Time batching: a guide to using your time effectively
It is all too common, and more so when working from home. It’s not unusual to have 10+ tabs open at any one time. And that’s not to mention the ambient noise emanating from your cohabitants or neighborhood.
Perhaps the biggest issue is finding ways to work smarter and use your time effectively. Not many of us are blessed with time management skills. So bouncing from one tab to the next and losing sight of the task at hand can feel like second nature.
Context shifting constantly detracts from our ability to focus on one task and significantly slows our productivity.
Time batching — the art of grouping similar tasks together and working on them for an allocated period — could well be the solution to this common productivity hindrance.
What is time batching?
Time batching is a popular time management technique in which you group tasks, such as email, to avoid the productivity loss associated with context and task switching.
The technique relies on two core pillars:
First, you’ll determine which tasks can be grouped together.
Usually, you would do this by considering what type of tasks they are. The tasks must be similar in context to help you stay in the flow for the duration you work.
If you try to group sending emails with writing reports, while the skill required (writing) is the same, the former is a shallow task, whereas you need much more focus for the latter. As such, this wouldn’t be an effective way to batch tasks.
A better option would be to batch all of your emails for one time block and save report writing for another.
2- Allocating time
The other core pillar of time batching is how you allocate your time to complete each batch of tasks.
For example, you may block out the first hour of your morning, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., to take care of email and communication-related tasks.
It’s important to base the time allocation on the amount of time you can stay focused. While shallow tasks like sending emails won’t sap your focus too much, a task like editing an article will require more concentration. As such, you might be better served to allocate 30 or 45 minutes at a time to more energy-intensive tasks.
Will time batching work for you?
This time management technique is ideal for anyone who struggles to stay focused during the work day.
Time batching works particularly well when you’re constantly bombarded with both physical and digital distractions that prevent you from getting things done.
It puts control of how you spend your time back into your hands, so you leave less space for distractions by being more intentional with your time.
If you have a lot of trivial tasks on your plate, time batching can help you get through them much faster.
Say you’re a freelance writer, and you find that administrative tasks such as client onboarding and communication are bogging you down and preventing you from writing. This is a case in which time blocking can be useful since the writer can split up their workday to make sure the admin tasks don’t interfere with writing time.
Finally, time batching is a great fit for remote workers who have to get used to a new work environment and establish a productive routine.
When you first start working remotely and have full or partial autonomy over how you spend your time, it can feel quite liberating. Before long, though, you’ll want to come up with a system to manage your time as distractions can steer you off course and hinder your productivity.
Time batching allows you to plan for the day ahead so you can calculate exactly how much time you’ll spend on each project, which can also be useful information for your team leader or coworkers.
How to time batch effectively
Time batching can be a very effective time management tool if you know how to use it. Here are some tips on overhauling your productivity with time batching:
Use the right tools
Productivity tools are aids that can make it much easier for you to start using the time batching technique and stick with it over time.
Block out digital distractions
Stack, for example, can help you block out digital distractions and allow you to focus on your batched tasks without falling prey to procrastination. If you want to all but guarantee that every time block in your schedule equates to a period of positive productivity, blocking out online distractions is an excellent strategy.
Sync with your calendar
While you can easily sketch out a series of color-coded time blocks in your physical agenda, you won’t benefit from live feedback and reminders. When you sync your time blocks up with your digital calendar, you can see what’s coming up at a glance and set reminders when due dates are approaching.
Time batching works best when you can bring up your schedule wherever you are on your mobile device, so even when you’re working away from home, you can check in on what you should be doing.
Use to-do lists
A to-do list app will help you organize all your tasks according to priority levels.
With an app like Todoist, you can sort all your tasks with labels and have those labels correspond to your time blocks. For example, if you want to set up a block of time for admin tasks as a freelancer, you can list out all action items such as ‘send emails’ and ‘create invoices’ in your to-do list app with the label ‘admin tasks.’
When you set up to-do lists with action items, you’ll never go into a block of time confused as to what you should be working on.
Integrate the Pomodoro method
Not everyone can work flat out for an hour or two. In fact, for most people, short bursts of intense activity are most conducive to productivity.
The Pomodoro method helps you break down your time blocks into bite-size chunks, making it a series of short sprints rather than a marathon slog. This is one of the best ways to minimize the risk of burning out as you work through your time blocks.
The best types of tasks for the Pomodoro method are those that require deep thought and concentration.
For some, rifling through low cognitive load tasks such as emails won’t take much energy, so working on them for an hour isn’t likely to lead to mental exhaustion.
For complex tasks, however, that require active focus and a combination of skills, the Pomodoro method can help you approach them with enthusiasm and use short bursts to finish them quicker without risking mental fatigue.
Stick to similar tasks
While it might logically make sense to put writing and editing as a group, in reality, this is a bad pairing since these are unique skills that require different approaches.
Not all tasks are equal; some require deep focus while others are more trivial. With this in mind, try not to mix complex tasks with simple tasks.
The worst way to implement time batching into your work week is to try and group unrelated activities together based on importance or urgency.
Use the Eisenhower matrix
The Eisenhower Matrix is a framework to help you prioritize your tasks basis urgency and importance and categorize them in a 2x2 grid. This approach of prioritizing tasks can be useful, but you can’t use these criteria for time blocking.
However, you can mix time batching with the Eisenhower matrix.
Say you’ve carried out an Eisenhower matrix analysis of your workload and identified producing a blog post as an urgent task and publishing that post as important but not urgent. With this information, you can plan your week with time blocks that first cater to urgency, followed by importance.
Maybe on Monday, you set aside a one-time block for writing a draft, and on Tuesday, you assign more time to edit and optimize the draft. That way, by Wednesday, you can focus on uploading the task, and at no point do you need to mix different types of tasks.
Try themed weeks
Some people will also use themed work days to make the most of their time. For instance, if you’re a freelancer, you can dedicate Tuesdays to client outreach.
From there, you can further divide up your time based on that theme. So in the morning, you can block out time for sending cold emails or browsing job boards, and in the afternoon, you can have a time block for client liaison and onboarding.
If by the end of the day, you’re tired of seeing several unfinished tasks on your Kanban board, it’s time for a change. Time batching organizes your time so that you can focus on similar tasks rather than switching contexts constantly and losing focus.
Used in tandem with Stack — which can help you drown out digital distractions — time batching can be an excellent way to take back control of your time.
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