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'Thinking Outside the Box' by Duy Huynh

Let’s talk about some novel ways to use Beeminder! Whenever we hear about one of these I want to slap up a big smiling picture of the user in our “new favorite Beeminder” frame.

First though, this entire post is a thinly veiled excuse to point out that OHMYGODGUYS Fog Creek likes us, they really really like us! Check out this excerpt from Dogfooding Until It Hurts:

…if you really want to see “dogfooding until it hurts” in action, check out Beeminder, a tool for setting “goals with a sting.” You set up your goals, and if you stray from them, the service fines you an escalating amount of real money until you’re back on track. Beeminder is dogfooding heavily and publicly to keep their development goals on track. These folks are literally giving away cold hard cash to users as a pre-commitment to do things like delivering user-visible enhancements or blog posts on a regular basis. Amazing. Even better, they have a Trello integration that’ll keep you moving those cards to the Done column regularly (or else).

So, yes, there are some powerful ways to beemind your startup, some which we’ll devote future blog posts to (and feel free to check out our rough notes in the meantime). Another idea from the Fog Creek / Trello folks: sending someone a self-enforcing to-do list, thanks to the Trello+Beeminder integration. For example, Rich Armstrong is telling his family members who need computer help because their Hotmail got hacked again, basically: “I won’t fix your computer until you’ve done the following security basics”. In general the idea is to make a Trello checklist for someone and then send them a link to it. The first item in the list can be a link to set up a Beeminder goal for the list, so they’re bound to keep at it until they eventually finish.

What are some other awesome ways Beeminder users think outside the box? Yes, at least half our users are still interested in losing weight. If you count all the exercise goals too then it’s over two thirds who are tracking fitness related stuff. But we can do more, y’all!

Bundle Goals and The Beeminding of Fun

We’ve blogged about the Must-Do system before, which I’m finding quite powerful. You could take this idea of a sort of bundle goal and use it for lots of things. Philip Hellyer tracks several daily practices — physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual — in one goal. He says “my goal for this doesn’t care which of those things I do, so long as I maintain my weekly momentum. It’s my choice on any given day whether I brainstorm a bunch, hit the gym, meditate, or do anything else that defensibly counts as one of the 4 components.” Another idea from Alys is a healthy eating goal. Make a list of various dietary elements that you want to consume regularly and assign points for every class, all going into one bundle goal. For example, 1 point for each serving of protein and 2 points for each serving of vegetables. You could even do negative points for servings of sugar! Then there’s Paul Fenwick’s delightfully nerdy Remember-the-Beeminder — an integration with Remember The Milk and Beeminder where he gets points for finishing items on his to-do list and the points vary depending on how stale the item is and how he originally tagged it when it was added.

“I especially love beeminding hobbies because it is both an enforcement and an excuse.”

Gratitude journaling is another great one. And although beeminding hobbies is old hat by now — starting with Jake Jenkins’s guitar goal — we’re still enamored with it. Overcoming akrasia, after all, means getting yourself to do what you truly want to do, and that doesn’t always happen when left to our own devices. I especially love beeminding hobbies because it is both an enforcement and an excuse. I beemind my craft projects because sometimes I don’t spend enough time on them, but when I come to an emergency day it’s wonderfully liberating to sit down without any guilt. Maybe there are other things that seem more important, like if I’m not playing with the kids or working on Beeminder maybe I should be cleaning the bathroom or folding laundry, for some values of should. But it turns out those are usually pretty stupid values of should and if I have an emergency craft day, well, I conveniently planned last week that crafting would be the most urgent and important thing today. I can sit down without guilt and spend 25 minutes knitting because I want to and because I have to. (Dreeves feels similarly about his set-a-limit goal on time spent with the kids.)

Proxy Beeminding

A lot of our own beeminding is proxy beeminding. Like how our User-Visible Improvements goal is a proxy for inexorable forward progress and never giving up. When what you really care about isn’t straightforward to measure and track, you can often find another metric that is and beemind that instead. Like Danny O’Brien’s browser hack. He wrote some code to automatically beemind how many websites he’d visited in a day as he found it correlates well to his distraction. More websites = more distraction.

