Beeminder is S.M.A.R.T., Overcomes Bias

Thursday, August 23, 2012
By dreeves

Odysseus and the Sirens, by John Waterhouse

Katja Grace, long praised by economists and now collaborating with one since joining Robin Hanson’s OvercomingBias blog, just wrote a pretty amazing article about how much Beeminder improves her life. She made several important points, one of which is particularly reblogworthy, especially if we take the liberty of rephrasing it like this: Beeminder is S.M.A.R.T.


    You get “specific” and “measurable” by virtue of defining your yellow brick road, that is, by creating a goal in Beeminder.


    “Attainable” means you can do it and “Relevant” means you want to do it. Beeminder is for goals you know you want to achieve, you know you can achieve, but that historically you don’t achieve. In other words, goals that pass what we call the Want-Can-Will Test.


    The idea here is to create a sense of urgency. Beeminder manages this even for ongoing, open-ended goals, normally not considered SMART-compatible. You have to be on your yellow brick road at the end of every day.

(In recent literature, SMART has been extended to SMARTER. Beeminder’s got that covered…)


    The road dial makes this possible. As Katja Grace puts it, “you can fine-tune the challengingness of a goal, but can’t change it out of laziness unless you are particularly forward thinking about your laziness.”


Katja Grace makes several other excellent points:

  1. There’s a lot of value in making visible daily progress toward goals
  2. There’s some powerful psychology in the don’t-break-the-chain lifehack (and Beeminder makes it more flexible and thus even more powerful)
  3. Beeminder lets you hard-commit to things that it usually requires a more extreme position (e.g., identifying as a vegetarian) to commit to; in other words, Beeminder is safety rope for slippery slopes

She also makes a pretty profound point that Beeminder can’t take any credit for, but it’s a good insight for choosing the metrics you beemind. Here it is in comic form, thanks to xkcd:

xkcd comic, 'Let Go', about Luke Skywalker being distracted by his targetting computer

The real insight is in the hover text: arrange for higher activation energy for temptation. Katja does this by beeminding pomodoros of work. An interruption voids the whole 25-minute chunk of time, which raises the cost of distractions just enough.

Needless to say, we’re pretty delighted with and grateful for Katja’s article. And to the hundreds of new users from OvercomingBias (and concomitant Hacker News bump): welcome! You’re exactly the kind of users we want right now so please send us your thoughts.

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