script to add a smooth backpressure to beeminder. The way it works is that I have a “Do less” goal (I’m really enjoying the do less goals) which tracks how many goals I have with less than a week left till I fall off the road each day. This goal is set to allow me 7 due-goal-days a week, so I can safely have one goal which is approaching due but if I have two then I will exceed my allowed rate and rapidly head towards failing my pledge.

I currently have two goals which are coming due (read more non-fiction and go to the gym more), so I’d better hurry up and get one or both of those sorted if I don’t want to derail.

Edit: Note that I’ve changed this to only apply to “hustler” (do more) type goals, as I found it didn’t work well with “do less” goals.

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