Hard Commitments & Soft Commitments: Beeminder ♥ Complice

Tuesday, November 10, 2015
By Malcolm Ocean

Complice logo

We’re hugely impressed with both Malcolm Ocean and his now two-year-old startup, Complice. We’re especially proud that Malcolm’s been beeminding User-Visible Improvements to Complice since the beginning. Complice is quite beautifully done (maybe thanks in part to the more than 600 improvements logged?) and we heartily recommend it. In this guest post, Malcolm makes the cogent case for the complementarity of Complice and Beeminder. Not only do they fit philosophically and psychologically, Malcolm has a beautiful integration that lets you beemind many aspects of your complicing. Whether or not you take the plunge on signing up for Complice, if all this sounds intriguing then come hang out with us in Complice’s co-working room for Beeminder users!

Hi, I’m Malcolm! In addition to having been head beekeeper for Beeminder for 1.5 years, I’m also the creator of Complice, which is a system for making gradual daily progress towards long-term goals. It has daily email reminders and accountability!

You’re like ಠ_ಠ

Synergy!

What am I doing here on the Beeminder blog talking about my app that sounds like it’s very similar and probably a direct competitor? Well you can put down your pitchforks. Beeminder and Complice are so different, in both philosophy and the details, that they collaborate more than they compete.

Quantified Self vs Qualified Self

The first obvious difference is that Beeminder is a quantified self app, where Complice is more… qualified self. That is, Beeminder really shines where you can put numbers to your progress. Weight loss or gain, doing a certain amount of some activity, or more generally, making a metric go up or down. The challenge with this is that these metrics will often either be

  • relatively small parts of the overall goal — I can track the number of pomodoros I work towards my business, but there’s no number of them that guarantees success
  • lagging measures — numbers that are much more tightly correlated with success, but that on a given day I can’t influence directly… like revenue.

For some things, like losing weight, there are a bunch of other simple habits like eating well and exercising, that can have you basically covered.

But for things like operating a business, you need some way to prioritize all of the individual actions that you’re going to take and to stay focused on doing the most important ones first. This is where Complice shines, because while you still have high-level goals, your progress is measured by

a) how many actions you complete towards that goal each day (where the actions are specific things you enter, many of which will be different each day)
b) a self-assessment: each day, you consider if the way that you approached the goal today would be enough to keep you on track.

This self-assessment allows you to capture some of the nuances that numbers miss. So you might realize that you’re doing the things you set out to do, but that they’re not actually getting you much closer to the ultimate goal. This is the kind of thing that you’ll miss if you’re only tracking actions and not reflecting.

Lest it sound like I’m just saying “Complice is better”, I want to point out that in situations where you can use numbers, they have several distinct advantages:

  • simplicity
  • ease of entry
  • easier automation
  • nice graphability
  • harder to deceive yourself about
  • easier to quickly compare progress over time

Hard Accountability vs Soft Accountability

The other key difference between Beeminder and Complice is that they use different kinds of accountability. In “Structures of Accountability” I noted different ways of being accountable. Among them were two kinds of accountability I’m now calling “hard” and “soft”.

Hard accountability is for things you commit to doing, come hell or high water. I either track these with Beeminder, or with a one-off commitment contract with a friend. Something where there’s money on the line. But not just money. As Nick Winter wrote in Spiraling Into Control:

…the real cost of failing a goal is not the loss of your Beeminder pledge money. It’s the loss of confidence that you will meet all future goals that you perceive as similar to the current goal. You will trust yourself less.

So for this kind of hard accountability, it’s critical to keep it, to keep up your sense of “I’m serious about keeping to these commitments”.

“You’re accountable in the sense that at the end of the day you’re going to account for what you did”

Soft accountability, on the other hand, is more tentative. Instead of saying “I commit to doing this,” you’re saying “I commit to seeing if I’ve done this.” You’re accountable in the sense that at the end of the day, you’re going to account for what you did, and you’re going to know if you did or didn’t do the things you set out to do.

(And as I’ll describe below, with the Beeminder+Complice integration, you can now put money on the line for doing this at all. It can be really helpful to have hard accountability about your soft accountability!)

Soft accountability might not sound like much, but it’s a pretty profound difference from how most people live their lives. If you have goals — things you want to achieve, places you want to be — then it makes sense to be continually making course corrections to stay on track. But you can only do this if you’re looking at where you’re going!

