Beeminder and Self-Tracking: Five Months In

So back in January, I started using a little service called Beeminder to track my goals and encourage me to do more things I’ve been putting off. I also experimented with several other Quantified Self tools, and learned a lot about  how simply tracking what we do day to day can open our eyes to things we need to improve at and things we perhaps do too much of (for me, its instant messaging with my friends). It’s been five months since I started this journey of learning about myself, and I thought I’d give an update about how its been going.

My findings: I couldn’t be happier with the results.

I know its easy to get started on a new diet or workout program and feel all motivated and enthusiastic at first. That’s how New Year’s resolutions start, after all. We get all excited about changing our lives and then a few days or weeks later, its back to the same old same old. When I started tracking myself and using Beeminder for my goals, I was afraid a similar thing would happen. It’s just a fad, I thought. My newest obsession. It will subside in a few weeks. I’m happy to say that five months later, I am still going strong and I have made  a lot of progress.

Wait, what is all this Beeminder/Quantified Self stuff? What are you talking about?

Glad you asked. I did a post on all this stuff a few months ago called Quantifying the Self and discussed the nuts and bolts of all this, but here’s a quick review:

Beeminder is a web service that allows you to track your goals by plotting progress points on a graph each day. You try to stay on “the yellow brick road” (that is, the goal you set for yourself — say, doing 20 pushups a day) and if you fall off the road, in order to recommit and get back on the road you pledge money (you’re basically “betting” that you will be able to keep up with your goal). If you fall off the road again, you pay up. Here’s a picture:

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As you can see, the data points are staying above the yellow line, meaning I am on track for my goal. This screenshot was taken back in February, after I had been tracking my reading habits for only a month. Let’s take a look at my graph now:

readmoremay2013

There are a lot more data points, and I’ve racked up over 2000 minutes read (that’s 9 books) since January! There are a few flat parts (in March I did a lot of traveling and didn’t find a lot of time to read), and because of this I actually derailed once. But I pledged my $5 and so far I’ve been doing well once again. I really enjoy seeing the graph and the data points grow, and the Android App has been absolutely essential to my success. It doesn’t get much easier than entering in a few numbers into the app every day.

Of course, this is just my most successful graph. I have others that I have utterly failed at, like flossing my teeth:

flossfail

This one…has a lot more flatlining. A product of good old akrasia. As you can see, I’ve derailed on this one and have been for quite some time…I think I’m about ready to pony up the cash and try again though (for real this time!) Some people have told me that paying the service money when you fail your goals seems cruel or manipulative on their part, but I don’t see it that way at all. This is something want to do, and if I don’t follow through with it, then there has to be some sort of pain associated with that to deter me from failing again. And besides, this company has done so much for me and I use the service so much I am happy to give them a few bucks here and there. The staff is great and responsive and the website is always getting updates. They deserve it.

In addition, I’ve found from my pedometer app on my phone that I’ve walked over 600,000 steps this year! That’s over 300 miles. The day to day walking may not seem like much, but adding it all up like that certainly has a big impact on me and motivates me to keep going and do more.

My most recent project involves taming the beast that is my email inbox. I’ll admit it: I’m an email hoarder. While other people keep their inboxes neat, tidy, and organized, I have a giant deluge of thousands of emails just sitting there, taking up space and making it impossible to find anything. Usually, if I don’t find an email interesting (such as an advertisement or a newsletter) I won’t even click on it. Thus, there are hundreds of unread emails as well. This is a product of my laziness over time, and it just keeps getting worse. I’ve decided its finally time to do something about it. I set up a Beeminder goal to track my inbox size, and I’m going to either file away or delete 500 emails per week until my inbox reaches the fabled Inbox Zero. Once I reach that milestone, the challenge will be to keep it there, and keep my email inbox manageable and not overflowing like it was before. This leads to less stress, easier location of important emails, and if something is in the inbox, it means I need to deal with it right away. I feel like this will give great gains in productivity and overall happiness.

And just in the interest of transparency, my goals are all publicly viewable on my beeminder page, and that makes me not accountable to just one person, but the internet at large when you display your successes and failures in this way. There’s something strangely motivational about that.

What have I learned?

As for some of the other services, they didn’t stick quite as well. But the trial period of testing out these new things definitely taught me a lot about how my mind works and how we can battle this beast of distraction and bad judgement that rears its ugly head daily. Humans aren’t necessarily rational creatures by nature, but we can learn what mistakes we make and how our minds try to trick us. Then we can trick it right back. I just bought the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, and it discusses at length these “cognitive biases” and ways to get around them. The result? A happier, healthier, more productive life.

