Beeminder: A User’s Guide for New Bees

Friday, February 21, 2014
By dreeves

Hypothetical 'Beeminder for Newbees' book cover

For the really basic basics, start with our Explain Like I’m 5 video.

UPDATE: All new for 2016! (Not actually all new but we brought it up to code from two years ago.)

UPDATE: Beeminder continues to evolve and gradually-but-steadily improve and now, in 2018, our help docs site is gradually subsuming this, though we’re continuing to update this newbee guide as well.

The Basics

How Beeminder works is you tell us your goal and we map out a Yellow Brick Road for you to stay on. As long as you keep your datapoints on the road you’re safe, but if you fall off we’ll charge you money! Goals start with $0, so if you fall off once we will not charge you, but the amount at risk increases each time.

Apps vs. Website

Our iPhone and Android apps are meant to be auxiliary to the website. They’re great for entering new data, getting reminders, and having a dashboard of your progress. But creating new goals, adjusting your yellow brick road, and other configuration needs to be done on the website.

Creating a Goal

When you sign up and click the New Goal button, we ask what type of goal you want. We talk about the different types below.

Noob Tip: Don’t be nervous about trying goals out. For new goals (less than a week old) if you don’t like what you’ve made you can immediately delete it. This means you are free to experiment with goals, and try them out for a few days to see if you like them. To delete a new goal, click the “STOP/PAUSE” tab underneath the graph. (After a week the option to instantly delete is goes away but you can still archive a goal with a week’s notice.) Go experiment and try new things!

Goal Types

Do More

This is the most frequent type of goal and is for habits you want to do more of. Like running, going to bed on time, studying, or flossing your teeth.

Sometimes people overlook this goal type because their goal is to do something regularly, but not necessarily increase how much of it they’re doing. But truly, this is almost always the type of goal you want! You can think of it as “do more than I would do otherwise”.

Weight Loss

This one’s pretty self-explanatory! Weigh yourself every day and report your weight to Beeminder. If you have a Withings or Fitbit Aria scale you can hook these up to enter your data for you automatically.

Pro Tip: It’s a hard-won insight for a lot of Beeminder users (ourselves included!) that you should mostly beemind things you have direct control over (inputs vs outputs, or actions vs outcomes). Most users find it useful to beemind their weight as an outcome, so they’ve got a modest weight slope and a handful of steeper goals for the activities that will cause them to lose weight: exercise more, eat less sugar, eat more veggies, etc. It’s generally easier to stick to goals that have a well-defined task you can complete to stay on the road.

Do Less

Do Less goals require the Infinibee premium plan (except for those fed by automatic data sources — see below). This is for things you want to do less of, like drinking alcohol or coffee, or spending money on frivolous things. Our Do Less goals aren’t quite as intuitive as our Do More goals, so it might be worth reframing your goal as a Do More. For example, instead of having a Do Less goal where you are trying to minimize how many days you buy lunch from the unhealthy fast food place, you can set up a Do More goal where you are trying to maximize how many days you are packing your lunch.

Pessimistic Presumptive Reports (PPRs). A difficulty with Do Less goals is that you can stay on track by just failing to enter data. For example, if you forget to enter how many cups of coffee you had at work, you’d actually get credit as if you’d had none! This can easily defeat the whole point of beeminding if you’re prone to sticking your head in the sand — the very problem Beeminder is supposed to fix! Our remedy for this problem is that if your deadline rolls around and you have not entered any data yet, we presume that it was because it was a Bad Day, and automatically add a pessimistic datapoint for you. Adding a real datapoint makes the pessimistic presumptive one self-destruct.

Odometer

Odometer goals also require the Infinibee premium plan (except for those fed by automatic data sources — see below). This is mainly used either for actual odometers, like your bike odometer, or things like pages read. Think of it like the odometer in your car. If you’re at 100,000 miles and then you drive 5 miles, your odometer will say 100,005. So if you want to read 100 pages a week, instead of having to count how many pages you read that day, you can just enter in what page you’re currently on. Whether odometer or not, Beeminder plots the cumulative total on your graph. It’s just a question of whether Beeminder adds the numbers for you or if you effectively have an odometer that does that for you.

There’s even a trick for if your odometer gets reset, or, if you start a new book but want your cumulative total mileage or pages read to keep increasing. We’ll point you to the FAQ for that kind of nitty-gritty.

Automatic Data Sources

We can automatically pull data from many other sources outside of Beeminder so that you don’t have to enter data manually. Highly recommended for removing friction and temptation to weasel!

We integrate with some hardware devices, including the Withings scale which, once you have it set up, you literally have to do nothing but step on it each day. Fitbit and Misfit are gadgets you wear that automatically send Beeminder your number of steps, active hours, or calorie expenditure, among other things.

Check out the front page of Beeminder for the dozens of other devices and services we integrate with. Note especially IFTTT and Zapier which let you automatically send data to Beeminder from hundreds of other apps.

Parts of Your Graph

Your goal page has a graph, and a place to enter data below it, as well as your most recent datapoints. Above the graph is a countdown for how many days you have until you derail (if you enter no more data) and how much more you need to do to get another day of safety buffer.

Yellow Brick Road

The Yellow Brick Road is the ideal path to your goal — what you said you want to do. If your datapoints are always falling somewhere on this path, then you are in no danger of derailing. If they are orange you will be off the road tomorrow if you do nothing. If your datapoints are blue you have two days of slack before an emergency day. If your datapoints are green that means you are on the good side of the road, and you have actually earned some time off. If you fall into the red zone (the bad side of the road) then you have to get your datapoints back on the road by midnight (or whatever deadline you’ve set) or the goal will derail.

