Most of us think of multitasking as a necessary part of life. Not only that, but, in the past few decades, multitasking has been glorified and considered one of the top skills to have. But the truth is, multitasking is a myth. Our brain can’t actually pay attention to two tasks simultaneously; it can’t even change from one to the other quickly.
Unfortunately, multitasking has deeply influenced our lives in 2 ways. One is in a short-term way, where someone tries to actually do 2-3 things at the same time (which is impossible, they are just switching tasks too fast). The second is a long-term way, in the sense that most people (including myself) do too many different tasks within a day (or even a bigger interval), so many that it is impossible to have actually done something deeply and meaningfully.
This second way is the one that is less talked about, but that actually produces the largest negative impact in our lives. To fix that, simply trying to do just one thing at a time (single-tasking) isn’t enough. You need to think more long-term than that. The answer lies in one of the top time management strategies, batching (also known as batch processing).
What is batching?
Think about the way you do laundry. You don’t just take every single dirty piece of clothing you have and put in into the washing machine, right? Instead, you wait for enough clothes to pile up, and then you wash them.
This is a perfect example of batching, where you gather all similar tasks and do them all at once. By completing them this way, you can maximize your focus on one type of task over a period of time, and therefore greatly increase your productivity on that particular job. If you do that for everything that can be scheduled ahead, then your overall productivity will be amazingly higher.
Why does batching work?
Minimizing set-up costs
When you start doing any task, there is always some preparation involved. It might be turning on your laptop or a specific program, getting your tools from the toolbox, or just getting into the right state of mind. When you do the same task (e.g. checking and answering e-mails) 5 times in one day, you multiply these costs by that frequency. On the other hand, if you do it only once, then you keep set-up costs at a minimum.
Minimizing task-switching costs
This is probably the most important benefit of batching. Multiple studies have proven that we need at least 15 minutes (the average is 23 minutes) to get fully concentrated on one task after switching to it. Not only that, but it has been proven that, if we quickly change from one task to another, we lose about 40% of productivity, because our brain still lingers to the previous task for a substantial amount of time.
It’s easy to understand from the numbers how much of that time and productivity can be saved through batching. Using the example from above, if you switch to and from checking your e-mails 5 times a day, you can lose more than 1 hour of productivity. This is crazy! Just to give you a baseline to think about, when I was working at Microsoft, I would switch to checking my e-mail approximately 10 times per day.
Getting into flow
Batching is also immensely important because it is one of the few techniques that helps you more consistently get into a state of flow. Flow is the peak performance state where you feel your best and you perform your best, and it usually feels like you get much more done in a shorter amount of time.
In order to get into the state of flow, a long interval of deep focus is required, usually more than 1 hour. If you constantly switch to different tasks, you never allow yourself enough uninterrupted time to actually get into that state and achieve your best. Through batching, you create long, uninterrupted stretches of time where you can perform your maximum.
Think even more long-term
Although until now I’ve mostly talked about batch processing tasks on a daily basis, batching is far from limited at that. In fact, the batching frequency completely depends on what you are batching, and on how you want to set up your processes.
For instance, let’s examine e-mail again. Most people check e-mails as they come, which we already established is a bad idea. If batching on a daily basis, you can set up a specific time interval within your day (e.g. half an hour in the morning), which you will then devote to checking and answering e-mail. But, you can go a step further than that. Many successful people set just 1 or 2 days per week, where they read and respond to e-mails, while staying away from it for the rest of the week.
In general, you should try to batch ahead as far as reasonably possible.
You should also watch this great video on batching by Tim Ferriss, where he illustrates the different possible scopes in batching:
Where batching comes into my own life
Time management has always been an issue for me. In the past, I was always struggling with beating procrastination and just being productive, and thus I’ve never mastered the finer techniques of time management. Lately, though, due to the amount of work I’ve undertaken, this has become more important than ever.
For that reason, I recently did a time-log, i.e. tracking every minute of my day for a week. Through that, I established a baseline on my current productivity habits and extracted some insights on what I could potentially improve.
Two very important things that came up are that I have very few long intervals of focused, uninterrupted work, and that I too do too many different tasks each day. To fix that, I started looking into batching, and I’ve already started implementing it into my own work.
For instance, up to now, I’ve been writing one article every week to post on The Metalearners. But, right now I am in the middle of a 1-week period where I focus on writing articles for at least the next month, so that I can have more time to do other things, specifically to create something new (and hopefully amazing) I have in store for you folks.
Examples of batching
Let’s see now various examples of batching that you can use as inspiration to implement it in your own life:
- E-mail: I’ve already covered e-mail, so I won’t say much here. Just know that constantly checking e-mail is one of the biggest productivity killers in today’s workplaces.
- Cooking: It’s quite common to not have time to prepare a good meal every day. If that’s the case, you can set 1 or 2 days per week (Sunday usually works best), to spend a few hours cooking ahead all the week’s meals, and then not have to worry about it again until next week.
- Reading: Instead of trying to squeeze time for reading in a daily basis, which you will inevitably won’t have time for at some point, try to set a longer stretch of time once a week or so, where you will be able to read undistracted. If you want to go even further, you could single out a few days every month to do the same.
- Writing: If you have creative writing to do, stop trying to do it on a daily or weekly basis. Instead, try to batch process it all together within a few days. As I said, I am currently writing this article in a 1-week writing period, where I am preparing articles for at least the next month.
- Calls: If your typical day/week involves a substantial amount of calls, either personal or professional, try to batch them together and do them all at once. This will provide you with a lot of time without distractions in the rest of your day.
- Entertainment: If you allow small intervals of entertainment throughout your day, you will not only face the aforementioned costs, but you will also crave it more and therefore be more distracted. Gather your entertainment time into one batch later in the day, as a reward for the productive day you just had.
