Beeminder Made Me Write This

Posted by pladd on February 11, 2016

This website exists because of Beeminder.

Beeminder is a web application that helps you track pretty much any goal. Want to lose weight? You can track it. Want to eat the recommended number of servings of vegetables per day? You can track it. Want to spend a certain number of hours a week working on a personal website? You bet your ass you can track it.

But what sets Beeminder apart is the consequences of not meeting your goals. At the end of every single day, you should have made a certain amount of progress towards your goal. If you haven’t made enough progress, Beeminder takes your money.

To be fair, the first failure is free. But then you give them your credit card number. Fail again? $5. Again? $10. It’s an incredible idea for an application: you provide people with a free motivational tool, and you profit when people inevitably fail. But they weren’t tricked; you haven’t done anything wrong. Because if the financial danger wasn’t real, Beeminder would have no motivating power.

Beeminder has motivated me more than anything else I’ve tried, especially because I care about money a lot. Specifically, I care about not losing money for avoidable reasons. I try hard to think twice about all of my purchases. I cook for my wife and myself multiple times a week. In college, I bit on the Iraqi Dinar scam; my wife and I each lost $300. I’ve kept the currency in an envelope as a reminder that I’m not immune to stupid decisions.

So when 8:00 PM rolls around and I’m tired, I look at Beeminder. I see that I’m in the red, but if I do half an hour of website work, by golly, I’ll be safe. Suddenly thirty minutes of work doesn’t seem half bad. Maybe I get better about fitting in an hour of art practice in the morning, too, like I’ve been meaning to. When the consequences of not doing something are immediate instead of distant, I’m much more likely to do that thing.

As a result of all of this, I’ve found myself spending a lot less time playing video games than I used to. Video games have traditionally been my time trap. For instance: it’s 7:00, and I don’t quite feel like starting the work I said I’d do, so I tell myself I’ll just play for a few minutes. Maybe a few minutes turns into an hour. Maybe I do stop on time, but I feel less like working than I did before, so I tool around on Reddit or Facebook or (god forbid) TVTropes. (No. Don’t go to TVTropes. That damn website is Olth’rkk The Hungerer, Whose Maw Free Time Cannot Escape. There is a reason I didn’t make it a link.) Eventually, I’ve wasted plenty of time. My traitor mind tells me so: “Surely by now, there’s no use trying to start work,” it chirps. “You’re off the hook for tonight. Why, there’s only half an hour before bed! Go ahead and play a game until then.” And then I play for an hour and get to bed late.

Occasionally I would look back and lament all the time I had wasted. I could have been writing a novel. I could have been improving my art skills. I could have whatever. But here I was, and whatever wasn’t done, or even started.

I realize now my mistake: I treated my time differently from my money. I’m careful with my money. I buy what I need, and I save the rest for when I need it. I invest the extra so that it can generate more money.

When you spend time working on something, you’re investing that time. Yeah, I had heard people say, “I’ve invested a lot of time in [thing],” but I never connected it with the kind of investing you do with money. But they’re the same damned thing. If you spend all of your money on things you don’t need, you end up with no money. You sure would love to quit your job, or travel more, or start that business, but gosh darn it, you just don’t have enough money.

I had been spending all of my free time on things I didn’t need. I’d have loved to make a personal website, tell stories through art, and learn more programming languages, but gosh darn it, I just never had the time.

Until now.

Thanks, Beeminder. Please don’t take my money.