Whittle Down goals
- When should I use a Whittle Down goal?
- Why can't I set my rate while I'm setting up my goal?
- How should I enter data for a Whittle Down goal?
- What happens when I reach zero?
- What happens if I need to restart my count at a higher number?
- How can I pause my Whittle Down goal temporarily?
- Why did I derail when I had several safe days yesterday?
- Sample Whittle Down goal creation
The canonical Whittle Down use case is reaching Inbox Zero — this goal type was even once called Inbox Fewer. But it's useful for other things too!
Whittle Down goals are best used when you're trying to whittle down a backlog over time. Similar to an Odometer, you'll want to know your daily total backlog size, which you want to be reducing over time.
Common examples: managing inbox size, reading Pocket articles, grading assignments, watching downloaded movies, completing lessons in a MOOC.
(These examples show the units as books, and if that's what you're tracking then we strongly suggest you're actually a bit more conservative and set a rate of 0.1 per day, or whatever matches your reading pace!)
Beeminder needs to know your current total of whatever you're beeminding each day, e.g. the number of emails remaining in your inbox, not the number of emails you archived today.
So for example, say I have a goal to clear out my inbox over time, and I've set my rate to -10 emails per day, and I had 500 emails in my inbox at the start of the goal. I archived 20 emails on the first day, putting me at 480 emails in my inbox, so I submitted a 480 to my graph. The next day, I archived 30 more emails and get to 450 remaining, so I submitted 450 to my graph. The next day, I only dealt with 5 emails, so I submitted a 445. And so on.
After those three points have been submitted, the graph will look like this:
I'm below my bright red line — doing better than my goal rate! Cool.
If your graph is configured to end at 0, the goal will end once you also reach the end date (either the one implied by the rate and the end total, or the one you set specifically). You need to stay at 0 until the end date, so watch out if you're using any kind of automatic data reporting! Once the goal ends, you can restart it if you'd like to maintain a certain maximum value.
If your goal doesn't have an end-total set, your graph may continue decreasing, eventually asking you to get to a negative total. This is usually not possible, of course! You can prevent that by configuring the goal to end at 0, or setting the rate to 0 at the backlog size you want to maintain. If your graph is asking you to do something impossible, contact support and we'll help you get that sorted out.
Example of a goal that's set up with a goal date and goal rate, meaning you have to reach negative numbers of email:
To fix that situation, in the screenshot below the goal date is set to 2022-03-15, and the goal total to 0. The rate will be automatically calculated, and the graph will end when I reach 0 emails remaining and the date is 2022-03-15.
If the goal has ended or been archived, you'll be prompted for your current value when restarting, and we'll start your graph in the right place.
If the goal is still active, you can use Take a Break or the Graph Editor to schedule a jump in the graph at least 7 days in the future. When the line jumps, you can input your new count safely. Or if you need to derail because you should've kept up with it (we've all been there), you can just enter the new figure and allow your goal to derail. Your slope will automatically resume from that higher point after the derailment.
This is easy to do on a Whittle Down! 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 graph flat at that time, so you don't have to make any progress until it starts sloping down again. Don't forget, you need to make the change seven days in advance.
You'll need to make sure that no data enters the graph while you're away. If an automatic data source enters a value that lands above your bright red line, even on your break, you will derail. This is definitely not legit and we'll sort it out in support, but stopping the data source will prevent it from happening in the first place! If you're using our Gmail integration, you might want to select a label you know will stay empty, for example.
Whittle Down goals are not incredibly forgiving when your data value can bounce up and down a lot. The "safe days" estimate Beeminder uses assumes that your data moves in one direction only. But things like your inbox size can increase as well as decrease, so the "safe days" estimate may be blown away if you receive an unexpected deluge of emails that takes you over the limit.
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.
- Head to create a new goal (also accessible through the New Goal link in the top menu).
- Click the + icon to start a new manual entry goal.
- Select Odometer as your goal type (because you want to report your cumulative total).
- Enter the units you want to use and today's value, to set your starting point. In this example, I'm tracking emails and I have 58 emails right now.
You set the rate etc once the goal has been created, unlike with most other Beeminder goals, so click continue and carry on to...
- Give your goal a brief name. If you want, you can also write a short description with more information.
- Finally, choose your initial pledge. This is the amount you will pay the first time you derail on the goal. After derailing, the pledge will increase by default — use the dropdown below to control how high it goes. In the example below, I have chosen to start at a $5 pledge, which will increase each time I derail, until it reaches $270 — the pledge cap. (To read more about pledges and payments, check out some FAQs!)
- Step through the preview and confirmation steps, and your graph will be created.
There's more to do before we're ready, though! Now we have to set the rate.
- To do that, go to the "Commitment" tab below the graph image.
- In the commitment dial, you can set your rate. You may just want to put in your rate per day and leave it at that... but that might be a problem if you have a short-term deadline in mind, and don't want to end up with your graph asking you to get below 0 emails left! So usually with a Whittle Down goal, you want to open up the extra options by clicking on "Change goal date and goal value".
I want to get to a total of 0 emails by the end of June, so I'll edit the goal value to 0 and the goal date to 2023-07-31. That automatically calculates a rate of -1.71 emails per day.
Now I can click commit, and my new rate will kick in a week from now! I'll have to enter a datapoint of 56 emails (58-2) next week in order to avoid having to pay $5. If you want to be on the hook sooner, you can ratchet!
Keywords: inbox fewer, non-cumulative goals