Odometer goals are relatively uncommon. Most of the time, it's easier to manage the goal as a Do More. A number of the autodata integrations use Odometers behind the scenes, and they're the easiest solution when you can easily access your running total.
When should I use an Odometer?
Odometers are very similar to Do Mores, but the data needs to be entered a little differently. Use an Odometer when it's easier to know your total progress than it is to calculate today's progress, or when the data you're tracking shouldn't be added together over time.
Common examples: tracking pages read in a book, year-to-date revenue or earnings, miles ridden on your bike (could be tracked by an actual physical odometer!).
How should I enter data for an Odometer?
Beeminder needs to know your current total as of each day.
Let's say I have a goal to read more often, and I commit to 100 pages per week. I read 20 pages on the first day, putting me on page 20 in my book, so I submitted a 20 to my graph. On the second day, I read 30 more pages and got to page 50, so I submitted 50 to my graph. The next day, I only got to page 55, so I submitted 55. And so on.
After those three points have been submitted, the graph will look like this:
I'm above my bright red line — doing better than my goal rate! Cool. And Beeminder's keeping a running total of all my progress for me, so I know I've read 55 total pages since starting my goal.
How is that different than a Do More?
The graphs will look exactly the same, but the data you enter needs to be different. I used the example goal above for a Do More example, too — it's the exact same graph and statistics; only the Recent Data tab shows the difference between the two types!
What happens if I need to restart my count at 0?
To continue my book example, what happens when I finish my book? It would be irritating to have to remember the pages in my previous book and then add them to my new book page, and then again for a third book...
Beeminder interprets a datapoint of 0 as a reset of the odometer. After a 0 datapoint has been entered, you can start your page count from 0 again without losing ground. Make sure the 0 datapoint is entered after the last high value and before the new, lower one; order does matter for this operation, though that usually isn't true for Beeminder datapoints.
Here's an example showing the odometer when it hasn't been reset before entering a lower value, and progress has been lost:
And here's an example where an odometer reset has been used correctly:
All of your statistics will include the total number of pages read across all books, without you having to maintain that count yourself!
I'm still confused on the difference between Odometer and Do More.
You want an Odometer goal when you need to report a cumulative total, and a Do More goal if you want to just add what you did today. If you did 5 units and want to add 5 units, in other words, you want a Do More goal. If you did some units today, but the most convenient number to add is the total number you've done since you started the goal, then you want an Odometer goal.
Can I switch between Odometer and Do More?
Because of the fundamental difference in the kind of data you're entering and how Beeminder handles the data, it's usually not easy to change the goal type after it's been created. It's easiest to archive or delete the Odometer goal and start a new Do More.
How can I pause my Odometer goal temporarily?
This is super easy to do on an Odometer! Using the Take a Break section in the Stop/Pause tab below the graph, first pick the dates that you'll be away, then set the break rate to 0. This will make your bright red line flat at that time, so you don't have to make any progress until it starts sloping up again.