Productivity Quote: "You’ve gotta keep control of your time, and you can’t unless you say no. You can’t let people set your agenda in life." - Warren Buffet
I am a HUGE proponent of utilizing time blocks to create the time and space for you to get your most important activities completed.
Having dedicated, distraction-free, high-quality work time to complete your most important tasks ensures that you work on that particular task and greatly raises the probability that you will complete it.
But how can you deal with all of the other things you have to get done during the day?
Emails, phone calls, meetings can quickly consume our days.
How can these be productively completed?
The best tactic I have found to handle and complete these tasks is through batching.
What is Batching?
Batching is the practice of grouping several similar activities to be done in succession.
An example of this would be, instead of checking your emails as they come in, setting aside time to check and respond to them all at once.
Why is batching an effective way to handle similar tasks instead of completing them as they come in?
Batching Benefit #1: Proactive > Reactive
The first reason why batching is superior to doing them all together is that it keeps you proactive instead of reactive.
For example, if you choose to respond to emails as you receive them, you lose control over your workday as you become subject to the emails that enter your inbox.
You are conforming your work practice to a random and unknown event (when an email will arrive and what its contents will be) rather than creating your days in a proactive manner which ensures that you get your most important activities done.
Batching Benefit #2: Prevent "Open Loops"
Batching also allows you to prevent mental open loops which will inhibit your ability to fully focus on the task at hand which will cause your performance and production to suffer.
Think of your web browser. The more tabs you have open, the less RAM your computer has available to assign to each one. The more tabs you have open simultaneously, the more the performance of each tab degrades.
A similar thing is happening in your brain when you go from email to phone to work to meeting in rapid succession without fully completing any task. The more unfinished or different categories of tasks we have mentally “open”, the less of our focus we can allocate to each task.
The name for this mental trait is called the Zeigarnik Effect which states that we remember half-completed tasks better than we remember fully completed ones.
This is a great trait to have to ensure that we don’t forget important things that haven’t been completed but a side effect of this is you will struggle to fully focus on any one task until the other uncompleted ones are resolved.
Batching combats is by creating time and space for you to work on whatever task you are batching until it is completed.
Batching Benefit #3: Patterns In Context
The last benefit of batching we will be discussing is: batching allows you to see patterns in context.
Our brains are lazy, problem-solving devices.
They are problem solving devices in that they release dopamine (The “feel-good” hormone) when we complete a task and are lazy in that your brain tries to consume as little energy as possible to do so.
This is why stereotypes and generalizations occur.
Your brain says “If A happened and X was the result and B shares characteristics with A, then I can assume that B’s result will also be X.”
The problem with this kind of thinking is it removes the context in which the factor being evaluated arises. Your brain makes an assumption about the whole after only considering a small portion of it.
In the wonderful book, Thinking Fast and Slow, the author Daniel Kahneman, provides an example of this.
Imagine you have 100 letters to fold, place them into envelopes, and seal.
Do you think it would be faster to:
A. Do each step of the process with all of the letters (eg. fold all the letter, place all of the letters into envelopes, and then seal all of them)
B. Do each process until completion for each letter (eg. fold → place → seal for each letter sequentially)
The answer to the question above is B!
When we take a task fully through to completion before starting the next task inside our batch, it allows us to see any patterns that arrive in the context of the full problem.
Imagine that I did the above exercise and folded all of the letters first to a size that was too big to be placed into the envelope. A couple of things happened/will happen:
I made the assumption (incorrectly) that since I folded that first letter in a certain way that all of the letters should be folded that way.
If I had gone all the way through with the process, I would have seen quickly that my folds were too big and could have corrected them in my next iteration.
Because I didn’t go through the entire process for each letter, any shortcuts or generalizations that I found may be faulty because they were conceived outside of the full problem’s context.
When you are batching, it is not about doing the steps of each process right after the other (pulling up all the emails, writing the subject and recipients for each one, etc.) it is about working each iteration until completion.
How can you start batching
First, Figure out what similar types of tasks you will be batching.
Note: Remember to select similar type tasks. (eg. Emails, phone calls, meetings, etc.)
Second, Set aside time to batch
Note: This is very important when batching. If you skip or miss a batching period, you don’t just miss the period. You miss ALL of the tasks that you would have completed during that time.
Third, Work through each task fully to completion
Note: If you run into an iteration that would take up all of your batching time, that may be a task that would be better assigned to a time block.
My goal with these blog posts is to share with you practical ways you can produce your best work quickly. For even more information on how you can increase your productivity so that you can produce your best work in less time, make sure to check out the resources listed below! Lastly, if you ever have any questions about the Productivity Minute Newsletter or about productivity in general, feel free to email me! Have a productive day! Matthew P.S. If you want additional help increasing your workplace activities along with resources that will help you transition from busy to productive, click HERE to sign up for my FREE "5 Steps to 5x Your Productivity" Guide!
P.S.S. Ready to become Highly Focused and produce your best work WITHOUT having to work long hours? Click HERE to sign up for the Highly Focused Engineer Webinar on May 13th @1pm! I will be sharing 3 secrets to help you increase your productivity and become a Highly Focused Engineer.