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Becoming a Power User
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Posted: Apr 12, 2013
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This is a long post but I just figured out something I have been struggling to do all week (with tons of time spent, yup it affected my other tasks) that will really change how I do task management – much more task doing and much less task management. Something I wish someone had told me about when I first started using toodledo as this is the difference between a power user and someone working off a task list. Some of you are already power users and I thank you for your posts because it helped me take the last step towards being a power user. But most people are about half way there (like I was, using GTD and toodledo strongly but not really a power user yet – read more for the differences) or just using toodledo as a task list and not really getting the benefits they could be getting.

There is a big difference between using toodledo and knowing all the features and doing prioritizing of your tasks to try and stay on top of things versus being a power user, where the use of the tool has just improved your life 10 fold and you are spending your time doing your tasks, not managing your tasks.
I have used Toodledo, as a pro users (needed subtasks and collaboration) for several years now and had all the basics down. But I still struggled to have my days flow at the level I knew they could.

Here is an example of being a power user, for money budgeting. It took me only a couple of months on a great tool to rise to this level where as with task management it has taken me more like a couple of years. I think it is easier to see the concept with money, so I am giving this example (feel free to skip it, the task management is bolded below but it refers to these concepts explained here). And for me I had become a money management power user fairly quickly and wow, was that great. So I just needed to figure out how to make my task management do the same thing (it was much easier said then done – but a week later, I got it!!!).

I use YNAB (You need a budget), which I highly recommend, which focuses on your money goals not what is in your bank accounts (e.g. your life goals, not your tasks in toodledo). After a few attempts of using this over a few months with the old way of thinking about budgets but including the couple of neat tricks that YNAB is based on, I was struggling. I wanted to know if I was on goal (what is the use of budgeting if you are not meeting your goals). I tried the old methods of comparing budgeted to actual and still struggled. So in attempting to figure out if I was on goal, I realized that using the tool was about REVIEWS, setting goals and reviewing them quickly and painlessly so what you are doing is living life (doing things and spending money along the way) not spending a lot of your time managing your money (both your budgingyou’re your spending). I have a fuller write up in, but basically I started putting my money in “folders/categories” by How I Reviewed the items.

I realized that I only needed a short (like 5-10 minutes) review, once a month, for 75% of my budget. This included reviews for:
1) Already made decisions (regular payments made for fixed or close to fixed amounts that didn’t change unless I made a big decisions – changed my car, housing, cable or phone plan, etc.). Money got put in monthly, bills paid regularly
REVIEWS: Done monthly to confirm the month ended with a zero balance (any over or under, usually just a few dollars, got shifted to/from another category).
Review also if a decision is made that will change this (e.g. change housing, car, etc. so the corresponding regular payment changes).

2) Special things being saved for like a new house, car, furniture, paying off a debt, retirement, etc. Money got put in monthly and goals were set and once a month a review was done to see if I was on track, adjusting as goals changed.
REVIEWS: Simple, painless, quick reviews and still reaching my goals – how it is supposed to be.

The real kicker, was where we spent our daily/weekly review time. Monthly also to make sure we were on track, but Daily to actually make budgeting decisions – e.g. spend or don’t spend. We had two areas for this:

3) We highlighted an area we wanted a top priority to give it special attention, and there could be unexpected large bills out of here. So it could blow the budget (for the week, month, or longer but it was important to us so likely we would blow the budget if something came up). For us this was health of the family including pets and the vehicles. While most of the time this just ran along fine (expected Dr/Vet/Mechanic visits), there could be unexpected bills here, so it was reviewed monthly to make sure it matched what was typically spent out. It was also reviewed each time we spent out of it to confirm it was a normal expense that was covered, or that it was something not covered (or we were not sure we expected it) so that we could adjust the budget to cover it (fill back up the emergency fund over the next several months or move money into this account from vacation, new car, etc. as we need to spend big bucks in the account for a while at least (e.g. serious illness or new car needed now!!).

REVIEWS: Quick as we had the format set up, but they were more often – whenever we were going to spend out of these accounts to confirm if it was handled or something needed to shift (fill up emergency fund again, did we really want to pay $2000 for that test/car repair and what would we gain by doing so compared to our other choices?).