I still try to achieve the things I’m soft-accountable for, but I have enough uncertainty — about (a) what my day/week looks like, and (b) the value of the task — that it doesn’t make sense to put money on the line. If I tried to risk money for each of my 8-30 intentions every day, it would take me way too long to decide on them and I’d have to be really conservative in order to not go broke. Instead, I can be slightly optimistic, and then rise to the challenge. Or not, if my day ends up being spontaneously devoted to something else!

But I’m adamant about one part: I always assess how I did. Each night, I set some intentions for the next day. I can’t yet know if those will actually be the most sensible things to do that day. But I know they’re better than what I’d end up with if I didn’t make the list. And in order for that list to matter, I need to look at it at the end of the day too, and seriously consider:

  • Did I do what I intended to?
  • If not, what did I decide to do instead?
  • If I made the same sorts of decisions in the future, would I get where I want to go?

So Happy Together

We’ve established that Beeminder and Complice complement each other when you have both quantitative and more complex progress to be making towards a goal.

There’s also something good to be said for having both hard and soft accountability in your life. Hard accountability is like your drill sergeant or varsity coach, demanding that you drop and do 20 pushups, now; soft accountability is like a scheduled gym-date with a friend. You’ve committed to showing up (or explaining why you didn’t) and you know your friend will bug you if you flake. Or something. Maybe there’s a better metaphor. But the point is, they play different roles and work well together, with higher-importance stuff being higher-stakes and less flexible, and then more space to be spontaneous around your soft accountability intentions.

Another piece is that because Complice has a general to-do list, you can plan out your day a bit more, which is hard in Beeminder. Waterfalls make this easier, but they only work for things you want to beemind, which isn’t going to include “doctor’s appointment at 2pm”. So if you have a Beeminder goal to run 5km/week, then you might put down “go for a run before breakfast” as a fitness action in Complice. And then you have a sense of how it fits with the rest of your day, rather than just having a looming sense that at some point you probably should run today.

This to-do list nature also means that you can take care of more process-level or meta-level stuff there. So again for this running-5km Beeminder goal, under your fitness goal in Complice you might have an action to go buy new running shoes, or to call your friend to see if they want to run with you some mornings. Or to research warmups to do before running.

Even more meta, Complice has built-in weekly reviews, which for me have often been a source of creating new Beeminder goals: I realize I’m not doing enough of some particular action, and then I go set up a Beeminder goal for it. You can also use the reviews to reflect, weekly or monthly, on how your systems are working for you. Are your Beeminder graphs actually causing you to move towards the ultimate goal? Or do they need to be tweaked somehow?

Current Integration Features

“Complice has built-in weekly reviews, which for me have often been a source of creating new Beeminder goals”

And that’s just conceptually. Complice has also been taking extensive advantage of the Beeminder API to make it so that you can take some of the numbers that Complice spits out, graph them, and have some more hard accountability.

So far, the integration includes

  • beemind using Complice at all: Complice works best if you check into it daily, so you can beemind this. This is the epitome of “hard accountability for soft accountability”.
  • beemind how many tasks you intend or complete in Complice: I actually think that this one isn’t as good as the previous one because the amount of tasks will vary and what’s most important is to keep up the habit. But one neat thing is that for individual Complice goals, you can beemind “I need to do an average of 1 thing daily towards this goal”
  • beemind pomodoros: Complice has a built-in pomodoro timer, with the ability to assign completed pomodoros to individual tasks. You can then pipe these through to Beeminder to graph them and to make sure that you’re doing enough. This also has both total and per-goal options.
  • beemind starred tasks: Want to have One Must-Do Task Each Day? You can track that in Complice+Beeminder. Star the task, and when you complete it, Beeminder will get a datapoint. Also works per-goal.
  • beemind strategic reviews: Let’s face it, almost nobody does their weekly reviews. I’m the creator of Complice and I find it hard. But now that I have to pay if I don’t, well… I’m a lot more consistent about it. So you can beemind weekly and monthly reviews as well.

All of these integrations have the ability to generate a new Beeminder goal from within Complice, making it really easy to get set up even if you’re not that familiar with Beeminder. And hey, convenient even if you are.

