How Perl + StickK helped me get organized

The last three months have been some of the most professionally productive months I've had in years. In true Perl fashion, it all boils down to a Perl-related "hack" with

StickK's philosophy is based on the known psychology that that losing something you think you own is much more painful than winning something you didn't expect. As such, they allow their users to make binding contracts to arbitrary commitments. If the user fails on their (typically weekly) commitment, StickK charges their credit card a pre-determined amount and sends the money to the user's chosen recipient.

Although you can choose an individual to receive funds, it's easiest to choose a charity or anti-charity to receive your funds. The idea behind picking a charity is that the monetary loss will be pain enough to help you stick to your goal, so it may as well go to a good cause. You might pick the American Red Cross, for example. The idea behind an anti-charity is that you really don't want your money going to the selected charity, so you will work even harder to keep your commitment than you otherwise might have done. StickK doesn't pick sides: you can pick any one of The Arsenal Fan Club, The Chelsea Fan Club, The Liverpool Fan Club, or The Manchester United Fan Club (or other, more politically charged organizations such as the NRA or Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence). You decide where your money goes and how much money goes to the organization if you fail to keep your weekly commitment.

At the end of the year, I thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be nice if I could have The Perl Foundation receive my stakes?" Or, in my saltier moments, I considered picking The Python Foundation as my anti-charity. Unfortunately, neither of these organizations are listed on the site. Not to be dismayed, I decided I would select myself as the recipient, and promise myself to donate the money to the Perl Foundation when my commitment was over. But the folks at StickK are too clever for that: you can't list your own account as a recipient of stakes.

Then I realized that I had the perfect work-around. I maintain separate personal and Perl email addresses (something I set up years ago to help me keep Perl from taking over my personal life). I merely had to create a separate StickK account with my Perl email address, and then select my alter-ego to receive the stakes. Today, I redeemed that money and submitted $75 to the Perl Foundation, $25 for each of the three (of 12) weeks that I didn't quite reach my goal.

There is one final element that worked out really well here. StickK lets you pick a referee to keep you honest. I know all sorts of people who might be happy to help me keep my personal planning commitment, but few would be motivated by my pledge. Joel Berger is not only a good friend, but also a member of the Perl Community, and he agreed to be my referee. Knowing this helped me maintain a fairly strict self-censor of my goals.

It is no coincidence that the last three months have been some of the most professionally productive months I've had in years. I built a number of time management tasks around my daily planning that have helped me maintain professional focus. Making things work such that the Perl Foundation would receive my money actually helped me maintain a more rigorous sense of my goals. At least one of those $25 payouts was due to my planning being 10 minutes late. I am not sure if picking the Python Foundation would have motivated me to avoid failure, but it certainly would have motivated me to deny failure. I realized that $25 is enough pain to keep me motivated, and the pledge to the Perl Foundation motivated me to stay honest.

My StickK contract ended a couple of weeks ago and I decided not to renew at that time. However, I've already begun to slip out of my planning habit, and I will likely start a new contract soon.

Leave a comment

About David Mertens

user-pic This is my blog about numerical computing with Perl.