Sunday, 22 May 2016

The Challenge: A year of being digitally micromanaged

On June 1st, I will begin a challenge: a year of letting apps, web apps, and devices micromanage my day-to-day.

For the next twelve months, I'll be setting up and following a number of digital systems that will govern progressively more of my time and choices. During this time, I'll use tracking apps, commitment devices, productivity apps, fitness & nutrition apps, wearable devices, scheduling apps, and anything else I come across that seems interesting and that I can manage without total tracking overload.

I'll be selecting the goals, targets, and tasks myself (with some exceptions) and the gadgets and apps will micromanage the day-to-day execution of my plans. So, while I'll remain in control of the big picture and direction, the apps and devices, with their instructions, restrictions, and prompts, will control much of the implementation.

I'll commit to each app for a specific amount of time. Some of the ones that I know well and use regularly already (like Beeminder, the Daily Routine app, the Happiness app, etc.) I'll commit to for most or for all of the time. To others, I'll commit for shorter times (especially the ones that are the least familiar to me, or those that are more experimental or extreme). But the goal will be to end the year with total compliance to as many and as wide a variety as possible!

I'm curious to see which make a large difference, which are unsustainable, and which just end up downright annoying. I'll post about my progress, any failures to comply with the apps, surprises, frustrations, successes and face-plants here, and I'll be streaming updates for those apps that have integrations on in the Slack, as well. (And I'll still be posting about apps and gadgets in separate posts, as well, for those of you who are more interested in those.)

I'll begin with my beeloved Beeminder, but I'll be powering it up with major spending restrictions that will be tied to derailment costs. (More on that in a week.) And the nice Beeminder folks are allowing me to pay you instead of them for some of my early would-be derailments on do-less goals, if you're the first to catch it. (Which will be easy for those in the Slack, since it will post a notice there when I slip up!)

So, see you in a little over a week. Until then, I'm going to go make use of a little self-determination while I still have it!

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Where's Weirdo? Setting a bounty on you not being in the right place at the right time.

I don't need to work from any specific location, but I find that working at coffee shops and in libraries makes me more productive and keeps me from trailing off into either tidying as a way of procrastinating, or getting into conversations instead of reading and writing.

Still, sometimes I need a little extra kick to get me where I need to be. I'm almost never late for appointments, although this method would work for that too, but as good as I am at being punctual when someone else is counting on me, I'm terrible (just utterly abysmal) at being somewhere on time if I'm the only one counting on me to be there. If I don't have to meet someone. I'll delay and delay until I've chipped away at a lot of work time. What to do? 

One way is to have a Beeminder graph that requires that you get to a certain place by a certain time, and that automatically logs your datapoint (through an IFTTT recipe like this one: ) once you get there. I don't need to use this regularly enough, though.

My solution: When I want to commit to being somewhere at a given time, I let a few of my accountability partners know the day before. I tell them where I have to be, and by when. Then, they can text me whenever they want, and I have to send them my location. 

To do that, I use IFTTT's "DO button" app. (Use this recipe to create your own: ) If they text me asking for my location, I have 5 minutes to tap the DO button and send them my location, or they collect the bounty. (I use a different amount each time; one that depends on how important it is that I be somewhere on time and how much incentive I want them to have to check in.) And I reciprocate for them. I've bought many a coffee thanks to my morning partner being late.

There are lots of variations on this. Sometimes I add that if they catch me leaving before a certain time, they get the bounty (first come, first served). At other times, I want to make sure I don't spend any extended time in a given place, and so they get a bounty if they catch me there at all. This is great for places that you want to be able to go for a very short time, but you know you have a tendency to linger once you get there. (Like maybe getting home and lingering too long before going out for a run.) It's unlikely they're going to catch you there if you're quick, but you don't want to take your chances and stick around too long!

You can sometimes get away with being a couple of minute late occasionally, which tends to be inconsequential, depending on what you're trying to be on time for, and other times you will have a high enough bounty that they'll be poised to grab the bounty as early as they possibly can and you know you'd better be there early!

Give it a try. But remember to make sure your friends never let you off the hook, and don't you let them off the hook either, or it'll break the spell!

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

New Slack Team

Something that really motivates me is sharing incremental goal progress with others and seeing what others are working towards. 

Thankfully, a lot of apps have integrations that will post to a Slack channel when you finish a work session (RescueTime, for example), when you are approaching a deadline (like Beeminder), or that will help you connect tons of other apps and sites to the same feed (IFTTT and Zapier). So, I've created a new Slack team for others who might like a place to be socially accountable for their goals, and to chat about apps, commitments devices, and quantified self.

The main idea is to have a place for users to make use of the available integrations to post to a stream, together with those kinds of posts and updates from others. But, instead of having them separated in different streams for different services, or mixed in with our Twitter or Facebook feeds, they can all be in one place, alongside those of interested others.

My hope is that this will be a fun way to add an extra element of social accountability for those who would like that, and to be able to share successes and see what others are working on, finishing up, getting reminders about, etc. Get a little competitive to see if you can do more pomodoros than your friends in a day, or get motivated by getting to post that you went for a run before breakfast, or get spurred on by seeing the example of other goals that people are working on.

There are also channels to talk about apps, quantified self stuff, and, of course, cat gifs.

You can join the #accountability-stream channel (or the other chat channels) on up by [signing up on this handy Google form, thanks to the friendly and fun @peppertoni, who created it for ussending an email to with the subject "Slack" from the email address that you would like an invitation sent to. (Slack is invite-only, so there's no way to share a link to it directly, I'm afraid.) Feel free to invite others once you're in!

Meanwhile, I had originally planned to tell you about one of my very favourite apps, but I discovered while I was typing up the post this weekend that it's on hiatus, and so is no longer available for purchase! So stay tuned for another post this weekend about how to use IFTTT and a few willing friends to make sure you're always where you're supposed to be on time (or else!).