I thought I would start off by introducing the productivity tool on which I rely most: Beeminder.
What It DoesThe general idea is very simple: You commit to a goal (write 250 words per day, until 20,000; exercise 3 times per week, until my birthday; drink fewer than 3 cups of coffee per week, get to sleep every weeknight by 11), and then you report your progress on the site (or by email, sms, on the Android app, or the iOS app, or through IFTTT/Zapier, or one of the other automatic data sources... They tell me they're looking to add a carrier pigeon option next year...).
A graph is drawn for you that spreads the effort required of you evenly over the length of your goal. You just have to keep doing better than the minimum required and Bob's your uncle (or do less than the maximum allowed, if it's that kind of goal).
But, and here's the bit that counts, if you don't keep up your end of the bargain, you get stung: you pay an amount of money that you've pledged as a commitment to your goal and then your pledge increases, until your pre-set maximum, so there's more motivation to keep on track as you continue. If you always keep up with your goal, you don't pay anything for it.
How I Use ItWell, frankly, I use it for just about everything, and I will have to break down the different ways into a number of different posts over the year.
Quickly, for now, I use it to make sure I drink more water and less coffee, to make sure I spend more time on work projects and a little less vegging out with reruns, to make sure I nickel-and-dime less money away and keep up with my Giving What We Can pledge. And I'll use it to make sure I post to this blog at least once per month.
Would I Recommend Trying It?Definitely.
Things Discovered Along the WayIf you decide to give it a try, I wouldn't recommend starting with more than one or two goals for the first couple of weeks. Do as I say, not as I do! I've been Beeminding for years now, and have all manner of methods for getting data into Beeminder and keeping aware of my goals every day. It could get overwhelming quickly if you tried to start many at once. Pick something very important to you, and to which you are committed but that you've had some trouble maintaining on your own. Focus on that first, and get a feel for what it can do.
Also, be more lenient with yourself than you would if you were making a New Year's resolution or if you were just dreaming up your ideal. In those cases, if you've set something completely ridiculous and impossible to maintain, it's not written in stone. Although, it's not written in stone with Beeminder, either. You can adjust or quit your goal as you go, but the changes only take effect a week after you make them, and you have to keep up what you've already committed to until then. This is to keep you from deciding that, when you said you wanted to have less than 72 oz. of coffee a week, what you really should have aimed for was less than 72 oz. per day... Interestingly, those kinds of epiphanies always come when you're strolling past a coffee shop... Funny, that. When we know we can't benefit from a change of heart for 7 days, the temptation to revisit our commitment drifts away.
And it's for that removal, or at least lessening, of temptation to talk myself out of or into something that Beeminder works so well. When the alarm goes off in the morning and it's time for the daily argument I have with myself about whether to get up and go for a run in the cold spring air ("Come on... you said you were really going to do this this time.") or stay in my warm bed ("But I've been so good this week! Can't I just go on a longer run tomorrow?"), something else settles the argument. "I can either run, or pay the $30 I've pledged to the goal..." On go the shoes. It's hard to explain the value of not wrestling with myself over every opportunity to be a little weak-willed.
I also think it's better, at least at first, to track goals over which you have direct control (hours worked, calories burned, miles run) than it is to track goals over which you have only indirect control (clients acquired, weight lost). It can be discouraging to be doing all the right things and to fluke your way into a derailment and having to pay your pledge. Save outcome-oriented goals for when you need to break a plateau of some kind and need to shake yourself up a little for a short period of time.
Finally, don't lie to the bee. "I'll just say that I did it today, but I'll make it up tomorrow; it'll be fine that way, and no harm done." The thing about fudging data is that to do it completely erodes the power to keep a fire lit under you. It's really hard to recover from having done that; it needs that power to motivate. If you allow yourself that option, you just change the content of the "Should I get out of bed?" argument, rather than halting it altogether. It's very hard to recover from that.
That's more than enough for now. I'll come back to this one again and again over the coming months, since it's so central to my productivity.
If you're a fellow Beeminder user, drop me a note in the comments and tell me what kinds of things you're Beeminding, and what kinds of things you've already accomplished. Feel free to leave your username, too, if you want to share your goal gallery!