The Wonders of Beeminder

Screenshot 2015-12-16 10.02.00As a person with addiction problems also diagnosed with ADHD, well, my natural thought process is all about short-term gain and blowing off long-term pain, if I even notice long-term anything. I’ve not been making much progress on getting a publishable manuscript together, losing weight, increasing exercise, avoiding non-Paleo foods (which exacerbate my rheumatoid arthritis) or getting more sleep (lack of which exacerbates my rheumatoid arthritis.) I cover several of these things in my GTD practice (still doing that, via Evernote (for collecting) and Trello (for managing.)) Sadly, having a thing in my GTD list and actually doing it are two very different things. I’ve been having some success with Habitica, but there are certain things in my life that have proven resistant to its gentle carrot waving — and frankly I’ve learned the game well enough to avoid incurring its not very intimidating stick.

I was considering life coaching in desperation, but finding a good coach, and finding where I could come up with the hundreds of dollars needed were mysteries I couldn’t solve.

Then I found Beeminder. You track your goals with them, and if you go off course, they charge you. An excerpt from their website:

What is Beeminder?
It’s reminders with a sting! Or, goal-tracking with teeth. Mind anything you can graph — weight, pushups, to-do tasks completed — by replying with data when Beeminder prompts you. Or connect with a service (like Fitbit or RescueTime) to report automatically. We plot your progress on a Yellow Brick Road to your goal. Keep all your datapoints on the road and Beeminder will always be free. Go off the road and you (literally) pay the price.

So far, I’ve paid them exactly $1 for ten “freebies,” which means my first deviation from the “yellow brick road” is free. In return for this, I’ve been able to

  1. Work steadily on my writing! This alone is beyond price.
  2. Stop eating foods that make my rheumatoid arthritis worse, thus improving my mobility.
  3. Take advantage of #2 by gradually increasing the number of steps I take daily, improving my overall health.
  4. Gradually move my bedtime earlier so that I can get more sleep, thus lowering my stress level, lowering arthritis pain, and improving mobility.
  5. Start doing some range-of-motion exercises that I’ve been neglecting, further improving my mobility.

All of these interact with each other — so, a typical day for me before Beeminder:

I am in pain, especially shoulder and knee pain. The pain makes it hard to sit and write. I feel bad for not writing and besides I’m in pain, so I comfort myself with food that I know will make my arthritis worse in a day or so. I take some Tylenol to help with the pain, but I can’t focus so I just fire up a video game, which of course requires questionable food. Then I feel worse for neglecting my writing and other chores, so I stay up late to try to get them done and write a word or three, and I probably eat more pain-inducing food and get very little sleep ensuring high stress levels and therefore high pain levels in the morning. The entire day, I have moved only from bed to couch to kitchen to bathroom to bed — not healthy.

A typical day after Beeminder:

I am in pain, especially shoulder and knee pain, but less than yesterday. I take some Tylenol and do my range-of-motion exercises (a Beeminder goal), which help somewhat with the pain. I pack up my electronics and get out of the house, making sure to take another dose of Tylenol with me. I find a coffeeshop with a comfortable chair, far from the siren call of video games. I get writing done!!! (a Beeminder goal.) I take breaks from writing and walk around the shop, to increase my daily step total (a Beeminder goal.) I do not eat the tempting but arthritis-worsening goodies at the shop (a Beeminder goal.) Having completed my word goal for the day, I return home, do my chores, maybe have a session with a video game, and get to bed earlier than I have been for quite some time (a Beeminder goal.)

Further, Beeminder gives me every opportunity to avoid paying them money. The two times I’ve “derailed” (gone off the path to my goal,) I’ve had a chance to correct data, or just beg Beeminder not to count the incident. But both those derailments were real derailments from which I didn’t beg off, so I’m now on the hook for $5 for the next derailment on each of those goals. The derailments gave me valuable feedback on just what happens to push me away from my goals.

Beeminder has noticeably improved my quality of life after a few short weeks. I have paid them a paltry $1 to crack the whip over me in areas of MY choice, and they have done a wizard job. Should I incur an occasional $5 or $10 or even (Heaven forbid) a $30 penalty, I will count it money well-spent.

Mission: Improbable

Image courtesy of pandpstock001 at
Image courtesy of pandpstock001 at
[Silver Dragon picks up a thumb drive from the seat of her desk chair, and inserts it into an empty USB slot on her Mac Mini. Immediately a rich baritone voice starts speaking.]

Good evening, Ms. Dragon. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to commit exercise, personal hygiene, dressing, morning pages, meditation with your hubby, daily planning, and breakfast — all within the first two hours after arising in the morning. As always, if you are captured or killed, the Agency will disavow all knowledge of your actions. This message will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck, Silver.

