24 Oct 2020

tl;dr: I’ve been playing with to track commitments.

What is beeminder?

It’s habit-tracking app with teeth.

You set a habit, a goal, commitment, something you want to get done. It has to be measurable. It has to have many small steps. It has to be very simple.

For example: Take 10,000 steps a day. Study three hours a day. Mediate for ten minutes a day. Go jogging three times a week. Floss teeth every day. Clean the gerbil cage twice a week. Stop work after seven hours. Eat five portions of vegetables a day.

And you pledge cash money that you will do this thing. Then, if you miss cleaning the gerbil cage once too often, then $5 is deducted from your credit card. And the next time it’s $10. Maximum fine is up to you; it depends how much you & your gerbils care about clean sawdust. Yes, you can lie about how often you clean the gerbil cage. But (say the beeminder team) people tend not to; it spoils the tool for them and it isn’t fun any more.

Beeminder works very well for nerdy people; if you like excel sheets, graphs, if you like Fitbit, then this is a tool you might enjoy.

Does it work?

It does for me. The beeminder website talks about “goals” a lot; I prefer “habits”. It works for small things which I have to do and keep on doing.

I had a torn rotator cuff, and the physiotherapist gave me a set of (very boring) exercises to be done every day. I know what happens; I will do my exercises fervently for about four days and then I slack off. I will think about doing the exercises, I will feel guilty about not doing them, but just don’t get round to it. Beeminder helped. I set a goal of “Do physio exercises 6 days a week” and then I was getting (very annoying) email & phone reminders until they had been done.

I could track the days, I could see progress, and yes, it made a difference…

Think Small: The Surprisingly Simple Ways to Reach Big Goals, by Owain Service, Rury Gallagher

1 Aug 2019


These are my reading notes & a quick summary.  If we’re aiming for big things, it’s easier to succeed if we get the small details right.

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Emails and productivity

7 Jan 2011

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Towards the tag end of last year I was talking to someone about email and productivity, and he was describing his methodology and how he organised emails at work.  It was interesting.  We were tramping along a muddy canal bank at the time we had this conversation, so I couldn’t ask for a demonstration.

My acquaintance has a desktop folder for each project he is involved in, and wants to store the emails with the project files.  So he:

  1. prints out the email
  2. scans it with his desktop scanner
  3. saves the scanned image as a pdf
  4. puts the pdf into the appropriate project folder
  5. is happy

I didn’t try to argue or explain or know better in any way; I just said “Oh, that’s really interesting and well organised” and we carried on down the canal path.  I’ll say now that this is a man who is in his late thirties, is a qualified civil engineer, is reasonably competent, does his job well and is not noticeably maladjusted.  And I am pretty sure that I did not misunderstand him in any way.

Truly amazing what people will do with technology.