Batching: How To Improve Your Focus And Get More Done

time batching

Batching is about to become your favorite word. We’re going to decrease the number of tasks you have in a day. We’re also going to have the most productive week of your life.

That’s not even the end of it. You’re going to have more fun doing it all.

How?

Batching tasks saves time and prevents distraction. You can use it to improve your work, personal life, and even stay on top of social demands.

And you’ve actually tried it before – we all have.

I’m going to show you why it’s a no-brainer, and how to do a lot more of it.

Here’s a classic situation:

You’re busy working and you get a notification on your phone or computer. It’s a new email in your inbox. Do you stop what you’re doing to read the message?

Then what?

Do you reply to single emails when they come in?

Do you also turn the washing machine on for one sock?

You should be giving the same answer to both questions. They are prime cases of batching being more efficient.

Batching will help everyone. Well, anyone who has repeat tasks, and wants to maximize their time.

Needless to say, I’m a keen batcher. I reckon you should be too.

Let’s dive in.

What is Batching?

Batching is grouping specific tasks that are similar and doing them together. The idea is to focus on the tasks less often, and for longer.

Batches usually contain tasks that share a similar state of mind or are done in the same place. The point is to increase efficiency – by reducing set-up and switching costs.

That’s not the only benefit though, people who batch tasks find it easier to focus. They’ve got fewer things to concentrate on at any one time.

Why Batching is a Great Idea

The benefits of batching are pretty serious: higher productivity, better results, and less stress.

Let’s break some of those down.

Batching Reduces Set-Up Costs

Set-up costs are the time lost when you get ready to do a task.

A simple example is ironing.

If you iron every outfit the night before you wear it, you end up ironing every day. This means you have to set it up every day. This means preparing the board or surface, and checking there’s water in the iron. Even if you left it set up, you still have to wait for the iron to get hot.

You are going to waste time.

Instead, by batching all of your ironing together for the week, you only have to set up and pack away once.

Apply the same logic to your weekly shopping:

If you leave the house every day to go to a different shop, that’s going to be inefficient. It would be better to make a list during the week and go out to all of the shops once.

This is the kind of batching people have used for most of their lives.

However small the time cost, it all adds up.

This leads right into another benefit of batching.

Batching Reduces Switching Costs

You don’t just lose time setting up – you also become less efficient by multitasking.

Every time your brain switches from one task to another, it takes time to adjust.

Imagine trying to read a book and listen to a video at the same time. Every time you go from one source to another your brain has to figure out where you were up to, and what the source is talking about.

Our brains do not do this well. At all.

Multitasking doesn’t work – it’s a trap. You feel busy, maybe even productive. But you’re not. Don’t do it.

Once you have focus, keep it for as long as you can without distraction. Stick to one task at a time, by batching them together.

Batching Forces You To Be Organized

Another benefit of batching is that you will end up being more organized. By collecting up small tasks, you’ll be forced to use time management strategies to get the tasks done.

Without even realizing it, you are also scheduling your life. Planning ahead and prioritizing gives you some control over your life.

Having that structure takes a huge amount of weight off your mind.

Batching Creates Simplicity

Having one thing to think about at any moment creates simplicity. And that’s a much nicer experience than the alternative.

Instead of feeling like you always have a hundred things to do, you can relax. When it comes time to do a scheduled task – that’s the only thing you need to focus on.

You don’t need to feel guilty, or rushed by anything else. You’re batching – distractions are supposed to wait.

OK, are you with me so far? Batching helps people focus, get more work done. It lightens the burden of their tasks.

Let’s learn exactly how to batch.

How to Batch Tasks to Get More Done

The art of batching is knowing when to do it. There are no secret tricks, you just have to figure out what tasks might work.

A good place to start is figuring out what tasks you currently do, and when.

Step 1: Make a List of Every Recurring Task

Go through your schedule and look at tasks you do on a regular basis. Make a list. The more you have to work with, the more chances to use batching.

But:

Your schedule won’t tell the full story. You should give time tracking a go. Keep some kind of record of how you spend every hour in the day.

It will take a bit of effort to set up and maintain. But if you do it properly for a couple of weeks, you can see exactly where your time goes.

I think it’s best to get all of your recurring tasks together on one list – from work and your personal life. There could be batching opportunities that combine tasks from both without causing problems.

OK, once you’ve done that, we can start batching.

Step 2: Choose Tasks Suited to Batching

I’ve put a big collection of examples together below, but you’re looking for a couple of types of tasks:

  • Tasks that are at risk of distraction (like creative writing)
  • Work that is tedious but relatively easy (like filing receipts and invoices)
  • Tasks that require a lot of set-up or travel (such as grocery shopping and cooking)
  • Tasks that cause distraction (like phone calls)

You need to get a bit creative at this stage.

It’s easy to say ‘I couldn’t possibly put my phone on silent and return all of my calls in the afternoon.’ That might be true. But you have to be willing to change assumptions if you’re going to benefit from batching.