- Cleaning: Instead of cleaning a little every day or a few days, do all your cleaning at once every week or so.
- Errands: Don’t go out to do each errand separately. If you have to go to the supermarket, utilize that to do any other errand you have, like going to the post office or to the bank.
- Organizing: Benjamin Franklin has famously said: “For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned”. Try to batch your organizing (and organize your batching) every week or so, in order to be more focused and productive throughout the week.
- Planning: If your life involves any planning, either for your business or your personal life, you should batch that to every few months. Take a few days off every quarter, to plan the next 3 months of your business or your life.
- Social media: If you are posting regularly on social media, or if you do it for your business, then you definitely shouldn’t do that on a daily basis. Instead, use an app like Buffer and schedule all your posts in a weekly or even monthly basis.
- Articles: I personally tend to read a ton of articles on various topics. While I used to read them as I stumbled upon them, now I gather them all together (as bookmarks or as open tabs), and then read them all in a few pre-allocated hours. Extra tip: Take notes as you read them, so you don’t have to re-read them again later.
- Thinking: It’s a great idea to take a few hours off every few days to clear your mind from your day-to-day stuff, and just freely think and brainstorm about whatever peaks your interest and curiosity.
How to implement batching
As with everything, batching is a skill that can be done in a more efficient and effective manner. Below you can find a process that you can use to implement batching in your own life.
0) (Optional) Figure out what you are already doing
Before diving into the process, you should try and identify what tasks you are already doing and put them into categories for batching. Check out this amazing post on how to utilize batching in a shorter-term (daily/weekly) basis for more details on how to do this process. If you already clearly know what your tasks are, you can skip this step.
1) Choose what you will batch
Start by choosing something to batch (use the examples above for ideas). Don’t worry too much about this, as it would be best to batch multiple things in your life anyway. Keep in mind that some tasks, like article writing, can be split into sub-tasks (research, outline, draft, publishing), which could be then batched together (like research 5 articles at a time, etc.).
2) Create blocks of time
Batching by definition involves larger intervals of focused and uninterrupted time. It is unrealistic to think that you will actually devote that time if you don’t allocate it beforehand. Therefore, consciously decide when you will do each task (e.g. e-mail in the mornings, or cooking every Sunday), and figure out what you have to do to make it happen.
3) Put it on the calendar
Don’t just write it on a paper. Put it on the calendar, and ensure that you don’t schedule anything on top of that. There is a saying that says “If it doesn’t get scheduled, it won’t get done”. You should really commit to making this happen; continuing from the last step, try to anticipate what can go wrong.
4) Prepare for it
When you get to batch process your work, you need to be able to work on your tasks without any interruptions. Especially if we are talking about a longer-interval batching, preparation is key to avoid any potential pitfalls, like equipment breakdowns or energy slumps. I’ve found this amazing post by Ryan McRae, which is basically a great guide on how to prepare for your batching sessions.
5) Don’t move from day to day
Batching is so effective because tasks get done. But in order to get them done, as we said, you need to carve and schedule longer blocks of time. By their very nature, these blocks are hard to find time for, so, if you try to just postpone it from day to day, chances are you won’t be able to do what you have to. Make your best effort to finish your batching process exactly when you have scheduled it.
6) Remove distractions
Try your best to remove any distractions during your work, as getting distracted completely beats the purpose of batching. In fact, utilize techniques that I describe in my articles on how to beat procrastination and on deliberate practice to maximize your effectiveness and efficiency during your batching sessions.
7) Plan out as far as possible
As I said earlier, in general, you should try to batch ahead as far as reasonably possible. That means, that if you plan to batch process e.g. article writing for a month ahead, examine whether you can make it 2, or even 3 months. That way you will have even more time to commit to other tasks. But, take caution as to not impact performance by batching too far ahead. For example, you don’t want to batch process e-mails twice a month, and then have an important e-mail unread for almost 2 weeks.
Also make sure to check out this video on batching by Chris Ducker, to find out more details about this process:
Batching and learning
Unfortunately, learning is one of the few things (along with exercise) that shouldn’t be batched. While it would be great if we could gather all our learning together and do it all together, it is not really effective. We need to alternate between the focused and diffused modes of thinking so that our brain can best digest new information, and we also need to utilize spaced repetition to maximize the retention of new knowledge.
But, batching is one of the top time management and productivity techniques, and these have an important connection with learning. First, especially for those of us who are not full-time learners, batching is an amazing way to create time for learning, by clearing other tasks out of the way. Batching is also very good for all preparation work, like research or choosing and gathering material.
Mainly, though, while batching is not good for learning, i.e. obtaining new knowledge, it is the most efficient way to study, i.e. completing assignments. Whenever your learning includes assignments, be it either for school or for an online course, gather it all together (for instance all assignments for 4 different classes), and do them all at once. This way you will get them easily out of the way, creating time for yourself to do something else, or to just have fun.
As you have probably understood by now, batching is something you absolutely need to utilize in your own life. Use the process and the examples above as a guide, and then get ready to embrace one of the biggest productivity boosts you will ever experience.
Remember, though, that not everything works for everyone the same way. Batching involves a lot of fine-tuning to figure out what works for you. Experiment with batch processing different things in different intervals for varying durations, and take (preferably detailed) notes about what the results were. After a little while, which is totally worth it, you will know what fits you best, and you should use that knowledge to keep what works.
Call to Action
If you liked this article, please share it with your friends. Also, as you start implementing batching in your own life, you are going to witness amazing results. I’d love to learn about your experience, your achievements, and/or your struggles! Post on the Facebook group, or contact me directly!