Thursday, June 12, 2014

Using Beeminder to keep myself on track

For years - probably more than a decade - I've been trying via various goals, "life hacks", exhortations, etc, to try to get myself to do one thing. That one thing is to review my to-do list every morning, and come up with about 3 things that I must get done that day.

But even though I know, intellectually, that I could get a lot more done and feel better about myself if I were conscientious about this, I didn't do it. I was quite unsuccessful - I would keep it up for a few days, maximum a few weeks. Then despite all my motivational tricks, I would be back at my old habits of procrastination.

Then about a year ago, I found out about commitment contracts and Beeminder. I think I originally came across Beeminder in the book, Carrots and Sticks: Unlock the Power of Incentives to Get Things Done. The authors of this book have their own commitment contract website (Stickk), which I explored, but Beeminder works best for me.

I ended up setting up a few goals in Beeminder. And a few months ago, I just renewed them after my one year anniversary! The longest standing ones have been Morning Planning (review my to-do list and set 3 items as "do today, top priority"; and Doing Top Priorities (actually doing those top priority to-do items).

Every day I get an email for each goal, asking me how I did the previous day. I have it set up as either a yes/no (i.e., I get either 1 or 0 for the previous day, though sometimes on the Doing Top Priorities I give myself a .75 if I almost made it). I've "derailed" a few times - in the Beeminder lingo, this means I've gone of track, and haven't completed my goal in time. Every time this happens, my credit card gets charged a certain amount - it's at $10 right now. And I'm totally fine with that - it provides the "stick" in the carrot and stick analogy, and gives me the extra incentive that I need at times, to stop procrastinating. Not to mention that it pays the bills for Beeminder, which is important to me - I need them to stick around! I'm also a premium member (an extra $30 a year), which gives me more flexibility in the goals.

So what is it that makes me successful now, with Beeminder, when I wasn't successful before? I think it's a combination of two factors:
  • Daily interactive reminder emails. It's not just an email reminder, the email also includes your goal progress in the past few days. And, by replying to the email I update Beeminder with my status for the previous day. This daily nudge, which forces me to evaluate how I did yesterday, is critical.
  • Having to pay if I derail, and don't show progress on my goals. It's not a lot of money, but it's enough to make me think.
I've mentioned Beeminder to a few people, and told them how much I value it. Almost uniformly, they've said that they can't imagine giving a company their credit card number, in order go get charged money if they don't show progress on a goal. I can understand that - it does sound a bit weird. But what can I say, it works for me far better than anything I've ever tried, and I'm not about to stop!


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