Once you’ve got some tasks in mind, go back to your schedule.

Step 3: Create Time Blocks in Your Schedule

I use blocks for all of my time management systems.

You can start with weekly schedules, but I actually prefer to use a fortnight structure. That’s because it lets tasks build up a bit more, which means the batches are larger. Therefore, I get more efficiency.

Use whatever time-frame suits you. The point is to create segments that you can assign tasks to.

And that leads to the next step.

Step 4: Assign Task Batches to Time Blocks

Now you just fill in the blocks with tasks. Play around as you experiment, but you have to write things on the schedule. You need to visually see that a batch of tasks is going to happen at a set time.

For example:

Break your life up into 2-hour blocks. Then fill in those set periods of time with batches of tasks that you’ve created.

You might cook your entire week’s lunches on Sunday afternoon. Or pay all of your bills between 3-5pm on Thursday.

Step 5: Create Lists or Folders to Keep Track of Tasks

If you are going to stop doing everything straight away, you need a system to keep track of what needs doing.

Set up digital or paper shopping lists, inbox folders, document folders, to-do lists, and reminders.

When a task or message pops up, file it away to its list straight away, and forget about it. You’ll feel better knowing it will be dealt with at the right time, and you don’t need to hold it in your brain until it’s done.

Step 6: Don’t Procrastinate or Delay

By letting things build up, you accept that completing the tasks must happen. Flexibility is always going to be required, but you can’t make a habit of putting off batches.

Once it gets out of control you lose the benefits of batching and create some new problems.

You can check out my guides on how to stop procrastinating and how to stop being lazy for help with this.

Step 7: Don’t Cave In and Finish the Tasks Ahead of Schedule

The whole point of batching is to create efficiency by grouping tasks. If you identify that something suits batching, you have to stay firm.

Don’t let an email notification distract you during other schedule blocks.

Step 8: Schedule Batches As Far Into the Future As Possible

I find it’s best if a schedule goes as far ahead as possible. If you know what tasks and commitments are coming up, you can adjust the schedule.

This is more effective than running week to week, solving problems on the fly.

Also, decide whether tasks are actually time-sensitive. If not, let them build-up for longer for larger efficiency gains.

Step 9: Review Your Batching Success

It’s important to go through this progress often – I recommend monthly. Even if you hold a weekly review, look at the results of your changes. Evaluate success, and make changes.

Batching can become a very powerful tool, so keep looking for opportunities to make it work for you.

We’ll run through the most common examples next, and then I’ll show you how to level-up your batching.

Task Batching Examples

The idea behind batching is so simple that learning how isn’t very difficult. The trick is knowing what tasks to try it with.

These are the examples that are given most often. I’ll give you tips for trying them all because they are probably tasks we all have to do.

1. Email

Email is the poster child of batch processing. And for good reason.

Our inboxes are constantly accepting new messages. This is distracting, and often annoying. If you try to read and handle every message when it comes in, then it’s also inefficient.

The switching costs from moving your attention around are a big problem.

Instead of letting emails distract you, turn off all notifications.

Then:

Pick a block of time in your schedule each day (or even less often if you can get away with it) and label it ‘Email’. Generally, I recommend you don’t use your most productive time. Try doing it at the start or end of your day.

There might be exceptions, like when you are waiting for an important message. Or maybe your job doesn’t let you stay out of your inbox for long. That’s OK.

You can still batch up everything that isn’t urgent and deal with it later.

The key is to minimize the amount of intrusion email has on your important work.

Looking to level-up your email game even more? Turn it a GTD Gmail and learn the best email productivity tips.

2. Errands

This is a big one. The set-up costs of running errands are generally large. If you are going to run halfway across town or further, try not to do that just to get one job done.

Let errands build-up, then run them all on the same day. Losing one day to them is better than losing half a day three times a week.

3. Meetings

Meetings are not everyone’s cup of tea – even if biscuits are provided. This one involves other people, who might not be as interested in batching as you are.

Still, if batching meetings are an option, you should consider it. I recommend it because meetings disrupt work. They take up a lot of time, often require preparation, and throw out individual schedules.

If you can, pack them all into one day, instead of disrupting multiple days. You can better control the rest of your schedule that way.

4. Cooking and Meal Preparation

People have batched their food preparation for ages without even thinking about it. That’s because the benefits are obvious.

Cooking a meal requires finding ingredients, collecting equipment, making a big mess, and cleaning up.

Why do that every day? It’s so easy to just make larger dishes, without it costing much more time. Then you don’t have to cook as often.

5. Social Media and Blog Posts

Anyone who is trying to maintain content output knows how demanding it is. It’s so easy to get caught in the trap of making posts and articles each day.

This is not effective.

It takes a long time to scroll through images, come up with captions, make graphics, and curate variety.

There’s a much better option:

Use batching for content posts. Dedicate blocks of time to create and edit. When you have a nice content bank, create captions and posts for all of your platforms in one session.

Schedule your blog posts and social media posts to go out automatically. Services like Buffer are good for Instagram, and most blogging platforms have scheduling features.

