0101 – 14 days later (update from the light-fires-not-fill-buckets guy)

Boring Preamble About My Word Vomits

This is my 101st word vomit of at least 1,000 words each. The early vomits were written under strict time limits- I used an app called Write Or Die (yeah, I actually paid for it!) which had a timer. Since starting work, I decided to write during my morning and evening commutes instead. In a bittersweet way, these vomits have become arguably my favourite thing. It’s when I feel most alive and productive. (I say bittersweet because I’d like to be as productive at work. I’m, uh, working on it. I’m going to make it happen.)

101 vomits. 101,000 words (actually more- probably closer to 115,000 or higher). And I’m just 10% of the way towars what I want to do. Why 1,000,000 words? Just an arbitrary milestone. I like the idea of it. My first vomit was on 2012-Dec-07, 3 days before I got married. I didn’t know this until a few seconds ago- but it was about video games and gamification. Here: 0001 – Video Games And Productivity.

Dinesh of ReferralCandy (now my boss, heh) would only email me on January 21st. The day after that, I would write 0035 – HDB, which would go on to be the source for an article I wrote for PoachedMag: Buying A HDB Flat. (35 seems like a lot, but I was an unemployed bum at the time. 35,000 words.)

I got my smartphone at post 0039 – smartphone. This was a game changer. Post 0049 – “I didn’t do well because I didn’t study” went relatively viral. It was being shared on Facebook, and actually ended up being read in Russia and Eastern Europe. I suppose there are many others like me who made up that bullshit excuse for themselves. It has 1,423 hits. I’ve had blogposts get more hits than that, of course- my CISCO Wayang post got over 20,000 hits and my What’s PM Lee like in person? post got over 19,000. (The latter post continues to climb, and will probably overtake the former in a few months.)

All of my top-grossing posts were about Singaporean politics. I got a bit of a thrill from the hits initially, but I got immune to it after a while. It’s just Singaporean politics. It’s easy to work people up into a frenzy and get lots of hits. But it’s not very fulfilling. My best non-SG blogpost was “7 Lessons Smokers Can Teach Us About Getting Shit Done“. Then maybe stuff like my Hacking The 7 Sins series (I’m goning to rework that).

Then came my mega-hit (which now ranks 3rd, behind CISCO and PM Lee)- the productivity app blogpost. 0086 – productivity apps should be lighting fires, not filling buckets. This got me to the front page of Hacker News. Oddly, the SG politics stuff sort of prepared me for it psychologically/emotionally. What I wasn’t prepared for were the emails- so many people emailing me telling me that they suffer from the same problems, that they want to build my app, asking for my input on stuff they’re working on. I’ve emailed some of those people back, I haven’t emailed others. (Hey, you knew I was a procrastinator before you emailed me.)

So, what the hell is up, anyway?

I wrote about an app, but I apologize if I got anybody’s hopes up- I was merely using the concept of an app as a thinking tool. I don’t actually think that an app is the magical solution to all my problems. In fact, my word vomit habit is a better thing than most other things. Still, I felt that I was doing things in a suboptimal way and I was edgy and impatient to leap to something better. I looked through most of the ideas people sent me. What I didn’t mention in the previous blogpost is- I’ve tried practically everything there is out there (that’s free). I’m a junkie. I know what it’s like. I’ve done my research. I even experimented with a paid solution (RescueTime) but it didn’t work out for me- I’d just ignore it. I enjoyed HabitRPG for a while but it got buggy and that bothered me. Something didn’t feel quite right- it didn’t capture the growth and personal development in a way that I wanted.

Somebody commented “Have you tried Beeminder?” and I knew that I signed up for an account before- way back, when I wanted to keep track of my A level studies. I didn’t even get started on it, because I found the data entry intimidating. Daniel Reeves- one of Beeminder’s cofounders- emailed me personally to ask me if I’d try Beeminder. I knew that I had signed up for it before, which meant that I must have seen something in it. I googled him and found that he wrote this essay- How To Do What You Want: Akrasia and Self-Binding. I absolutely loved it (and will be reading it again). This made me decide that I was going to give Beeminder a serious try- if it didn’t work out, I’d move on to one of the many other options.

