When you have too many things to do, and nowhere near enough time or mental energy to stay on top of it all, there’s no better way to self manage than through a technique called task batching.
One of my favorite things about being a blogger is how many different parts of the job there are. I get to be a writer, web developer, graphic designer, marketer, and administrator all in one. But without a way to compartmentalize it all, I’d be scattered all over the place. I’d lose my freaking mind.
This is where task batching comes in. By separating the work into meaningful chunks and dedicating blocks of time to each, I keep myself moving and on top of all these different streams of work at once. Without falling behind.
Now unless I’ve wildly miscalculated, I’m not the only one who’s periodically strapped for time. If you’d like to start giving your day a more manageable and seamless flow, here’s how task batching can help.
What is Task Batching?
Consider a scenario. You wake up, look at the day you have ahead, and immediately feel a stress headache coming on. You’re not sure how you’ll be able to fit it all in.
Maybe it’s a long workday with converging deadlines, plus a list of things to do after leaving the office. Or, maybe it’s a “day off” where you only have 476 chores, errands, and other tasks to take care of.
We all have days like this at least once in a while, if not regularly. They’re usually stressful and exhausting. And the list of things on your plate can feel never-ending.
Task batching is a way to manage busy, jam-packed days like these. The basic strategy is to take similar or related tasks, and combine them into blocks, or batches. You then work through everything you need to, batch-by-batch, rather than attacking your day in random order.
By doing this, you pave the way for a much easier and more productive day by reducing the impact of a nefarious force called context switching.
Task Batching and Time Management
We’ve discussed before on this blog how multitasking is really a myth. The truth is, our brains aren’t great at doing a bunch of different things at once. Frequent context switching (jumping between unrelated tasks) sucks up mental energy and slows us down.
Task batching is something of a cure to context switching. Taking on a similar group of tasks all together lets you stay in a similar headspace. Staying in one headspace means that you’re not constantly stopping, pivoting and getting up to speed on something else.
Working in batches feels more natural to our brains. It’s a way of practicing minimalist productivity. That way we won’t need to push against the grain to force a certain result.
Striving for Deep Work
Batching work with similar work helps you build focus. With focus, you can achieve better quality work with less effort. It makes it much easier to get into a state that some call “deep work.” Similar to a flow state, deep work means giving your brain the time to sink deeply into a single stream of focus.
In his amazing book Deep Work, Cal Newport explains that this kind of focus empowers you to:
- Get more work done, and more quickly
- Produce a higher quality of work with fewer mistakes
- Save more of your mental and emotional energy
This deep work is what makes task batching such a powerful productivity technique. A scattered day full of context switching is harder and much more tiring than it needs to be. Organizing that day in a way that fosters focus unlocks a far easier (not to mention more effective) path.
Task Batching the Easy Way
Task batching in practice is quite simple. There are only three steps:
- List out the Work
- Find the patterns
- Organize the batches
1. List Out the Work
Oh boy, we’re only on the first step in the list, and it’s about making lists. Just doesn’t get any better than this.
This one’s easy. You know what tasks you have to do, and what tasks on top of those that you’d like to do. So let’s start with a simple to-do list. This can be a single-day list, or a plan for a whole week. Do what works for you.
It’s important to be pretty granular at this step. Make sure to break down any large projects and objectives down into their component tasks.
And one thing I’ll say here is that you don’t need to treat this as a strict must-do list. It’s more like a list of what’s on your plate right now. And for that, it’s better to start by casting a wide net. We can pare it down later.
2. Categorize Your List
Once you have your list, it’s time to start forming the batches. Go through the list, look for patterns, and start putting tasks into categories.
You’ll likely notice there are multiple ways to categorize certain things. The most important thing is to focus on the headspace each task requires you to be in, over any other similarities. Consider the following four tasks:
- Respond to work emails
- Buy groceries
- Pay bills online
- Ship packages to clients
You may notice that #1 and #4 here are both job-related, while #2 and #3 are household-related. So you could consider breaking these into a “housework” batch and a “work-work” batch. But does it really make sense to sit down at your desk to do emails, then go to the post office, then come home and sit at your desk to do bills, and then go back out for groceries?
In this case a more effective grouping might be office work (#1 and #3), and errands (#2 and #4). This would make for only one block of time sitting at the desk, and one out of the house. This way, you cut down heavily on the time and effort to keep switching back and forth.
The main goal is to reduce the mental cost of frequently switching gears, so try to group together activities that use mostly the same gears.
3. Batch It Up!
You probably get the gist of where this goes next. Now that you have all the tasks, and you know which batches they fit into, you can divvy up your time between these batches. Instead of moving from one task to whatever comes next, define your time by which group of things you’ll focus on.
Try to make room for that deep work on the tasks that really need it.
It’s important here to think about your energy, and what kind of day you’re setting yourself up for. If one or more of your batches is heavily creative, or stressful, or requires a lot of brain work, it may be best to put those early. Give yourself some big wins to start with, and then move onto easier batches afterward.
As you improve at planning and working in batches, you’ll start to notice you’re able to fit more tasks into the day and feel less behind on everything. There’s a good chance you’ll be able to fit in more of the things off your list from step 1 than you thought. But it’s okay if they don’t all fit in, especially at first. Just keep working at it, and you’ll be a task batching pro in no time!
What are you going to batch?
Task batching is a simple technique that pays you back in spades. It can turn a scattered and overwhelming day into a finely-tuned, smoothly running machine. What are you waiting for? Give it a try!
Do you know what some of your batches are going to look like? Have something you’re not sure how to batch? Let us know in the comments below!