A well-worn cliché. Worn for a reason.
Everything old becomes new again.
If you took a class on how to manage your time 20 years ago, chances are they taught you about prioritization, and they taught you about batching.
Then all hell broke loose. The internet arrived. Social media. Information glut. Just when we need batching the most, our collective attention to batching has flown out the window. The seductions are simply too great. Most of us settle into increasingly distracted lives.
More fractured, less productive.
Batching is the simple habit of performing like-minded tasks together instead of bouncing from one task to the next.
We live in a bouncing time. Mental bouncing, task bouncing. In his terrific book “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” (Grand Central Publishing/2016), Cal Newport describes how the prolific Adam Grant, award-winning rock star author and the highest-rated professor at The Wharton School, allocates time. He batches.
Though Grant’s productivity depends on many factors, there’s one idea in particular that seems central to his method: the batching of hard but important intellectual work into long, uninterrupted stretches. Grant performs this batching at multiple levels. Within the year, he stacks his teaching into the fall semester, during which he can turn all of his attention to teaching his students. By batching his teaching in the fall, Grant can then turn his attention fully to research in the spring and summer … Grant also batches his work on a smaller time scale. Within a semester dedicated to research, he alternates between periods when his door is open to students and colleagues, and periods when he isolates himself to focus completely and without distraction on a single research task.
(Deep Work, page 39)
Common-sense, isn’t it? And yet we forget. Here’s the very simple law of productivity:
High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)
Batching helps us get there. Let’s take a look at how you and I can better batch the basic tasks we perform every single day at work.
1. Batch Your Writing Time
When you have to create documents, write reports, craft power point presentations – any tasks involving the sustained written and/or visual creation of a product that requires a significant level of detail, nuance, and which may be subject to substantial scrutiny, batch these tasks. You will create momentum, get these tasks done faster, and enhance the quality of your output.
2. Batch Your Talking Time
When you have to attend multiple meetings or conduct a series of phone calls, whenever possible batch these tasks. Even though context and conversation partners will change, you will drop into a “conversational groove” where you engage with greater ease and more fluidity in every one of your conversations. The quality and outcomes of your conversations will notably improve.
3. Batch Your Correspondence Time
When you have to participate in lots of email correspondence, both sending and receiving – avoid the constant interruption of one task for the sake of checking emails or crafting instant responses to emails. Chances are, very few of your emails are true emergencies. Instead, batch your email reading and writing into a sensible cadence that suits you and your work duties. For some this may mean handling emails once every hour; for others it may mean handling emails only 3 times a day. Whatever your cadence – your choice to batch will add a higher degree of focus to both your email activities and all the other activities you don’t abandon for the sake of an email.
4. Batch Social Media Time
Checking social media can be a fun distraction, a quick way to switch out of an unenjoyable task, an instant way to chat with a friend, a short-cut to entering alternate realities. Most of the time, it is simply a willful distraction from a task at hand. Avoid the constant and impulsive checking of your social media streams. If you play in social media, batch your social media time. Every time we visit a social media site, we fill our minds with random and unfiltered information. We disrupt the focus on whatever task we happen to be engaged with. We tire our brain with the constant switching between task and distraction, task and distraction. Batching our social media time is a no-brainer. Batch it consistently, and you will instantly notice a heightened focus for everything else you’re doing.
When you transition from one batch of activities to the next batch, give yourself a bit of rejuvenation time. 5 minutes will often do the trick. 5 minutes to help you shift gears. Not 5 minutes of distraction time – no, 5 minutes that calm, center, and help you to re-energize. 5 minutes of going for a walk. 5 minutes of having a healthy snack. 5 minutes of listening to music that energizes you. 5 minutes of doing nothing.
Sound easy? It’s not. In the midst of writing this simple article, the temptation to check my social media feeds and email messages, even on a Sunday morning, is relentless. The price of a distraction culture. You pay it, I pay it. Brutal.
Remember: High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)
Batching works. It’s straightforward. More importantly, it frees us the moment we commit to it.
Commit. And reap the rewards.
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