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« Monitoring all your work - follow up | Main | How do we tell how important a task is? »
Tuesday
Jan312012

How to use Beeminder to monitor all your work

I must admit to being quite excited about Beeminder. As I wrote a couple of days ago, I have started two Beeminder goals, one for weight loss and the other for longest distance walked. Two days in, both goals are going well. I’ve lost two pounds and did a 9 mile walk yesterday.

Starting off well is easy enough though - what is more difficult is keeping going. I think Beeminder will be excellent for that, but I’ve not yet proved it for myself. But looking at some of the graphs of progress made by subscribers and the Beeminder staff themselves, I can only describe them as amazing.

However as a time management “guru”, I naturally started thinking about how to make a complete time management system out of Beeminder. It would be too cumbersome to make a separate Beeminder goal for everything I’m working on at the moment. And even if I did, I’d probably spend more time entering the data and looking at the pretty graphs than I did doing the work.

I noticed a couple of attempts in this direction on the Beeminder site (and there may be more which I’ve missed). Team members plot the number of hours work they do working on developing Beeminder. That’s good, but hours worked doesn’t necessarily equate to productivity - though in their case I’m sure it does. They also track the number of improvements made to Beeminder (goal: one per day). And I noticed a mention of tracking how many “important jobs” were done each day.

These are still very focused on a few particular goals, and not on success at living all the many aspects of our lives.  That’s not intended as a criticism. Focusing on one or two things and letting everything else find its own place is very effective. But I’d still like something more comprehensive.

And then it struck me that I already had the ideal answer in a time management game I’d written years before.

It’s extremely simple:

  1. Draw up a list of tasks you intend to do today, and award yourself one point for each task you succeed in doing. It’s important to define each task clearly so you’ve either done it or you haven’t.
  2. But here’s the catch - if you don’t succeed in doing all the tasks on your list, you score 0. No excuses accepted!

This is ideal for being tracked in Beeminder, and I think the way that Beeminder presents the results will turn this from an interesting exercise into a powerful means of keeping yourself on track. It forces you to consider what your priorities are for the day and also - perhaps even more importantly - forces you to consider what realistically you can get done. And as a bonus it forces you to control interruptions and “emergencies” so they don’t prevent you from achieving your goal for the day.

I’ve started up another Beeminder goal to track this. Today I’m going for 17 points (this blog post is one of them). The consequences of failure are unthinkable.

Reader Comments (15)

Hi mark,

This sounds interesting...I'm wondering how the range parameters would be set? I'm rubbish at working stuff like that out although I guess the Beeminder programme would guide me through it
January 31, 2012 at 21:13 | Registered Commenterleon
leon:

You don't have to set any parameters. The program does it itself from the data you enter.
January 31, 2012 at 21:33 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Thanks Mark
January 31, 2012 at 21:37 | Registered Commenterleon
Mark - under "Pick a Goal type", what did you pick? I'd like to follow along but I'm not sure which quantification process mimics your own.
January 31, 2012 at 22:13 | Registered Commenteravrum
avrum

Pick "Do More". You're going for a cumulative total. Don't set any parameters to start off with. Just enter the number of points you score each day.
January 31, 2012 at 23:36 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Ok, Mark, here I am:
https://www.beeminder.com/isadore/goals/task

I start tomorrow.
February 1, 2012 at 1:14 | Registered Commenteravrum
Thanks again, Mark and everyone! We're slightly behind on support emails, which is a great problem to have, so bear with us a bit but definitely keep the questions coming. It's really helping us understand what's most confusing.

Speaking of which, Isadore/avrum, don't forget to dial up the steepness of your yellow brick road when you know what a realistic rate is. You do that with the MAKEITSO button below your graph.

Danny of Beeminder
February 1, 2012 at 9:10 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Reeves
avrum:

Hope it goes well for you. The key is not to over commit to start off with. Gradually increase the number of tasks you put on the list each day. Remember the aim is not to rack up some huge total, but to achieve what you set out to do.