It’s working. It’s working!

I haven’t had to move on to any other options. Upon figuring out how the data entry works (it drove me away the first time- I wasn’t interested/invested enough then to bother to put in the effort), I realized that it’s exactly what I needed. I’ve turned some aspects of my life into a game that I enjoy playing.

This is me after about one week of minding. The main goal is exercise- as long as I exercise regularly, everything else tends to fall into place. I set a minimum target of 15 sets a week. I then introduced “write”, and I think I set it at 5 a week. Then I introduced meditate and read (2 or 3 times a week each… manageable, soft.) The goal is to stay above the yellow line. It’s as simple as that. Keep the dots above the yellow line and you’re doing good. You’re on track. You’re a responsible person (within this framework). You’re okay.


Here’s what it looks like after another week. I’ve steepened the exercise target (which is why the data points themselves look less steep). I added guitar, because music is a source of joy in my life. A quick glance at the trends and I know what I ought to be doing. I should read something soon, to put that graph upwards. I should practice some guitar after that.


This I find is far more compelling and engaging than “don’t break the chain”, which for me always felt a little oversimplistic and a little insulting. (I KNOW- If I say that, I shouldn’t be breaking chains. Also, this is essentially a more elaborate form of don’t-break-the-chain. But it looks a little cooler, and it feels a little cooler, too.) I believe I’ll have to pay to track more stuff- but I’ll happily do that. First, I want nicer, smoother graphs for everything, and I want to steepen all of them. I want to get good at this. I want to level up. I want my overall output to increase. I’ve felt myself thinking “I don’t really feel like doing my squats and pushups today, but 20 pushups and I get a point on the graph! C’mon!”

It works, okay? It works. It’s working.

So is my life reasonably optimal right now? No, not really, not yet. My exercise routine looks and feels great, and my word vomit habit is great, but I think I can afford to read more, and most importantly I think I can afford to be a lot more productive at work- I think I could increase my work output very, very significantly.

None of this addresses my points about prompts- those are semi-internalized, and I get reminded of them when I look at my Beeminder graphs (which are on a pinned tab on my Chrome, and on an app on my Android phone).

In the meantime, I was thinking that I’d like to get to know more people who’re interested in this sort of thing. I’m tentatively going to propose a twitter hashtag #lightingfires. I think peer pressure will work great for this.

I have a lot more to say about this. But I just thought some of you would appreciate the fact that the “argh i have a productivity/procrastination problem” guy is making progress on his procrastination problem. If I can, so can you.

Btw, I don’t think that Beeminder’s perfect I think they could get a much sexier interface, make it more compelling, bla bla… but I’m just a user with lofty, endless feature requests. I’m sure they have a whole bunch of stuff to worry about. For the time being, this is the best tool I’ve tried, and I’ve tried many, many, many tools.

YMMV. But get in the damn car and floor it. I’m here if you need to talk. I think a very significant part of why I was determined to make this work for me was that I wanted to have something to show for it, so that I could maybe do something for others who’re in similar straits. I’m here for you. Let’s set your ass on fire.

3 thoughts on “0101 – 14 days later (update from the light-fires-not-fill-buckets guy)

  1. Daniel Reeves

    Holy cow, this is amazing. Thank you so much for the kind words about Beeminder. Super exciting for us to read this. We’d love to hear more of your thoughts about the commitment device (pledging aspect).

    Thanks also for the kind words about that article on akrasia (I’m super proud of that!). I recommend reading this one next: http://blog.beeminder.com/flexbind

  2. Pingback: 0086 – productivity apps fill buckets when they should be lighting fires | visakan veerasamy.

  3. Pingback: Another Press Roundup Part Deux, Revisted: Return of the Beeminder Buzz Returns Again! | Beeminder Blog

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