It’s Chunky Time!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011
By dreeves

A very pixelated clock

Here’s a question that keeps coming up. To paraphrase,

Beeminder is great for stuff that needs to happen every day, but for stuff that happens sporadically in large chunks of time, won’t I quickly run off Beeminder’s smooth daily ramp?

Au contraire! Beeminder allows brilliantly for chunkiness of time. The key is to make sure you have enough safety buffer days to make it to your next work day. So if you are doing your chunk of work for the week and want to make sure that you can last 7 days before doing more, just make sure you have 7 days of safety buffer. [EDIT: Beeminder now puts the safety buffer front and center with its live countdown-to-derailment timer.] Let your road be flat for a week initially if you want to make sure you can establish such a safety buffer. [1]

“We’ve taken away the danger of the slippery slope”

The beauty of the yellow brick road is that it guarantees that you will maintain the overall average that you want to maintain — say, 15 hours a week — while allowing as much flexibility as theoretically possible about when you do it. In other words, if you go off the yellow brick road, it is necessarily because you have failed to maintain the overall average you said you wanted to maintain. Sure you may be able to bring the average back up in your next chunk of work, but we’re just imposing the constraint that you do it the other way around. Get above your road when you do the chunk of work, then coast for a while till you’re in danger and then do your next chunk. It’s fundamentally the same except we’ve taken away the danger of the slippery slope of getting further and further behind thinking you’ll make it up with a bigger and bigger marathon chunk of work later.

Convinced? It’s a basic tenet of Beeminder that you’ll never lose on a technicality so let us know if you think you have a counterexample!

(It certainly works for us. Check out the sidebar on this page, “Eating Our Own Dog Food.” You can see that we typically don’t post until it’s an “emergency blog post day,” as we call it, when we’re about to drive off the yellow brick road. As is the case as we type this! When you’re reading this, if we hit publish in time, you’ll see our dot jump above the road again. That means we have a week or so of safety buffer — we keep readjusting the steepness of the road depending on the size of our backlog of post ideas — till the next post is due.)

Footnotes

[1] There’s an item in our feedback forum about when and whether that initial week of flat yellow brick road is imposed, but you can always choose to have it.

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