(Memo to self: must take my own advice some day!)
February 1, 2012 at 9:40 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
<<but to achieve what you set out to do.>>

Your rules helped craft my list last night. I knew that I was watching my 18 mo toddler today. Reflecting on how much time I would have (not much), I picked 7 tasks (and that might be too ambitious). We'll find out tonight.
February 1, 2012 at 15:18 | Unregistered Commenteravrum
My CRUSHING DEFEAT THROUGH HUBRIS, as Sprog one tactfully put it when I asked her for permission to share our task race, can be found here. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AooDHxUeJ4lycEVPSld2Wkx6REoxOW1neHlhSENqRVE . Fairly unimpressive, I admit.
February 2, 2012 at 15:14 | Unregistered Commenterwill
I like this idea and it does seem like it would well in conjunction with Beeminder! I think I'll give it a try myself .... there, just created my graph (http://beeminder.com/mo/getrdone ), starting very conservatively to get one intended task done per day. I'm at home with a 5.5 yr old, almost 3 yr old, and a -0.1 yr old coming in a couple months, so I know about having little time, avrum!

Melanie of Beeminder
February 2, 2012 at 22:11 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Reeves Wicklow
A while ago I tried something a little bit similar -- http://beeminder.com/d/ontask -- where I had to spend a certain amount of time per day on tasks from my task list. When I had an actual commitment contract on that though, and a steep yellow brick road, it would push me towards adding more and more trivial things to my task list. Incentive schemes are tricky! :) Now I've gone to the other extreme and my On Task goal has no teeth currently.

Like Mark mentioned, my meta road -- http://beeminder.com/d/meta -- which commits me to working full time on Beeminder, and our UVI road -- http://beeminder.com/meta/uvi -- which commits us to averaging one User-Visible Improvement to Beeminder per day is enough right now.

Oh, and posting frequently to the Beeminder blog: http://beeminder.com/meta/blog . That one is really key -- our blog would've long since stagnated if it weren't for that.

So I guess for me, picking a handful of specific things that are getting short schrift and beeminding those is the way to go, rather than trying to beemind a comprehensive time management system like Mark is now attempting. But I'm eager to watch Mark's progress and maybe change my mind!

Thanks again, Mark. I'm so excited to have found this community!

Danny of Beeminder
February 3, 2012 at 9:03 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Reeves
Daniel

Yes, I'm discovering that you're right. I'm finding that it's getting in the way of my normal time management so I've decided to discontinue the game for my own use. I'll be interested whether any of the others who have started it have more success.

I'm continuing to have excellent success with my "single issue" goals.
February 3, 2012 at 10:16 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
The aim of this exercise, as I understand it, is to develop consistency in making and keeping a limited number of commitments. So a set-up that creates an incentive to increase the number of commitments (because more commitments means more possible points) might well be counterproductive. A Beeminder goal where the user gets 1 point for each day of keeping all commitments, and 0 points for days with any commitments not kept, might suit the purpose better. I'll see how that set-up works for me.(Increasing the steepness of the yellow brick road here would, of course, mean increasing the weekly rate toward the limit of 7. It would probably be best to figure out a weekly rate only after several days of experience, and even then perhaps to build up the rate gradually.)

An objection to this suggestion is that it could encourage people to make only a few easy commitments each day, so that they can "win." That danger seems unlikely to materialize for people who routinely over-commit, and who need a reminder to focus on and finish a few important tasks each day. (I plead guilty.)

Note also that, after meeting all of one's commitments for the day, it is possible to spend the rest of the day working through a standard AF list, accomplishing things that are "optional" for that day. Daily commitments plus working an AF list is similar to "AutoDIT" and other suggestions for modifying AF by supplementing it with a "hotlist."
February 3, 2012 at 18:00 | Unregistered Commenterisinger
Will, that challenge and spreadsheet looks like it might work better than BeeMinder for me. Past experience shows I need to reboot my system often enough that I'd owe BeeMinder a fortune.
February 5, 2012 at 19:50 | Registered CommenterCricket

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