[She hastily throws the thumb drive in the trash, which promptly catches fire. Holding her breath to avoid the fumes of burning plastic, she throws open a window and starts an exhaust fan. ]

“Dammit! Is this going to happen every single night? I’m running out of trash cans.”

When All Else Fails, Cycle Power

Image courtesy of digitalart at
Image courtesy of digitalart at
I really should figure out how to lock away my WordPress access between midnight and 7 AM.

I have so many ADHD traits it’s not even funny. I am impulsive. I am distractible. I enter unpredictably into a state of “hyperfocus” in which I cannot be budged from what I am doing. (The worst example? At the age of twelve I had retreated to the family car in a parking lot to read, being unable to endure the simultaneous tedium and overstimulation of shopping. After a while I became aware that there had been a thumping on the windows and a distant yelling for a while. I looked up. The car was on fire.)

(I still hate to shop.)

I have no real sense of time. For years I used “creative procrastination” as a way of coping with the inability to start on a large project. I have serious trouble with transitions — from project to project to chore, from waking to sleeping.

Right now, the worst offenders are my procrastination (Writing. Duh.) and the inability to transition from waking to sleeping unless I’m so tired I’m stumbling.

After actually sleeping for two nights (!) I’ve taken a look at my HabitRPG items — and the truth is that I’m making a lot of progress. My diet has improved after the vacation meltdown. I”m exercising regularly again (an activity I find so boring as to practically need to point a gun at my own head to get me going.) The diet and exercise are improving my ability to control focus. I’m getting some writing done (Halleluia!)

On any given day, one or another or several of these items may slip. But overall, the trend is upward (or in the case of my weight, downward.) I need to give myself credit.

I especially need to be kind to myself as I make the transition to (immediately) gainful employment. I will need to ramp up my daily rewards for getting writing done — because with almost immediate payment directly proportional to how much driving I do, I don’t think I’ll have a problem with focusing on the new activity. What I’ll have trouble with is transitioning to writing, and keeping on with it. And it may take me a few weeks to readjust my Rube Goldberg-like external structure to accommodate a new routine.

So — not employed to employed. Big freaking transition. Deep breath — here it comes.

Camp NaNoWriMo — July Comes Too Soon

Image courtesy of iosphere /
Image courtesy of iosphere /
OMG, what do you mean that it’s almost July?

It seems like every time NaNoWriMo or Camp NaNoWriMo rolls around, I’m not ready. I didn’t even bother trying in April. Nonetheless, I’m on for July.

My intent is to revise last July’s novel, working title Leticia. To my own surprise, I may be ready with background notes, character summaries, a (gasp) timeline, and a scene-level outline. Please, don’t faint or guffaw. I have everything but the scene-level outline, and that’s in process. There just may be time in the remaining 13 days of June to get it done.

I’ve set myself the ambitious goal of 100K words for July — but I’m hoping that most of my words from last year will make it through to this year’s draft. I’m not going to beat myself with the “not a winner” stick if I don’t make my goal — I will declare myself a winner if I either a) get the revision finished or, b) get 50K new words written. I’m hoping for a lot more than 1600 words per day, though.

I’m a different writer from the one who sat down last year to a blank screen with no prep. I’ve learned a lot about productivity, writing, and myself. Last year, I didn’t have an outstanding process engineer (Hubby!) on my team. I didn’t know about GTD. I was emotionally, if not intellectually, in denial about the realities of being ADHD with respect to being a writer. And while I knew what was supposed to happen in revision, I had no clue as to where to start.

Now, I have a process. I have a plan. I have a skilled production engineer to coach me and help me refine my process. The process is not written in stone — I revised my weekly schedule yesterday to more closely match the realities of the productivity patterns I’ve noticed over the last month. And since January I’ve gone through one attempt to structure the story according to one author’s suggested process, gotten hopelessly bogged down, and restarted with a different author as guide.

It’s all OK. After 40 years of being a poor employee and a worse boss, I’m learning to be a decent employee and a decent boss — to myself. I never cared enough either engineering or any employer to make more than a half-hearted attempt at this. But I care enough writing and being a writer to keep at it — and make progress.

Making Self-Employment ADHD-Friendly

Image courtesy of Bill Longshaw /
Not ADHD-Friendly #1 (Image courtesy of Bill Longshaw /
Like many ADHD adults, I have problems with Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind (OOSOOM.) If I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. This leads to a tendency to leave objects out and clearly visible as reminders. If not checked (especially in a house with two severely and one mildly ADHD adults,) the tendency to use objects as reminders can lead to vistas like the one in “Not ADHD Friendly #1.”

