Why batching tasks is the most important ingredient in your to-do list
Batching tasks according to their type is paramount to productivity so that your brain is not transitioning in an out of particular lobes. These similar tasks require not only the same type of brain activity but also may help streamline your workspace as they call for similar resources.
The concept of batching comes from computer processing. A computer would collect data over a period of time before processing the items altogether. It would do that so it was not doing a small job every time a new item popped up. Batching is all about efficiency.
Batching tasks makes transitioning more fluid
It is time to forfeit multitasking. Juggling multiple tasks at once is detrimental to true productivity. According to a study by University of California, Irvine, ”people switch activities on average of every three minutes and five seconds. Then it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.
Your brain accesses different lobes to do different things. This constant transition between these lobes can make your to-do list a very bumpy ride. And those bumps can easily derail you to distraction land. Give your brain the efficiency it needs by focusing on, for example, either your taxes or logo design—choose one, execute entirely, move to the next one.
Batching tasks can improve your immunity to distractions
If your brain is not forced to switch gears every 15 minutes, you increase the likelihood of entering flow state. Flow state is that covetable stage of near-perfect focus. You can churn out work like a machine. And the less your startup and slow down time is, the more you can streamline your thinking, keeping your brain on track. This mental acuity will keep that push-though feeling at bay. You’ll feel like you’re smooth sailing rather than plodding through quicksand.
How to batch tasks:
Identify your batch categories:
Group your tasks based on categories relevant to your goals and responsibilities.
For instance, if my brain is honed in on creative work, like drafting graphics or brainstorming ideas, I shouldn’t abruptly switch lanes to filing my taxes or responding to emails. If I am heading to the bank, I should try to complete any other pending errands during this time.
It is also wise to study your natural mental activity so that you can identify the best times to work on which tasks. If you are a writer who’s most creative in the morning, use your first hours for those creative juices. Then after lunch, dedicate your energy to SEO or responding to emails.
Here’s an example of my own batching method:
- Creative (brainstorm, drafting, problem-solving, doodling.) I find that I am most creative in the early mornings until about 11 am.
- Concrete (measurable, constructive, effective.) After lunch, I have trouble easing myself back into creative flows so I use this time for tedious or repetitive work. This is why I might do administrative items like updating the website or going over financial items.
- Communication (interpersonal, social.) I am fairly introverted so I prefer to do most of my creative and concrete work without the stimulus of any third parties. To no fault of their own, third parties have a knack for getting you off task. After those are done, I can direct my energy to emails and socializing.
- Conscious (introspective, mindful.) Before I go to bed, I like to make a point of reviewing my day and pausing to think. This is my optimal time to engage in prayer and meditation.
In accordance with your own nature of work, you can come up with your own categorization system.
Identify the best times to attach to each batch:
Familiarize yourself with your productivity and responsibility rhythms. If you’re not feeling social before you finish your coffee, save your communication batch for the afternoon. If you are creatively energized in the morning, do that first thing.
You can do the same method with days of the week and the month. Outside of your peak brain waves, there are inevitable due dates for other things less within your control. If you need to settle expenses before the end of the month, try to visit that task on the same day every month.
Do your grocery shopping specifically during the day that you choose to spare time for errands. I try to spend Monday and Tuesday creating content and then the rest of the days syndicating that content and catching up on administrative tasks.
For example, I try to take advantage of scheduling my articles for a future date. I keep an archive of content so that on days that don’t warrant creation, I still have a backlog to maintain consistency. I usually set aside 2 full days for content creation. I’ll spend about four hours each day on drafting articles. It’s also more efficient to save cumulative revisions and editing for one time.
If I’m creating downloadable graphics or social images, I’ll create several in one sitting.
When you are planning, keep your categories in mind. Don’t just randomly write down everything you need to do. Sort your tasks into groups based on type.
And try to batch the actual time designated for planning. I try to fill out my planner on Sundays, saving my evenings for reviewing the respective day’s progress. This allows me to jump right into my obligations each morning so that I don’t have to waste time laying out my schedule.
Be relentless about these time windows:
When I am in my creative zone, there is nothing that can interrupt that. An invite to brunch? Can’t make it. Urgent bank run? Can it wait until this afternoon? You have to know your no’s. Otherwise, life will bully you into a juggling act consisting of putting things off until later. After 2 mimosas, traffic, email after email, your tasks become increasingly difficult to reapply yourself to.
