My anti-akrasia tools III: credible commitment to long-term goals

Worthwhile long-term goals, whether losing weight, learning a foreign language, or becoming the kind of person who writes blog posts consistently, are the product of small, incremental, consistent decisions. If you're the kind of person who can intuitively translate a distant large goal into a sequence of immediate, small actions, I am jealous of you.

For the rest of us, there is Beeminder.

I used to scoff at Beeminder when I would see it promoted in the right sidebar of Slate Star Codex: set up a fine to keep myself motivated? How does that make sense?

Compulsion makes me kick against the traces--even if is a compulsion I decided on.

But, as it turns out, the fine is by far the least important feature of Beeminder, at least to me, so I've learned not to lead with it when describing it to others--my friends have much the same response to it that I did.

Beeminder lets you think through a goal, break it down into small, doable segments, and then let you track those segments, and how well you are doing on your path to that long-term goal. It shows you the path graphically through time, warns you when your rate is low, and then, if you fall below the goal path, called "derailing", fines you (and the fine doubles with every subsequent derailing, up to a maximum you can set).

But to me, it is more a game, kind of  like a really slow game of Tetris. You know the piece is falling. But the game is only a small part of your life, and it's easy to neglect while you are focused on other things. Beeminder turns long-term goals into a game that you can play and track.

I started beause my friend Jeff Carver always tells me to turn my books into e-books, as he has done so successfully with his own. I had all my old books scanned, but there were lots of errors, which required proofreading, which....I didn't do. In any given week, there was just too many other things to do. Even though the goal was important, I didn't do it.

So that was the first goal I Beeminded. I assigned myself a number of times a week I would do a 25-minute session of proofreading (can you tell I use the Pomodoro Technique? I'll cover how that works for me in another post). Worked like a charm. I can look at my phone, see how many days I have before I drop below the line, and find time to do a session. I've done one book and am into the next.

Since that, I've added a lot of goals, some near-term, some bigger. I want to play the piano more, read and keep up my Russian more, improve my marketing analytics abilities, so all of those have tasks per week. It also makes sure I call my mother frequently (I'm a bad son, but a better one with Beeminder), and a few more private goals as well. A lot of people use it for losing weight, but I don't.

And, yes, my blog writing Beeminder indicates that I only have one day until I derail, why do you ask?

It's free for two goals, as long as you never go below the line. But I wanted more, so I paid them a yearly amount.

Beeminder essentially makes me more like the automatically productive person I mentioned in the first paragraph, and less the neurotic procrastinator I actually am. I wish it had been around earlier in my personal history.

Do you have some goal that you never seem to find the time to move toward? Give Beeminder a try. You might be surprised at how much progress you can make, after years of stasis and avoidance.

Earlier anti-akrasia posts

I: minimizing distraction

II: to-do lists and next actions