(That is not my house. I never took a picture of my house when it was that bad…)

The Tomb of the Action Items
Not ADHD Friendly #2
Helpful non-ADHD friends and many organizing books from the past would advise getting rid of objects that were no longer useful (I heartily endorse) and putting needed items into filing cabinets or other closed opaque containers (see “Not ADHD-Friendly #2.”) I called it “The Tomb of the Action Items” because, without a visual reference, anything in there that needed something done was destined to be completely forgotten until the Highway Patrol stopped me because my registration had not been renewed since 1992, or the city sent my business taxes to a bill collector, or…

I use it now to hold office supplies, tools and small bits of electronics that I don’t use on at least a weekly basis. Periodically, when I can’t shove anything more in there, I’ll go through it and toss anything that has decayed beyond usability or has become obsolete (Apple Desktop Bus mouse, anyone?)

Evernote and GTD have helped me to convert my home office to “ADHD Friendly.” I didn’t even realize that I was doing this until I looked around me this weekend and realized that my office area is MUCH less cluttered than the rest of my home.

My top shelf contains my artist’s mannikins, a collection of plush toys and bobbleheads from local minor-league sports, and my Kings and MIT pennants. The rest of my desk contents are 90% used in my current work at least once a week. The rest will move elsewhere or be tossed when they become an annoyance.

See all that wonderful bare desk area? It didn’t exist in January. Every square inch was covered with object “reminders” of things to do, few of which were work-related. As I put all that stuff into Evernote, and put a weekly review item into Habit RPG, the backlog has cleared out. I have a credenza which is similarly cleared, and a smaller work table I use for art and for charity projects, same story.

As I put more and more of the old paper into Evernote, paradoxically it becomes more accessible. I can usually think of something that a document might contain, and Evernote can find it regardless of which “drawer” I stuffed it into online.

Maybe I will achieve “Mind Like Water.” At least the stuff that slid off Mind Like Teflon is sliding into Evernote now.

It’s Just ADHD. Nothing to See Here, Move Along

20140520-133554-48954857.jpgI’ve mentioned that I have ADHD before in this blog. I’ve spoken of having Mind Like Teflon ™, and made jokes about it. I’ve ranted a bit about how GTD proponents (and I’m one of ’em) often have no clue how impossible their suggestions are for someone with my disability.

But yet, I am so imbued with shame from my upbringing, that I will seize the concept that I’m Blocked with Fear (Artist’s Way, Write Every Day) or that my novel has Problems (2K to 10K) rather than face the simple fact that ADHD is messing me up here in my efforts to revise and finish a massive project.

Yeah, I’ve picked up both those sticks and beaten myself with them over the last two weeks. It’s not that any of the above authors particularly is insistent upon the fear block or the bad writing block or whichever, it’s just that I would rather think myself neurotic or undisciplined or as having written badly than accept being ADHD.

In desperation I picked up a book I bought about 8 years ago, ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life (AFWTOYL) and started to look at the time management chapters.

Dear Lord. I resemble those chapters. The “before” scenario exactly describes my feelings of helplessness and chaos when faced with a complex task that I really want to accomplish, but off which my brain slips.

It’s not lack of discipline. It’s not fear of success. It’s not that subconsciously I know my novel has problems. (It’s not subconscious; I know damn well it has problems. If I didn’t know that, I’d just publish it and have done.) It’s that I have serious problems with both sustained and appropriate focus.

AFWTOYL has its problems as a guide, starting with the fact that it was written 12 years ago, so that much that is new and shiny is not addressed as possible tools. But once again, I’ve tried to put down blocks of time and expect myself to Just Do It. (Massive blocks! 8 hours straight! I can’t do anything for more than 30 minutes straight unless I’m hyperfocused, and I can’t control when I’m hyperfocused. And if I am hyperfocused, I can’t stop when I hit the end of the two hours. Or eight, or twelve. I really don’t WANT to be hyperfocused; in its own way, it’s as destructive as unfocused.) Even if I have small tasks to do in that time, each written out and rewarded in Habit RPG, it doesn’t much help.

So from now on, I adapt one of the techniques in AFWTOYL and give it a solid trial before I look at anything in an ordinary time management book, or a writing productivity book, or, well, anything that doesn’t assume that I have a thirty-minute attention span, tops.

And if anyone thinks that I’m putting myself down here, I’m not. Facing my difficulty realistically is far better than either denying it or trying to fix something else that isn’t really broken.

I’m sure I’ve convinced you. I hope I’ve convinced me.