4) Our daily spending that could get out of hand, e.g. use up all the resources (money). Again, you will have your own area that you can go hog wild on and need to manage daily. For us this was food both at the grocery store (fancy expensive foods or beans and rice) and eating out (a little, lots, each time expensive or cheaper), fun events or small vacations, smaller purchases for the house/kitchen/neat stuff (whim purchases but also the blender broke we need a new one), etc.
To manage this easily, we set a cap and would review it regularly as we spent (so going out to dinner an extra time that week, review the spending – if we are already high for the month – e.g. ½ the money spent but only 8 days in, consider skipping the extra dinner out). Want to buy a small kitchen appliance, check and see if we are behind or ahead in our spending and maybe push that appliance out a month or make a decision to buy it now but skip some dinners out.

REVIEWS: Done often, a quick review to see if our spending matched the timing (e.g. ½ of the month gone, is ½ of the money gone or is it more/less). Typically a couple of times a week at times for us when the question came up do you want to go out to dinner tonight or I would like to buy (something that fit into this category that was atypical like a kitchen appliance, a new tool, etc.). Reviews at the end of the money, to adjust if we under/over spend (we have rules of what happens in these cases so decisions already made, just carry them out).

The bottom line - Simple, easy, quick reviews to keep us on track for our goals. And using this we marched nicely at a good pace to meeting our goals. We lived life and spent our money according to our goals, we didn’t spend time managing our budget.

So translating this to task management:
The numbers below for time spending categories match the numbers above for money spending categories.

This means I need:
1) Routine things I have to do that are always a fixed amount of time (e.g. standing meetings, standard processing that always takes about the same time each time I do it). This equates to money spending of standard big bills that never change without a goal decision change (like mortgage/rent). Allocate the time/money then spend the time/money. Do monthly reviews to see if we are on track or want to change something (e.g. spend more/less money by changing our living situation, our car, our cable services --- for time management drop out of a group as it is not as productive or change a job so the meetings change or use a different system/tool for those regular tasks so you need to adjust the time spent doing those regular tasks).

SETUP: Put these type of tasks in one place (folder, tag, something that makes them easy to find for reviews). Count the amount of time spent (I include commute time or transition time in them) and allocate that time (e.g. length, and a due date and if needed a start date).
REVIEW: Once a month do a quick fast review to make sure nothing has changed and you have meet these goals (spent this time), make any adjustments as needed.
If there is a big decision/goal change (e.g. job change, a new child on the way), change these to match the new goals (fixed items change like new meetings at new job, needing to be home more hours to spend time with/take care of new baby/family, etc.).

2) Larger goals I want to make regular progress towards. In money managing this is new car, new house, big vacation, retirement. In time management this can be start a business, set up family trusts/wills/budgeting, set up new tools for backup, build a new house, even medium sized goals like buy a new car or house. It doesn’t have to be done by X date, like this week, it can be worked on over time till it is done. How much time or money is allocated for these types of goals depends on how quickly you want to get there.

SETUP: Decide your goals, subgoals, and what project/tasks will help you reach those goals. Give them a set amount of time, either what will get you there in the time you want to reach it, or what you can afford to give (e.g. pushing the date out some because we just can’t do it all after all).
REVIEW: Once a month quick review to make sure we are on track and if we want to make any changes to move a goal sooner or later because we want to spend the time in another place. If any of the larger goals change or a big upheaval happens like #3 below, review this to change it at that time also.

3) A way to handle big unexpected time events. Yup, we all got that. Boss says I need this new project done by X date. Or like me, I got so frustrated at things not going the way I want them to go, I basically put everything on hold for a week, and worked on how do I get my task management working better – it is driving me crazy (the time was spent reviewing other products, reviewing other task management systems similar to GTD, then reading forums searching for how to solve my problems and give me what I really wanted), or a chance came up to go on a long trip and we need to clean off our desk and hand off tasks before we go.

SETUP: Yup, there is a setup. Each day/week should have some emergency time that is spent in lower priority tasks that can be given up in crunch time, and when we get pushed for something done quickly they naturally are not done. You can also think through now what can be pushed off if something like this comes up, e.g. what is the priority of the projects/tasks you are working on. You can have an emergency time fund (just like the money emergency funds) – you know right up front you will give up if you need a big chunk of time. And a time emergency fund for work and for outside of work. E.G. What is your goal priority – if you suddenly needed a big chunk of time at home, would you rather give up the night out with the guys/gals or exercise or that social meeting or …. If you suddenly needed a big chunk of time at work, what is most critical to continue, what can be pushed off. Knowing these priorities up front (I have a rules writeup that helps with reviews for money and how emergency funds are handled for money, as a tickler file, make something like this for time) will help you do a quick fast review and within minutes smoothly adjust your task managing when those big unexpected events come up.