Final Thoughts

If you’re curious about what self-tracking can do for you, I urge you to try tracking a simple thing in your life, something you already do, for just a week. It becomes like a game to try to “beat your best score” and its really fulfilling to see your progress over time. I really recommend trying this to anyone that is interested in achieving their goals and improving their life. It’s surely changed mine.

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Day 7: Things You Didn’t Know About Me

Hi, everyone. I’m feeling a bit under the weather today (just congested and fatigued), so I wanted to keep this post low-key while still saying that I posted something today. So I decided to talk about a few things that I do besides what I usually talk about on the blog here, and maybe give you a better idea of who I am and what I like.

  1. I love soundtrack music. I listen to “epic” film scores a lot and it makes me feel like a badass.
  2. I was a member of a bowling league for 10 years growing up, and went to several tournaments and such. It was a lot of fun, and I miss bowling. I don’t go much anymore after moving, but I’d really like to pick it back up again.
  3. I have a really hard time finishing things I start (which is why this blogging thing has been a challenge for me)
  4. I like the idea of cooking, but I hardly ever do it. It’s easier to stare wistfully at recipes.
  5. I used to read a lot, and I really don’t do it much anymore. It makes me sad, because I can’t seem to get into books the way I used to. Nonetheless, I still love books.
  6. I know how to knit and like making hats, but I can’t for the life of me learn how to crochet.
  7. While most people’s cars are much messier than their rooms, my car remains very clean while my room looks like a disaster.
  8. I have never played Dungeons and Dragons, but I want to. I know of a few groups nearby but I’m intimidated by all the rules and afraid they won’t be accepting of a new player like me.
  9. My guilty pleasure is watching the TV show True Blood. I’m not one of those vampire-crazed fangirls, but the show is entertaining. No, I don’t like Twilight.
  10. I took three years of Spanish classes in high school and did really well in them, and since I haven’t used it in years I barely remember any now. Sad.
  11. I like the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. So sue me.
  12. I have a github account that you can check out here: (mostly old stuff) nelsonam
  13. I also have a twitter account that I post blog updates on and other strange thoughts going through my head: musegarden

(Day 2) TwitLit: Classic Literature, 140 characters at a time

Hello and welcome to Day 2 of my NaBloPoMo! Yesterday I talked about the idea of writing a blog post a day all month as a bit of a writing challenge for me.

Today, I’m going to talk about an idea for a programming project that I’ve had, but it has not come to fruition yet. This will be the first of a few “idea dumps” in which I attempt to express my ideas about future projects or things that I find interesting.

In today’s world of ever-connectedness and instant gratification, many people feel that they don’t have time to just sit down and read anymore. But these same people you can see posting on facebook and twitter for a considerable amount of time each day. What if we could turn this around and use social networking and the culture of short and sweet bytes of information to our advantage? What if you could actually *gasp* learn something just from following a twitter account?

My idea for today is for what I’d call TwitLit: Classic Literature 140 Characters at a time. TwitLit is a bot that interacts with twitter to automatically post a 140 character selection from a work of classic literature each day (or possibly, every few hours or so). People who find they “can’t get around to reading” or who have trouble staying focused on long periods of reading can follow the account and although it may take a while, can eventually “read” a book, just by checking the twitter feed.

The implementation details of this are still a bit fuzzy to me, mostly because I literally just thought of this idea yesterday, but I think I’d like to work in Python for this. Some books are really long and it would be difficult to complete a “reading” 140 chars at a time for something like War and Peace, but perhaps shorter books or poetry would work better, as a proof of concept. A bit of preliminary research shows that “Twitterature” has been done before, but from what I can tell, they condense the works into just a few tweets. If I find some spare time in the next few days, maybe I’ll start working on this. What work should I start with?

My Productivity Secret Weapon

So I’m in school again, and I happen to be taking a lot of humanities courses this semester. Not really want I want at all, but hey its what I need to graduate. Having these sorts of classes means that there are lots of reading assignments to go along with them. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time paying attention through long, dry readings especially in a class I couldn’t care less about.

However, during the last few days, I’ve discovered something useful that allows me to spend time I would otherwise be idle to complete (or at least get a crack at) these readings. The answer is:

THE BUS.

Now let me explain. I live in an apartment, and to get to my campus I ride on a bus about 25 minutes each way. I also spend time waiting for the bus to arrive when I’m both coming and going. During this time, it’s easy to pull out an article or book and start on the readings. I’m not doing anything else, only waiting, and there are no distractions or other things I could be doing really, besides just waiting. Now this may sound like obvious advice, and it probably is, but reading while waiting on the bus and while riding the bus can add up to an hour of reading time per day that I didn’t have before.

So if you commute via public transportation, definitely make use of your time to do some things you’ve been putting off before. I find it a lot harder to procrastinate on a bus than lounging around in my bedroom, so it works. And I don’t know about you, but I really like that.