The “I Will” System

Wednesday, August 9, 2017
By dreeves

Padded cell that says 'Committed?'

“80% of success is showing up.” — Woody Allen

“It should be completely implausible to describe a startup’s CEO as a flake.” — Paul Graham and Jessica Livingston’s heuristic for successful startups

For the past two weeks I’ve been trying a new system I’ve formulated to make all casual commitments be hard commitments. It’s similar to my Anti-Resolution Resolution, which has worked well for me for years now. I publicly committed to never saying “I should do X” without taking at least some small action to make X more likely.

Now I’m trying something similar for “I will”. Specifically, I can never just say, no matter how casually, “I’ll X the Y”. I have to add consequences if the Y ends up un-X’d.

I should admit that the Anti-Resolution Resolution has mostly just made me not say “I should” in the first place. It hasn’t been life-altering or anything. But it’s worthwhile in that I feel less guilty about not doing things I “should” do. At worst the “no consequence-free ‘I will’” system will be similar. But I predict it will be much better because of what it means for your relationships with people when you’re that conscientious. So far it feels quite good.

The pragmatic question was how to commit to consequences on the fly without bogging down everyday conversations. My first ideas were putting tasks in GTBee, a Slack bot that mediates conversations, or a separate Google calendar for “I will” commitments that’s integrated with Beeminder somehow.

But, by the Shirk & Turk principle, I’ve started with something I can do manually. Namely, whenever I make an “I will” statement (even the most casual “cool, I’ll take a look” type utterances) I explicitly also mention a deadline and put it on my calendar and on a Beeminder goal. It feels strange to enter datapoints in the future on Beeminder but it’s always been allowed. I make the datapoint value be 0 until I actually do the thing, when I can change it to a 1.

Dreeves's Beeminder graph for his 'I Will' system

Beeminder isn’t enforcing any particular success rate here, just that I keep 8 commitments per week. But my success rate for my first 22 “I will” commitments has been essentially 100%. I say essentially because the other day I was 10 minutes late on one of them. Which might be a dangerously slippery slope because on the very next one I was 20 minutes late. We’ll see!

I’ll be sure to update this post to let you know if this system stands the test of time [dreev.es/will deadline = Oct 27 5pm].


 

Thanks to Bethany Soule, Laurie Reeves, and the daily beemail subscribers for reading drafts of this.

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  • http://robinryder.wordpress.com/ Robin

    I like the principle, but I didn’t understand how you beemind it. Could you give a specific example of what your datapoints look like (before and after completion)?

  • http://beeminder.com Daniel Reeves

    Sure! If I say I’ll answer you on Aug 31 then I’ll add a future datapoint like so:
    8 31 0 “answer Robin”

    And then on the 31st (or earlier if I do it early) I’ll edit that datapoint to be like so:
    8 31 1 “answer Robin”

  • http://beeminder.com Daniel Reeves

    I was just talking about this more with Bee and had an idea for handling the case of keeping an I-will commitment but not quite by the deadline. The idea is to count it as partial success, so you can still compute an overall success rate. Here’s what I’m going with:

    * by the deadline = 100% success = datapoint of 1 in Beeminder
    * seconds late = close enough, w/in measurement error, still 1
    * minutes late = .999
    * hours late = .99
    * days late = .9
    * weeks late = .5
    * months late = .1 (mostly doesn’t count)
    * years late = .01 (better late than never)

    Or if I automate this I might prefer something like the graduated penalty function from this old post of mine: http://messymatters.com/deadlines/

    As of now that puts me at an overall 99.9913% success rate. :)

  • http://beeminder.com Daniel Reeves

    I was discussing this with Sean Fellows just now and mentioned that I need to notice “I’m going to” as synonymous with “I will”. And also “I need to” as synonymous with “I should”. So, by my http://blog.beeminder.com/should rule, I’m making this comment in hopes that saying this publicly will help me remember!