REVIEW: When the big unexpected time event occurs, do a quick review to see what needs to shift and enact the shift. Since it is already planned out with emergency time (e.g. Spend less time on email or helping co-workers or with the guys/gals outside of work and move that time into this big task, maybe even pushing out all the tasks for the week except a couple critical ones that HAVE to be done to make enough time for a bug unexpected event).

4) This is the category that contains things easy to overspend. For money, for me, it was eating out more often, fun events or trips, gadgets for the kitchen, computer, etc. For time management this might be those little busy tasks, it might be reading and responding to email, phone calls, etc. It might be researching, learning things. These are easy to identify, track your time for a week, what takes over your life or at least all your life outside of those mandatory meetings. This is what you need to manage daily/weekly to keep it in mind watching that it only takes up the time allocated to it for the day/week/month and doesn’t overflow and eat up all the time that was supposed to be allocated to the other tasks/goals.

SETUP: Put these tasks in a folder/category and manage them tighter with reviews every hour/few hours/day depending on what works for you. It will take some time to figure out how to do this. Learn how to say no, focus, refocus, etc. Use tools/techniques like timeboxing (set up your tasks for the day, allocating time to each category, then use a timer to start and stop your task – when it goes off that category gets put down till the next day and you work on another category). Use tricks like email clearing (it gets trashed, filed preferable with filters so you never see it but it is there when you want it, or put into toodledo for an action item so your inbox is always empty). Do pushes on a task then give yourself a small reward for accomplishing it. Eat the frog. Prioritizing goals/tasks like giving each large task an appropriate chunk of time each day/week based on the goal importance to you. There are tools out there that will tell you when you are spending too much time doing time wasting activities (e.g. facebook, certain web pages you flag, they look like you can set the web pages/apps and the times of what triggers the flag. They can also track and give you weekly reports saying where you are spending your time.
This area is harder than money management, for me at least, and this is what set me off to figure out a better tool/method to task manage. I will be using timeboxing (kludged since toodledo doesn’t really do timeboxing) and set up reviews into these categories so I can manage this category closely and make sure I am giving enough time to the other categories.

REVIEW: Once it is setup with time goals, just review once or twice a day and weekly to see if you are sticking to your goals, adjusting as you need to so either you stay inside the goal or you change the goal to something you can live with.

This, last category I think is the hardest one as a lot of interpersonal issues come up. E.g. You are in support, your job is interrupt driven, but you have other goals you want to accomplish also, how do you carve out that other time and how can you make your interrupts efficient so you will have more time to spend on other tasks. Bottom line, how can you manage these tasks including the inflow, so that you have time for other goal areas you want to allocate some time.

NOTE: Behind all this is the strong saved searches many people are doing so when they are working on something that is the only thing in front of their face, whether it is location based, project based, meeting based, person based, etc. Being able to work efficiently and effectively helps give you more time to spend on other goals.
AND you have to come up with a system that fits for you. What is bogging me down right now is the longer term tasks are not moving ahead at a fast enough pace as they are not getting enough time given to them. Your sticking place maybe something else. But bottom line, figure out what you need to solve and figure out how it can be solved and you will be amazed how much more productive you become because you are no longer managing your tasks, you are managing your time (or money).

A side note, in my reviews and searches for what will pull me up to a power user, I also did find some tools out there that will help me and that are more goal focused but not yet up to toodledo’s strengths but I will be keeping an eye on them.

I hope this was useful to some of you and worth the long read and sparks some ideas to help you make your tools/systems more effective. I look forward to any comments / suggestions / feedback.

Posted: Aug 16, 2013
Score: 0 Reference
I appreciate e time you spent on this post. Lots to think about here.
I am curious - how do you actually set this up in Toodledo? For example, do you have a Routines folder? Do you set up a folder for each goal? Or, are you using tasks/ sub tasks?

Posted: Aug 25, 2013
Score: 0 Reference
I am onboard. I am not sure what kind of a user i am other than an intermittent one, which does not help. I am going to digest what you have written. I hav used Toodledo user for many years, stray off to other new things and always come back. I have been considering ynab for a while so maybe I will take the plunge. My sticking post seems to be twofold. One is that I send everything that is in my head to Toodledo, but I am not reviewing regularly, I need the routine. 2nd is that I tend to focus on all the short ones for the satisfaction of many check marks.

Thanks for you post.
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