Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.


[Updated] Beeminder - put your money where your mouth is

How many times have you said you were going to do something, then seen your commitment evaporate?  I know it's happened to me.  In the past, I've written about how to overcome procrastination, how to turn to coaches and other 3rd parties to help keep you on task, etc. But what about online tools to help keep you on track?

Recently, I was contacted by the creators of an interesting productivity service called Beeminder and I was intrigued enough to give it a try. Beeminder is an innovative approach to help you commit to specific goals, and stay focused on them. What’s the secret sauce? If you don’t do what you said you’d do, it will cost you money. In other words, it creates accountability by getting you to put your money where your mouth is.

The premise is pretty simple:

  • You decide on a goal and commit to it.
  • You decide on a dollar amount as a "penalty" you'll pay if you don't meet your commitments.
  • You agree to Beeminder's "contract" (including an "I promise not to weasel" clause) and commit to your penalty amount. Right now, looks like $5 is your only choice - I suspect that will change at some point.
  • You use Beeminder to track your progress.

Beeminder tracks daily progress against your goals to help you monitor whether you are on track or not.  You can report progress via email, text message, or directly on the site.  You also receive daily email updates from Beeminder to let you know whether you're on track or not.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

In tracking progress against your goal, Beeminder has a very good visual helper that I like a lot.  They call it the "Yellow Brick Road" and it is the sweet spot of progress against your goal - here is a sample of my graph (at right).  If you want a better illustration, check out the example from the Beeminder site.

Beeminder GCBlog

In my case, my commitment is to blog 4 times per month (I know some of you have noticed how occasional my blogging has become, and I want to change that).  I also have my own internal guidelines about what it means to "blog" 4 times a month - for example, I'm talking about original content (not reposts), and the posts need to be long enough (I don't have a hard guideline on post length - but I know it when I see it).

I've established daily milestones toward a weekly blog post, and my goal is to stay within the bounds of the yellow line (my Yellow Brick Road) or above it, which means I'm ahead of my goal.  If it falls below the yellow line, I have a short amount of time to correct it, or I pay my penalty (in this case $5) to reset my goal.

The effect is cumulative, too - the first time you miss your goal, it costs what you committed originally, but each time you fall off the path, the price goes up - very motivating. Here is the formula for increases, per the Beeminder site:

What exactly is the exponential fee schedule for subsequent derailments?

Going off your yellow brick road the first time costs nothing, the second time (if you chose to unfreeze after the first attempt) it costs $5, the third time it costs $10, then $30, $90, $270, $810, etc. In general, the cost of going off the road the ith time is:

Formula beeminder

You can chicken out at any time, of course.  Which leads me to the next point...

It's free if you stay awesome

One cool thing about Beeminder is that it will cost you nothing if you meet your commitments - you only pay when you fail to do what you said you'd do, at which point you have to pay to reset/restart your goal.  I think this approach is pretty cool - they provide a great tool to help you track your progress, and it stays free if you adhere to your plan.  Mess up, and you pay the site's owners - yep, they reap the rewards if I don't do what I committed to, which is a fascinating business model.

A lot of thought has gone into this approach, from what I can tell - there is a good overview about Beeminder on the site that goes into a lot more detail, and I suggest you read it if you're considering using Beeminder.

On Goals and tracking

You can pick just about any general goal, but I encourage you to think about what daily progress looks like, as Beeminder expects you to check in daily.  They provide a bit of guidance on this on the site, as well as some specific guidance if you want to use Beeminder to track weight loss.  More on that, plus general information about the approach and "akrasia" are detailed on the Beeminder blog, in the post "The Magical Widening Yellow Brick Road."

Update: I was having trouble figuring out how to effectively track my goal, which has a weekly "deliverable" rather than a daily cadence. I just spoke with one of the Beeminder founders and he pointed me at a great blog post on that very topic: Chunky Time! - it's a must-read if you have a "chunky" kind of goal.

Give it a try

If you need a little help overcoming procrastination, or some extra motivation to keep you focused on your goals, I recommend taking a look at Beeminder.  I think it provides an interesting, innovative, and motivating method to help you get more done.  You'll know whether I succeed or not - it will be measured in blog posts per month.

If you try Beeminder, let me know how you fare!