Here’s another example: I track my sugar-free days. What I really want is to reduce my overall sugar intake. Set-a-limit goals do that nicely but set-a-limit goals are a bit fundamentally broken (we’re working on this!) in that they can be rather loosely binding unless you have an automatic data source. [UPDATE: We fixed Set-a-limit goals, and renamed them to Do Less.] And keeping track of my servings of sugar becomes too easy to get vague about. If I don’t remember to update the moment I eat a cookie, it’s very easy to forget later in the day if I ate 1 cookie this afternoon, or was it 10? But sugar-free days are easy and binary. Either I ate some sugary junk or I didn’t. In fact I have a sugar-free emergency today. Much easier not to eat the girl scout cookies that are sitting out invitingly in the kitchen when it would cost me $90. (Yes, I once paid $30 for the privilege of eating some ho-ho, and thus wound up at the $90 pledge level).

Yes, in theory I could eat twice as much sugar on my sugar-allowed days and defeat the whole point. But that would be gross, so in practice this goal succeeds in reducing my sugar consumption just fine.

Let’s Get Creative

Okay, but those aren’t really too far outside the box. They’re really more peering out the window. What about David MacFarlane beeminding his bugging of us until we implemented Fitbit stairs minding? (For the record, we absolutely adored that, and it absolutely worked!) Similarly, although this was more of a Beeminder hack than true beeminding, Matthew Fallshaw used a Beeminder graph to construct a bounty for us for another Fitbit feature. Or how about beeminding the number of safe days on your Beeminder goals to force you to stay further ahead of the game? (We’ve forgotten who did that one.) Or beeminding the amount of time you spend coding up your fancy schmancy custom Beeminder to-do list integration (Paul Fenwick again).

Someone told us about an exercise goal they created where they used a deck of cards and assigned an exercise to each suit — say diamonds are pushups, clubs are kettle bell swings, spades are squats, and hearts are box jumps. Then they’d shuffle deck, draw cards one at a time, and do the face value number of reps of each exercise. Instant random workout, and they beeminded the number of cards they did each week. (Who was this? Please claim your genius!)

Beeminding it to Eleven

“Nick Winter beeminds spontaneous romantic gestures for his girlfriend. SWOON!”

And then there’s Nick Winter, who is writing an entire book about using commitment devices and other lifehacks to get things done and be generally amazing. This included an insanely high Beeminder contract to finish the book draft in time (he did), and to try skydiving (also did). It would have cost him many thousands of dollars not to jump out of that plane. He also talks about beeminding spontaneous romantic gestures for his girlfriend. SWOON! People are always justifying Valentine’s day with some reasoning along the lines of “but it’s a reminder to be kind and demonstrate your love for those around you.” So, live the love every week, and beemind it.

Addendum: More Crazy/Awesome Beeminding

We plan to keep this list updated with new crazy ways to beemind that we learn of, including the best of the comments:

  • There’s some very innovative beeminding going on with our API.
  • We’re not sure if this is what Alex Ames has in mind with that placeholder page with a big hotlinked copy of his Beeminder graph but it struck us as a perfect way to have something like a “coming soon!” notice that automatically becomes a skull and crossbones instead of becoming a blatant lie.
  • Yes, some people beemind sex. The Beeminder founders can neither confirm nor deny that this includes themselves, nor, if so, whether they’re set-a-limits or do-mores. [UPDATE 2014: Still no confirmation nor denial but in modern Beeminder parlance that’s Do More or Do Less goals.]
  • We also know of people beeminding talking to other people and other so-called comfort zone expansion tricks.
  • Joe Paravisini, in addition to beeminding social contact, cleverly beeminds how early he wakes up by entering the time of day (like “8:45”) as the datapoint and letting Beeminder interpret that as hours after midnight (ie, 8.75). He uses a set-a-limit [UPDATE: now “do less”] goal to make sure he wakes up by a certain time on average. (See the colon shortcut.)
  • Aaron Maras came up with a way to use IFTTT to beemind his Instapaper queue (and this would work for anything that has an RSS feed). He has a recipe to send a +1 to the bot when he adds an article and another recipe to send a -1 to the bot when he reads an article. Here’s his graph: beeminder.com/aamaras/instap. We made a recipe inspired by Aaron’s for beeminding a Twitter feed but the possibilities are endless!
  • We love these examples from Mirabai Knight. (Note to others who’ve blogged about creative beeminding: remind us so we can add you to this list!)
  • Brian Crain is beeminding many aspects of his daily productivity, including blogging about his progress.
  • Brent Yorgey completely knocked our socks off with “Beeminding for Fun and Profit” in which he describes how he beeminds productivity at work, leisure, learning, chores, even trimming his toenails and all the ways Beeminder has transformed his life (we’re not exaggerating).


Image credit: Duy Huynh