Akrasia Horizon

This dotted line marks one week in the future. Most changes to your goal, especially ones that make it easier, don’t take place until after the Akrasia Horizon line. So it is easy to change your mind about a goal for next week but you can’t just change your mind out of frustration or laziness Right Now.

Road Dial

If you do change your mind about your goal and you want to make it easier or harder on yourself, you can change the steepness of the road using the Road Dial below the graph in the “COMMITMENT” tab. Say your current rate of 10 per week is too hard. You can change it and the road will adjust after the Akrasia Horizon.

There are three fields: Goal date, Goal total (or final goal value), and Rate. One is always grayed out, as setting two of those fields implies the third. If you want to run 10 miles per week until your birthday, you would set the goal date and the rate. In that case the middle box would be grayed out, but it’d also show you how many miles you will have run if you make it successfully all the way to the end of the road.

Entering Data

You can enter data by text message, responding to the bot emails, via the apps, or entering it into the data entry box below the goal. The format for entering data is: day-of-the-month datapoint “comment”. So let’s say it is February 8th, and you weigh 150 pounds, and want to comment that it was a birthday party so you ate a lot of cake. You would enter:

8 150 "birthday cake" 

As a shortcut you can enter ^ to mean “today”, ^^ to mean “yesterday”, and so on. So let’s say that you want to enter in that you watched 3 Dr. Who episodes yesterday, you would enter:

^^ 3 

(UPDATE: What counts as “today” vs “yesterday” depends on the deadline, which defaults to midnight.)

You can enter multiple datapoints at one time under your graph too:

^^ 1 "Transfinite Train Theory"
^^ 1 "Owl Triangulation on the Kolsky Peninsula"

(Another UPDATE: The above is for the advanced entry tab. By default the “New Data” tab should make entering datapoints self-explantory.)

Reminders

You will receive email reminders around 9:30am on emergency days by default. You can also reply to these messages to add data to your goal. You can adjust the time of day of these reminders in the goal’s settings. If it is an emergency day, you’ll continue to get warnings more and more frequently throughout the day as long as you are still off track. We call this zeno polling. You can turn those off in reminder settings as well.

Derailing

If you have a datapoint off the road (it will be red) then it’s an emergency day. You have until the end of the day to get back onto the road or you’ll derail!

For most goals, especially most autodata goals, you derail at midnight. UPDATE: Deadlines are now customizable in Settings.

Once you’ve derailed, the road moves itself to your most recent datapoint, and gives you a week of flat spot. This is so that you aren’t stuck trying to play catch-up to a goal you’re already behind on. If you don’t want to be allowed to slack off for a week, you can set your “days of mercy” after derailing at the bottom of the “COMMITMENT” tab to as little as 2. Then your road will still jump to where you are currently, but it will continue upward at your previous rate from that point forward, without the flat week.

Legit Checks

Every time you derail, before any charge goes through we’ll send you a “legit check” email. This is us asking if the derailment was legitimate or if you just forgot to enter data, or whatever. If you let us know that the derailment wasn’t legitimate, we’ll cancel the charge and undo the derailment. You have 24 hours to respond to the legitimacy check before the charge goes through! (We can refund a charge that’s already gone through, if you had an emergency and couldn’t respond in time, but we prefer to cancel charges before they go through because it’s slow/costly to issue refunds.)

If you want us to hold you to a higher standard you can check the Weaselproof Me box in the goal settings. Then we might ask for additional proof of your exceptional circumstances, such as a snapshot of you with your doctor, or a tweet or other public announcement of your excuse, for example.

Pledges

If you derail on a goal and haven’t entered a credit card, we’ll freeze the goal until you do. And we won’t charge it your card at that point either, because there was still $0 on the line. But to continue your goal, you’ll need to make a $5 pledge, which we’ll charge the next time you derail.

With each additional derail, we increase the amount of money you have pledged. It gets expensive fast, from $5 to $10 to $30, $90, $270, $810. If $810 sounds insanely expensive to you, that’s fine! Once you reach an amount of money that is sufficiently motivating, you can opt out of further increases in your pledge. Click the pledge above the graph and choose a pledge cap.

Giving Up

Sometimes you decide you no longer want to continue a goal. Perhaps you had a change in your life situation, or just changed your mind. If this happens you can always decide to archive a goal by archiving it (top of the “STOP/PAUSE” tab). This will freeze your goal and put it in your archived goal gallery. The bot won’t bug you about it and it will, for most intents and purposes, be deleted, though still resurrectable.

The tricky part is that, like many other changes to your goal, it doesn’t take effect until a week has passed, so you can’t just archive a goal to keep from derailing! Instead, when you push the Archive button we start a timer. When the timer hits zero your goal will be archived.

Often, you’ll learn more about your goal by starting to do it. So instead of stopping altogether, you might just want to use the road dial instead and make it much easier. A good rule of thumb for goals that you want to keep bubbling in the background is to ask: “What’s the bare minimum I want to do of this?”

Bee-ing Special

Want something extra? We have a few premium plans that have perqs ranging from unlimited goals to power-user features to hanging out in our private dev chat room.

Further Reading

If you’re still confused, don’t feel shy about contacting us or tweeting at us (@bmndr). We really appreciate your help in making Beeminder less confusing! (Telling us you’re confused really does help with that.) Also the forum is downright amazing, thanks to avid and helpful Beeminder fans. We’ve also written blog posts on nearly all of these topics before, so if you’re up for more reading…

Posts about what to beemind:

Posts about how Beeminder works:

Things you might be curious about:

What dog food maniacs we are:

Deep thinking:

If you’re still here, maybe you just want to read everything we’ve ever written that we think is still worth reading.


 

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