Achieve More with Beeminder

Posted on July 11, 2012 by

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I don’t know if you have noticed, but all my blog posts go live on Tuesday night.  Why Tuesday night you may wonder?

It just so happens that my Beeminder blog post graph will crash if I don’t tend to it by midnight on Tuesday.   In other words, if I don’t write a blog post by Tuesday night I will fail my goal and forfeit $10.  Even more important, I will break my 21 week chain of continuous weekly posts.

Last week my blog post was due on Tuesday, July 3rd and I also had to practice guitar for 35 mins.  Of course, like many other Americans, I spent that night with my family and friends eating, drinking, and watching fireworks.  I had a fantastic time and I don’t regret spending my time like that one bit.  But it wasn’t until 10:30 PM that I walked in my front door and all I wanted to do was climb into bed….

Before I finish the story let me share some of my results and thoughts on the tool that got me to this point and has greatly increased my productivity and discipline.

My Results with Beeminder.com

I discovered Beeminder over 8 months ago and I have been in love with it ever since.  Here are my goals and results:

Guitar

Goal: Practice 35 minutes a day on average.
Results: In the last 8 months I have practiced almost 150 hours of guitar.

Writing

Goal: Write 750 words a day on average.
Results: In the last 7 months I have written over 165,000 words.

Blogging

Goal: Publish 1 blog post a week on average
Results: In the last 6 months I have published over 30 blog posts.

Weight

Goal: Lose 10 lbs and then stay below 190lbs
Results: Lost 10 lbs and have floated between 188lbs and 193lbs.  Currently “off the road” due to a couple high weigh-ins but on track with my weight.

I believe there are a number of reasons why Beeminder is such an effective tool for keeping me on track:

1) Don’t Break the Chain

This concept has been written about on Lifehacker and apparently Jerry Seinfeld used it to motivate himself to write jokes.  The basic idea is that you should get a large calendar and make an X on it every day you complete your goal.  Once you get a chain of “X”es it motivates you to keep going because you don’t want to “break the chain.”

Beeminder is built on this basic psychological hack.  Instead of putting an X on a calendar you get a point on a graph.  Sometimes when I am not feeling motivated to work on my goals I stare at my Beeminder graphs and see how much steady progress I have made and realize I don’t want it to end.

2) Safety Buffer

Making an X on a calendar might work in the short term, but who can work towards their goal every day?  It is too constricting.  What if you get sick, or go on vacation.  I have read that some people have different symbols for different excuses that they mark their calendar with to not “break the chain” but that is too slippery a slope for me.

With Beeminder you can build a safety buffer on your goal by doing more than your daily requirement.  This surplus can then be used at a later date if you can’t complete your goal or want to have a cheat day.

3) Akrasia Horizon

So you started making progress on your goal but after the initial excitement wore off you are beginning to think you over committed yourself.

You could tweak your goal immediately and reduce it to what feels right in the moment.  But, how do you know you aren’t just being lazy and allowing your weak “present self” to give up on the goal your “past self” set for it?

Beeminder solved this problem by creating the Akrasia Horizon.  This feature allows you to change any of your Beeminder goals exactly one week out.  Since it doesn’t provide instant relief from your goal you are less likely to tweak it during a moment of weakness.

4) Money on the Line

The last piece of the puzzle is the commitment contract.  If you struggle to stay on track with your goal Beeminder will force you to put some money on the line.  It starts off small: $5, $10, $30 and then quickly climbs into values that make my queasy to think about. Based on some of the negative comments people made on this article it seems other people share this sentiment.

That is why this is a powerful feature.  If you feel that strongly about keeping your money safe then put some money on the line.  You may find it motivates you so much that you never have to pay a dime for the service.

Back to my Story

So where does this leave me at 10:30 PM with a blog post and 35 minutes of guitar practice to complete before bed?

The thought of not writing my blog post or not practicing guitar barely crossed my mind.  It just isn’t an option at this point.  I have too much invested and I am enjoying the results too much.

All I had to figure out was how I was going to tackle these goals.  Not if I was going to tackle these goals.

I decided to break the writing and practicing into 3 equal sets.  I wrote for 20 minutes, practiced guitar for 12 minutes and then allowed myself a  5 minute break.  Technically I didn’t finish the post till 1AM but I won’t tell Daniel and Melanie at Beeminder if you won’t.