You will find the rest of your work is much less distracted.

More Batching Examples:

  • Reading articles
  • Browsing internet articles
  • Social media browsing
  • Responding to texts
  • Returning phone calls
  • Television/ Youtube videos
  • Cleaning
  • Scheduling
  • Household maintenance

So far we’ve looked at batching in isolation. It’s actually just one technique (although, a good one).

You can increase and expand the benefits by combining it with other productivity tools.

Time Batching to Focus on Hard Tasks: Pomodoro Technique

batching with the pomodoro technique

The Pomodoro Technique is another productivity tool. By combining this with batching, we can achieve deep work – doing hard tasks at an elite level. With quality and speed.

The basic method is to pick your most important task and set a timer for 25 minutes. You then work on that one important task. When the timer goes off, you take a 5-minute break.

This cycle is repeated until the task is done, with a longer break taken every 3 or 4 intervals. The idea is to focus only on one task until it’s done.

What does this have to do with batching?

Batching up a bunch of difficult tasks – like writing articles – is great for avoiding distractions. But, it can make it difficult to do.

Tasks that need a lot of concentration create difficult sessions. You have to be able to sustain focus.

Using the Pomodoro Technique makes this kind of work way more manageable.

You end up enjoying the best of both hacks: maximum productivity from interval sprints, and quality from focusing on one thing.

And there’s also another type of combination that works really well.

How Batching Can Help You Beat Boring Tasks: Combine Tasks With Different Demands

Do you have tasks that you hate doing? I’d be really surprised if you don’t.

Most people struggle with boring, tedious jobs. Things like washing dishes, folding washing, and filing paperwork.

Batching these kinds of chores might be a great way to stop them from distracting important work. But, it doesn’t make boring things any easier to do.

So how do we fix that?

Well, remember how bad I said multitasking is? That’s true – when a task needs your attention.

But here’s some good news:

You are free to multitask when neither activity needs your full attention. Batch tasks that don’t conflict with each other to save time and enjoy them more.

A good example is making cleaning way more enjoyable, and productive. Try listening to podcasts or audiobooks at the same time.

You don’t need to worry about distracting your hands from washing dishes (just make sure you get all those tough stains off). It’s pretty low involvement. And you get to relax, enjoy the time, or even learn.

There’s another example of this kind of batching that I use when I’m really busy:

We know it’s important to get exercise every day. And I try my best to stay in touch with family and friends. I batch these two things when I’m on a work break to get more things done in the time.

I take a long walk and return phone calls that have built up during the week.

Batch Working: Things to Keep in Mind

This all sounds incredibly simple in theory. And most of the time it is.

However:

There’s a couple of things you should know, as you get ready to go all-in on batching.

Things Will Go Wrong, Life Happens

Your batching masterplan won’t be perfect every week. At some point, there will be exceptions made. Challenges will pop up to test the boundaries. That’s ok.

Adjust, review, and don’t be too hard on yourself.

Organizing Your Batching Takes Time

Whilst the benefits are clear, you will need to invest time into the system. Going through every task you complete in a week is no small feat. And testing new time management techniques will create some initial work.

Understanding this, in the beginning, is important. I promise the investment is worthwhile.

One Final Batching Tip

I’m about ready to let you loose and start batching your life.

We’ve established that time is used more efficiently when you batch similar tasks and do them together. As we covered, keeping a schedule for these tasks is the key.

I also covered combining batching with interval work to make hard tasks easier. We looked at doing nice and unpleasant tasks together.

And before you go, I want to add another point in that direction.

Make It Fun

This is your life we’re dealing with – you should enjoy it. Don’t focus solely on productivity and make yourself miserable.

You’re more likely to adopt a batching schedule if you enjoy it more. So, look for creative ways to make unpleasant things better (just like our podcast and cleaning example).

If doing something monthly causes you anxiety – do it weekly. If you enjoy cooking dinner every day, that’s fine. We’re making you more productive and happier – both matter.

OK, I think you’re ready.

Good luck.

Time Batching: Field Notes

Batching is the technique of grouping similar tasks and doing them together.

Tasks are batched to create efficiency and prevent distraction.

Batching saves time by reducing setup costs and switching costs.

Create batches by:

  1. Make a list of every recurring task
  2. Choose tasks suited to batching together
  3. Create time blocks in your schedule
  4. Assign task batches to time blocks
  5. Create lists or folders to keep track of tasks
  6. Don’t procrastinate or delay batches
  7. Don’t cave in and finish the task ahead of schedule
  8. Schedule batches as far into the future as possible
  9. Have regular reviews to evaluate success and schedule the next batches

The most common examples of batching are:

  • Email
  • Meetings
  • Errands
  • Shopping
  • Cooking
  • Social Media Posts
  • Cleaning & Maintenance

Combine batching and the Pomodoro Technique to achieve flow state on difficult tasks.

Create batches of fun and boring tasks to make them easier and more enjoyable.

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