Clean up your workspace. That physical clutter will translate into mental clutter.
Set the scene. Make your environment match the task at hand. Make sure that within arm’s reach, you have all the tools required to accomplish your current task most efficiently. The point is not to interrupt your workflow for items as futile as getting up from your desk to grab a pencil. If you need your calculator to work your way through your budget plans, don’t wait until your knee deep in numbers to fish it out.
The actual background setting is just as important to mental positioning. Sitting at a desk is sometimes the only trigger you need to tell your brain that it is time to work. This is why it can be difficult to work from the couch or the bed. Your mind will interpret these types of spaces as relaxing, making you too lethargic to be productive.
You also want to keep your mind stimulated and inspired. If the color green keeps you upbeat and lively, put a plant on a shelf nearby. Growing bored with your environment can demotivate you and slow down your momentum. If you prefer designing your website with your mood board in sight, put it directly in front of you at eye level.
In addition to your physical environment, it is important to curate your digital one too. Close unused computer tabs. Silence notifications. I tended to work on editing a blog post, all the while leaving my email up, social media, and shopping tabs. I was always switching between these tabs, interrupting my stream of consciousness.
Your brain is incredibly responsive to triggers. An alarm or a change of environment is enough to condition it to transition to new stimulus. Preparing coffee before you settle into your writing chair can be just the sequence your brain needs to fill a blank page.
You don’t want to transition directly from creating graphics to writing articles. Going from analyzing finances to creating a sales pitch will exhaust you before lunch. It is not sustainable. This is how you burn out. Take a 10-15 minute break in between batches or on especially long task sprints. It may seem like you’re wasting valuable minutes, but your overall productivity will benefit from some downtime.
Time your tasks
Set timers that let your brain know when it is time to switch gears. This will engage make you conscious of how much time is passing and whether or not you’re staying on track. This should be used as a tool for awareness rather than one of quantity. This does not mean that you must drop what you’re doing and switch tasks as soon as the alarm goes off. But when I set aside an hour to complete something and it takes me three, I might need to readjust my methods or my expectations. It allows me concrete awareness of my processes. Furthermore, racing against the clock keeps me more incentivized to stay on task. I’d hate for Facebook to be the cause of me having to reset my time.
The above being said, just because you are timing yourself, you shouldn’t leave a bunch of incomplete tasks in your wake simply because your alarm went off. Try to work all the way through each bask before transitioning to another one.
Be aware of the seemingly productive
I am great at distracting myself with seemingly constructive items. I can end up on a binge of article or podcast consumption that leaves me feeling accomplished after I come up for air 3 hours later.
I discovered that my consumption or articles and books was actually a masked source of procrastination. Reading feels productive, especially when it is valuable and enriching content. But I could spend hours on this seemingly constructive distraction. Now I save most of my reading for a specific day or at the end of the day so that I don’t get sidetracked too long. I’ve had to batch these items so that they don’t derail me from actual forward movement. No matter how profound the message, if it doesn’t formally move me closer to my goal, it is procrastination.
Don’t forget your personal life
Responsibilities are obligatory even when your time feels better spent on something driving your professional or passionate goals. You can’t miss your car payment or forfeit cleanliness because you were juggling your business productions all week.
Batching the mundane will keep your responsibilities from encroaching on your priorities. Stockpile these responsibilities so that you are not squeezing a couple of chores in here and a few there. Squeezing chores in the margins will inevitably interrupt valuable focus. (For sanity’s sake, you also don’t want to skip your chores altogether.)
Set your recurring bills to auto pay. Designate a day weekly or biweekly for errands and cleaning. Schedule social time, whether emailing colleagues, talking to your parents or going for drinks for certain times of the day or certain days of the week. Set a specific day to prepare all of your food for the week. If you pack a lunch, do so before you are rushing out of the house. Even grouping ingredients before cooking can help streamline the cooking process.
Batching your personal tasks keeps them from overflowing into your larger priorities. Batching helps you to anticipate and plan accordingly, keeping all of your responsibilities in harmony.
Have you ever tried batching tasks? How do you like to stay productive?
Lauren is based in Atlanta, Georgia. In addition to writing here on Pursuit of Daydreams, Lauren’s daydreams consist of all forms of design: Graphic, Fashion, Web, Interior, Art. On any given day, she can be found preoccupied with at least one of the above. She is happiest with a bowl of ice cream in hand.
Also published on Medium.