Do-Less Goals with Pessimistic Presumptive Reports

Sunday, September 22, 2013
By dreeves

A less-than sign

First, a point of nominology: We’ve renamed the Set-A-Limit goal type to Do Less. The names “do more” and “do less” sometimes confuse people, like if you just want to maintain a steady rate of something, or not do something at all. The idea is that you use a Do More or Do Less goal to do more or less than what you’d otherwise do if left to your own devices.

Beeminder’s been very do-more-centric. We’re great at encouraging you to do more of the good stuff, like exercising or writing. Unfortunately, we were bad at setting a limit on undesirable behaviors, which seems like it should be part of our bread and butter! So bad in fact that our own esteemed cofounder and Queen Bee, wanting to do less gorging on sugary treats, devised a rather convoluted way to turn that into a Do More goal. She has a goal that keeps her doing more not eating sugar.

It’s been long overdue that we overhaul the inner workings of limiting / Do Less goals. We’ve changed a few things and now they are (nearly?) analogous with Do More goals (hence the name change).

  1. We came up with an equivalent to Do More’s week of initial flat spot to ease you into the goal. Do Less goals give you a starting week of buffer by starting the road above you. If you want to drink 1 cup of coffee per day, then you start at 0 and the road starts at 7 — giving you one week of buffer. If you keep to your goal and drink only one cup of coffee per day you’ll still have an extra 7 cups of leeway.

  2. If you cross the centerline of your Do Less goal, we send you a warning email.

  3. If you ignore us and don’t report, you will eventually derail.

This is the biggest change, and most important to making Do Less goals really stick.

Until now, if you forgot to report to Beeminder for a given day, the default thing was to assume that you didn’t have any coffee, or whatever behavior you are limiting. This flatlining behavior where we assume that by default you did nothing, is the reasonable thing to do in the case of a running or blogging goal. But with a Do Less goal you could weasel your way out of your commitment just by being forgetful, which, as we’ve already established is dangerous, particularly for Beeminder users. Beeminders are surprisingly non-weaselly but they are often weasels of omission.

Pessimistic Presumptive Reports

“Edit me, slacker!”

So now we’ve changed the game. At the end of the day if you haven’t entered a datapoint on a Do Less goal, then we add one for you, and we assume the worst. This pessimistic presumptive report is twice whatever the current daily rate of the yellow brick road is. That has the nice property that you’ll transition from green to blue to orange to red, one per day, just like with flatlining on a Do More goal. We also annotate the datapoint with the comment “PESSIMISTIC PRESUMPTION. Edit me, slacker!” so they’re easily distinguishable. This means that if you ignore your Do Less goal, instead of slowly gaining more and more safety buffer, you instead climb closer and closer to the road, and will eventually derail for lack of reporting data.

This also means that if you really didn’t drink any coffee today, you need to enter an explicit “0” datapoint. If you simply forgot to enter your data you can go back and edit it to the correct amount.

Our intent is to light a fire under your butt to keep paying attention to those Do Less goals. Prior to now they were all too easy to forget about and let slide. This is on by default for new Do Less goals (excepting autodata goals, since they already report on you whether you’re paying attention or not). If you want it on for one of your existing goals, look for it in your goal settings. If you want to opt out of it, again, it is in settings. Of course, in our quest to keep all our users’ cranial orifices free of sand, we think you should leave it on.


Thanks to Yehuda Katz and Rich Armstrong for helping us figure out how to do the analog of Do More’s initial flat spot. And thanks to everyone on the Akratics Anonymous list for helping think through the rest of this.

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