There are also more integrations coming, including having your Beeminder goal status (what’s about to derail) built into Complice as a kind of dashboard so that you can see what you’re going to need to pay attention to. Because unlike Beeminder, Complice is based around the idea that you’ll keep it open and check in regularly throughout the day. So it’s a natural place to want to see and update your Beeminder goals from.

Social Productivity!

The last bit of announcement is that we’ve opened up a Beeminder virtual coworking room on Complice. You know how it can be really helpful to get together with friends and all work on different projects? How just the shared sense of we’re-working-here really helps to keep you on task? Well, this is like that, but you don’t have to leave the comfort of your own desk! Worried that it will be more socializing than working? Nope, we’ve got pomodoros. Here’s how it works:

  • Sign in to the room. You don’t have to be a registered Complice user to use it — guests are welcome!
  • Optionally stream video to other members.
  • Put in what you’re working on (you can see what others are working on too)
  • When the pomodoro timer is red, work! When the pomo timer is green, chat with other people in the room
  • You can talk about whatever or ask/offer help with things

Again, the room is open to anyone, not just logged-in Complice users. There is at least one advantage to having a Complice account though — it lets you log your completed pomodoros, which automatically sync with Beeminder. Also in the works: an integration that will let you beemind “I need to show up in this room 5+ days a week”.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

  • David Gessner

    That virtual pomodoro coworking sounds really interesting! I gave it a try today and liked the idea. However, I was struggling a lot with keeping in sync with the pomodoros. First, when I start a work session and log into the room I first have to wait until the current pomodoro ends to be in sync with everybody. This waiting wastes some of my time. Then my breaks are not precisely 5 minutes, but sometimes a few minutes more. So I easily get out of sync. Also, after a few pomodoros I always take a longer break. After my longer break I’m inevitably out of sync again. So the idea is really cool, but with just a single pomodoro timer I repeatedly get out of sync. Maybe a solution would be to have several simultaneous pomodoros running at the same time, but shifted in time with each other. A user could then choose to join the pomodoro that will expire next. If there are enough simultaneous pomodoros, one would only have to wait a short time to sync with a pomodoro. For instance, if a pomodoro starts every 5 minutes, one would never have to wait more than 5 minutes to join. And if one gets out of sync, you just join the next pomodoro that is about to expire.

  • http://beeminder.com Daniel Reeves

    My feeling is that it’s worth the initial wait to get in sync, and worth being strict about the breaks to stay in sync. Note the social aspect of this. Being in sync means everyone can chat during the breaks. What I’m struggling with is staying focused on my intended task…

  • http://malcolmocean.com Malcolm Ocean

    Yeah. I expect that as it grows it will make sense to make more rooms with a variety of timings, but for now we want to have everyone in one room so it gains critical mass.

  • David Gessner

    Regarding the issue of staying focused during a pomodoro, that is not much of a problem for me. But I’ve been using pomodoros for all my work for a few years by now and focusing during a pomodoro has become a habit. Also, I’m strict with myself: if I do happen to get distracted during a pomodoro, that pomodoro is voided and it does not count. I do not get to add a data point to my Beeminder pomodoro goal. Instead, I have to cancel the pomodoro and start a new one. This means that I have an incentive not to get distracted: if I lose focus on too many, I risk derailing on my goal. OTOH, if I stay focused for a whole pomodoro, and only then, I can happily add a data point to my goal.

  • haig

    As a new user to Beeminder, I’ve been trying to set up something like this with Todoist for the past couple of days. I use a hybrid GTD/Agile Results system, Agile Results being based on a 3 outcome per review period (day, week, month, year) commitment system. It’s straight forward enough with IFTTT and beeminding completed todoist tasks with a ‘today’ tag. Beeminding pomodoros is also not too difficult, I’m using Pomodoro Time Pro synced between iPhone and Macbook which exports a .csv file that I can script to Beeminder.

    All that being said, I’m still intrigued enough to try out Complice, and it’s mostly due to a.) having an integrated one-stop shop for all these things, and b.) the added social aspect of accomplishing things alongside like-minded peers. I think if you would add habits and dailies like Habitica (which I really enjoyed but don’t care for gamification, just need self-binding commitment tools) I’d throw money at you immediately ;).