In praise of Beeminder

In January 2013, I wrote a post explaining my use of Beeminder, after using it for six months. Well, I’ve now been using it continuously for almost four years! It has become such an integral part of my life and workflow that I literally don’t know what I would do if it went away. So I decided it was high time to write another blog post about Beeminder. This time, instead of enumerating things I am currently using it for, I will focus on things I have accomplished with the help of Beeminder. There is little doubt in my mind that I am much awesomer today than I would have been without Beeminder.

First, what is Beeminder? Here’s what I wrote three and a half years ago, which I think is still a good description:

The basic idea is that it helps you keep track of progress on any quantifiable goals, and gives you short-term incentive to stay on track: if you don’t, Beeminder takes your money. But it’s not just about the fear of losing money. Shiny graphs tracking your progress coupled with helpfully concrete short-term goals (“today you need to write 1.3 pages of that paper”) make for excellent positive motivation, too.

The key property that makes Beeminder work so well for me is that it makes long-term goals into short-term ones. I am a terrible procrastinator—due to hyperbolic discounting I can be counted on to pretty much ignore anything with long-term rewards or consequences. A vague sense that I ought to take better care of my bike is not enough to compel me to action in the present; but “inflate your tires and grease your chain before midnight or else pay $5” is.

So, what have I accomplished over the past three years?

  • First, the big one: I finished my PhD! A PhD dissertation is much too big to put off until the last minute. Writing my thesis proposal, researching and writing my dissertation itself, and making slides for my defense were all largely driven by Beeminder goals. I am honestly not sure if I would have been able to finish otherwise.
  • I landed two jobs: first, a one-year position at Williams College, and now a tenure-track position at Hendrix College. Preparing application materials and applying for academic jobs is not much fun, and it was a really tough slog putting everything together, especially while I was teaching at Williams last year. Having a Beeminder goal for spending time on my application materials was absolutely critical.
  • I finished watching every single Catsters video and writing up a toplogically sorted guide to the series.
  • Since March 2015, when I started cranking up my Beeminder goal for writing blog posts again, I have written over 80 posts on my two blogs. I also wrote more than 40 posts in late 2012-early 2013 using another goal (the gap from 2013-2015 was when I was writing my dissertation instead of blogging!).
  • Over the past three years, I have spent about 1 hour per week (typically spread over 3 or 4 days) learning biblical Hebrew. It adds up to almost 150 hours of Hebrew study—which doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but almost every minute of it was quality, focused study time. And since it has been so spread out, the material is quite firmly embedded in my long-term memory. I recently finished working through the entire introductory textbook I was using, while doing every single exercise in the associated workbook. I am still far from being an expert, but I can actually read simple things now.
  • Over the past 6 months I lost more than 15 pounds.
  • Since September I have been swimming two mornings a week: when I started, I could barely do two laps before feeling like I was going to be sick; now, I can swim 500m in under 9 minutes (just under double world record pace =).

There are lots of other things I use Beeminder for, but these are the accomplishments I am proudest of. If you want to do awesome things but can never quite seem to find the time or motivation to do them, give it a try!

About Brent

Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Hendrix College. Functional programmer, mathematician, teacher, pianist, follower of Jesus.
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3 Responses to In praise of Beeminder

  1. Brent says:

    Haha, nice. I was aware of the Pavlok, though I haven’t felt compelled to try it. =)

    I should add that for me, the positive reinforcement aspects of Beeminder (shiny graphs showing progress, offloading the work of figuring out how I should spend my time today to stay on track with my overall goals/priorities) are actually more important than the negative reinforcement of losing money. Pavlok seems like pure negative reinforcement — good for breaking stubborn bad habits but not really for replacing them with better ones.

  2. Pingback: Honeymoons, True Love, and Yet More Buzz | Beeminder Blog

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