According to John Medina in his book, Brain Rules, switching between various tasks can make projects take up to 50% longer to complete. Furthermore 98% of us are unable to multitask and if we do lose focus on a task it takes us 23 minutes, on average, for use to refocus our attention.
We’ve all had this experience, going in and out of tasks without really knowing what we are supposed to be doing from one minute to the next, but with evidence to suggest it’s so inefficient, what can you do about it?
One way to combat the extreme multitasking we face on a daily basis is through a technique called Time Batching.
Time Batching is a time management system that groups (or ‘batches’) together similar tasks and sets aside a time in which to complete all of them (e.g. the rest of the day until they are finished) or work on them for a certain amount of time (every morning from 9 - 10am).
When you are organising your personal life, you wouldn’t start cooking, then watch an episode of Friends, the hand up three shirts, then return to finish off your cooking, interspersed by the rest of the laundry, would you? However, in work, that’s often the way days play out; we start writing that article, only to be distracted by an email which we read and reply to, and then by a colleague who asks for an update on a presentation, which we then switch to and duly improve upon.
So many distractions can leave you feeling overwhelmed and unmotivated, and asking yourself what you’ve actually achieved at the end of the day, and as noted above can mean that we are wasting vast amounts precious time.
By building structure and boundaries around your time, time batching helps to minimise these distractions so you can concentrate on the task at hand and be more productive.
How Should you be Time Batching?
Most people like to batch their tasks via what’s known as Deep Work and Shallow Work as proposed by Cal Newport in his book Deep Work. Shallow work refers to tasks that are often administrative, quick and can be ticked off your to-do list easily, such as sending an email or booking an event. These tasks probably require lower levels of productive energy and are ideal for short work sprints. Tasks that require deep work, on the other hand, need higher levels of focus or concentration, and often more time consuming, and are more closely aligned to your overall career goals. For example, your deep work might include putting together a presentation, writing an article, creating a marketing plan or designing a new set of icons for your website.
By batching tasks of a similar nature together, you won’t have to jump from shallow to deep-focus tasks. This means you’ll be more efficient and productive within each of these individual categories.
How Do you Create a Time Batching Strategy?
1. What’s on your to-do list?
Before you start time batching, you’ll need to know what your day, week and month consist of. You might have emails that you need to check regularly, perhaps even a few times a day, as well as tasks that had hard deadlines, and new to-dos that might crop up. And that’s on top of your meetings and daily tasks.
2. Batch your tasks
Now that you know what’s what, you can list tasks based on their similarity and whether it would make sense to do them one after the other. You might want to be very specific, for example batch everything that uses word processing, so that you can switch off your internet and put away your phone at this point, or you might want to batch tasks that you can do on the move so that you can fit a few in when you’ve got a minute waiting for your daughter to come out of school. How you choose to batch is up to you.
3. Organise your process
At what time of day do you feel most focused? When do you have time in between meetings? When have you a long period of time when you can concentrate on deep work?
Depending on what your day looks like, you can then start to batch your listed tasks around your time. It might be that you have three meetings with half-hour stints in between, and these would be a good opportunity to put in some shallow work. It might be that you have a free afternoon on Wednesday and you could easily fit in two of your deep work tasks there. Or it might be that you are very flexible with your time and do all your article writing on one day, ready for the upcoming newsletter and all your shallow tasks plus that presentation on another.
Remember that you also need to factor in breaks along the way, interruptions of our own making vastly improve our concentration.
4. Evaluate your process
After a couple of weeks task batching, how are you getting on? How long can you actually focus? At what time of day do you focus the best? Is there an order you like to follow? Have you managed to achieve more with your time?
With more knowledge about how you best task batch, you can adapt your system to get the most out of your working day.
When does Time Batching Work Best?
Time batching isn’t for everyone, especially for those who have highly variable tasks that can change at quick notice and those who enjoy the variety of mixing up their day.
However it does work especially well for those who:
- Struggle to concentrate on a single task.
- Need to focus and eliminate distractions to make meaningful progress.
- Work in an environment with many interruptions.
- Repeat similar tasks on a regular basis.
Top Time Batching Tips
1. Use Scheduling Tools
Write your batched tasks in you calendar or scheduling tool that you use and colour code it depending on the type of task. The visual representation will help you better understand how you use your time, how long tasks take, and help you stick to your plan.
2. Set Yourself Reminders
If you’ve blocked out specific time, set reminders when the time is coming to an end before you need to be at that meeting or pick up the kids from school. Remember to also set yourself breaks along the way.
3. Batch Realistically
Only batch tasks that are relatable and go together, you can always have a number of batch-task lists. If you don’t do this you’ll succumb to what you were trying to avoid in the first place.
4. Eliminate Distractions if Possible
If you are trying to do a task which requires focus, let others know that you don’t want to be disturbed for a set period of time and turn off social media and alerts wherever possible. Just one notification can send you down a rabbit hole of irrelevant time wasting.
Have you tried time batching? How has it worked for you? Let us know in the comments below!