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'Routines' as a loop; 'New things' as a spiral

This is a guest post by Tadeusz Andrzej Kadłubowski, a software engineer at DNV GL, where he hacks on strength analysis software for naval architects who design offshore oil platforms. Not exactly rocket science (just figuratively rocket science). He’s also been beeminding continuously since Beeminder first launched. You can hang around with him on the LessWrong Study Hall (hosted by Complice!) where he usually does pomodoros all day long. Today he’s picking up where Andy Brett left off, talking about beeminding breaking out of your routine.

Hello, I’m Tadeusz —  tkadlubo on Beeminder and elsewhere. I’m a fairly regular middle class nerd. Early 30s. An engineering job in some corporate niche. A family. By many metrics I’m doing well: I’m basically healthy, I make a good living, I’m lucky enough to live in politically stable times (by Central European standards), and I face no immediate crises in my life. You can say all is well — or, depending on your perspective, that I’m coasting, and I’m ready to level up my game, but only if I could break out of my current routine, which is filled with full-time employment, children, housework, and related responsibilities.

So I made a Beeminder goal to do just that.

The original fine print read:

85% of the time I will do daily planning in the morning. To mark this goal as done I will list at least one and at most three concrete actionable tasks to do over the day. The list will be recorded in writing […] by 10:00 local time. I will track how many of those tasks I actually completed, but that’s outside the scope of this Beeminder goal.

I decided to leave out of the fine print any specific definition of what type of tasks I’d write down. I just had this general and intentionally vague idea that I should go beyond my usual routine.

So I planned for the Beeminder goal to last for 2 months and it’s now completed. Let’s see how it went in raw numbers. On average I planned some 1.4 tasks per day. I completed 45 tasks, which is less than 60% of the total planned. I had hoped for a higher percentage, but that was explicitly not the focus of the goal. No derailments, although I was surfing the red edge of the Yellow Brick Road most of the time, which is how I roll with Beeminder.

But did it work?

“I was surfing the red edge of the Yellow Brick Road most of the time, which is how I roll with Beeminder”

The goal was meant to generally shake up my routine — and it did. This overall objective was achieved. The format worked well. Writing tasks down helped keep it real. Keeping it to at most 3 items a day made me feel the opposite of overwhelmed. It was the first Beeminder goal for which I asked a friend (and fellow Beeminder user) to be my Supporter. She consulted with me on the initial fine print and I occasionally shared progress updates with her.

Some examples of tasks

  • I resumed playing guitar after a three-month hiatus.

  • I made a lot of progress in translating the Nonviolent Communication book concepts into my native Polish. I collected hundreds of Polish feelings-related adjectives and collocations.

  • While playing with some QS data I discovered a ridiculously high (?0.8 if you want to know) correlation between my RescueTime and my Moodscope scores. I also drafted a blog post about that.

  • I attacked some ugh-fields related to paperwork.

…and many more smaller things that had only minor impact on my overall awesomeness.

What didn’t work

The biggest mistake was choosing 10:00 in the morning for the deadline, as you can’t set it in the Beeminder system. The Beeminder software explicitly disallows 6am to noon to avoid having to distinguish night owls from early birds. [1] As a result I couldn’t rely on the Beeminder Android app reminders. My plans about when to physically think about the tasks and write them down didn’t work at all.

An additional, though minor, problem with this goal was that there was no reason to make it two months long. I learned everything there was to learn from this experiment during the first month. If you are tempted to try this, I believe a faster iteration would work just as well. [2]

The future

By running this Beeminder goal I built some momentum in my life. Now my focus is to keep this success spiral going. Up next: practice identifying action triggers and installing new habits.



[1] Bee team here: We intend to remove this restriction. Bug us if you’re chomping at the bit for AM deadlines!

[2] Us again: Or, y’know, just hit the Archive button whenever you feel like your routine’s been sufficiently broken.