Confession: I used to suck at productivity.
I put on a very organized persona, but my long, color-coded to-do lists had no rhyme or reason to them. I’d write down everything I had to do, wake up, smash through as many things as I could, and repeat the next day.
I might have called myself a “planner” and had the pretty agenda to match, but I didn’t really know what it meant to “plan” a productive life.
It took years of learning about productivity and trying out different techniques to understand that you can’t have productivity without efficiency. How much you get done doesn’t matter – it’s all about what you get done and how efficiently.
So, today I’m going to share the one system that’s helped me achieve more efficiency and become a productivity machine – task-batching.
HOW TO USE TASK BATCHING FOR MAXIMUM PRODUCTIVITY
WHAT IS TASK BATCHING?
Even though task batching has been picking up a lot of steam lately, it’s still not super well-known in the productivity world. So don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it – you’ll be an expert in no time!
To start, task batching simply means – grouping similar tasks together in order to get them done more efficiently.
Similar how, exactly? I like to use these two criteria:
- Mental mode – In other words, the state of mind that you’re in. When you group tasks of a similar mental mode together, you can enter a state of flow and get through them faster. For example: Don’t task batch writing a blog newsletter with editing a YouTube video (even though they’re both blog-related). Instead, task batch writing a blog post with writing an article for the school newspaper. The common thread? Writing.
- Location/resources – Consider where you need to be and what you need to do to complete the task. For example, completing your math worksheet and your biology homework might require the same mental mode for you. Check. However, if you need a library computer for the biology assignment and you can only focus on your math homework when you’re alone, that task batch simply won’t work.
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So how is task batching helpful?
Why not do things in a random order? After all, variety is the spice of life, right? Well, I hope you’re making flashcards, because I have another vocab term for you – task switching. “Task switching” is simply moving from one task to another. How you handle it can make or break your productivity.
According to psychological research, you can lose up to 40% of your productivity when you switch between tasks that are unrelated, and 40% is no small price to pay when it comes to your precious time!
Task batching works because the more similar your tasks are, the easier it is for your brain to make the transition from one task to the next. Let’s say you decide to spend a day getting all of your writing work done.
Moving from one article to another will take less time (and brain power) to refocus than if you hopped around between writing, editing a podcast, and answering e-mails all day.
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GETTING STARTED WITH TASK BATCHING
So now that you’re all hyped about task batching, you’re probably saying, “Sign me up! How can I apply task batching to my own life?”
If you’re at square one and task batching is totally new to you, I would recommend taking a couple of days (ideally, a week) to simply observe your life and write out every single task that you do. Don’t limit yourself to what you do for work, because as you’ll see in just a few minutes, there are countless ways to apply task batching outside of work.
Some examples of tasks you might write down: washing dishes, responding to texts from friends, taking blog photos, editing YouTube videos, English homework, volunteering, riding the train, etc. You get the idea! Everything.
Once you’ve basically got your entire life down on this piece of paper, you can use the criteria that I mentioned above to sort these tasks into categories. Taking Instagram photos, getting a new headshot for your resume, and shooting a blog post? Photography. All of those emails you have to send or reply to? Email communications. Drafting newsletters, articles, and blog posts? Writing. Check, check, and check!
It might be hard to make these distinctions in the beginning, so don’t be afraid to experiment. You can always re-organize your batches later on based on what you observe!
Then the next step is to schedule the categories as windows of time in your planner. You can theme every day of the week for each category (ex: monday = writing, tuesday = photography, wednesday = errands, etc.) or you can segment each day into different time blocks (9 to 10 a.m. is for social media, 11 to noon is for writing, etc.).
Keep in mind that some parts of your life might not fit neatly into a task batch. Some might not even require task batching! For example, I wouldn’t recommend you task batch brushing your teeth to one hour every Monday morning, or spending time with your family to one day per week. Task batch whatever makes sense!
How To Start Task-Batching Right Now
- Pull out your to-do list
- Group similar tasks together using the two criteria described above and assign them a category.
- Theme every day of the week based on each category OR split each day into different time segments (this is the technique that works best for me!)
Here’s an example:
HOW YOU CAN APPLY TASK BATCHING FOR DIFFERENT ASPECTS OF YOUR LIFE
As I mentioned before, task batching is incredibly versatile and you shouldn’t box yourself in by only applying it to your work (although there are plenty of work-related applications!). Here are some ways you might implement batching to get everything done more efficiently.
You can use the brainstorming technique I discussed above to write out your job responsibilities and figure out categories that make sense to you. Then, use a digital tool like Google Calendar, Asana or a paper planner to block out how you’ll spend your workweek.
If you want any of your task batching to be successful, you’ll need to fight your biggest obstacle with, you guessed it, more task batching! The big obstacle? Your inbox.
Checking emails and responding to them is a mega-distraction. It might take three minutes to respond to message but it’ll take you much longer than that to re-focus, especially if the subject matter was something upsetting or concerning.
Instead of reacting to emails as they arrive, schedule certain times of the day to process a bunch of e-mails at once and let people know what phone number you can be reached at if you’re needed urgently (like, really urgently).
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I know, I know, school is basically a job, but there are some specific ways that task batching can help out students.
You can tackle that mountain of homework strategically by doing all of your textbook reading for various classes in one evening, or by writing two essay rough drafts back-to-back.
An example from my own life – I had to write a journal response to a weekly quote for my gym class, and since all of the quotes were already decided, I wrote all of my responses for the rest of the semester in one hour and didn’t have to worry about them after that!
Task batching for school goes beyond just homework, however, as most students are also involved in a whole variety of student organizations. Think about what responsibilities those entail and how you can do them more efficiently.
For example, serving in leadership roles for various clubs means that I need to remember to send regular reminders throughout the week. Instead of letting these quick messages interrupt my day, I have a list of what reminders I need to send and get them all done in one go.
Chores are a real pain, but you can task batch the pain away!
Instead of absentmindedly walking over to the sink multiple times per day to wash some dishes, get them all washed at the end of the day. Instead of doing laundry sporadically, schedule a day to get a couple of loads of laundry done. How about that junk mail that comes in every day? Sort through it at the end of each week instead of processing it every day.
Another home application of task batching that’s so popular you might have seen it all over Instagram before you even knew what task batching was is meal-prepping. Set aside a long block of time to prepare a bunch of meals for the week, or to prep some of the ingredients ahead of time.
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Personal life (fun!)
I know what you’re thinking. Task batching… fun?
Hear me out, though. If you apply the task batching philosophy to how you spend your free time, you’ll realize that it doesn’t makes sense to spend little pockets of time playing games on your phone when you could save up all of that time and go on a much more gratifying day trip with friends instead.
Now, as with anything, the task batching technique can be taken to the extreme and I would like to clarify that regular breaks are still important. So don’t scrap your 5-minute breaks in favor of a 10-hour stretch of work time with a 2-hour break at the end – that’s just not sustainable!
You’ll have to experiment and figure out what works best for you. If you find that your work goes more smoothly and you are finishing things faster with the task batching processes you’ve set up for yourself, then fantastic!
If this isn’t working, I would recommend rearranging how you’ve categorized and scheduled your batches and trying again. There aren’t really hard and fast rules for task batching, so you have to find what best matches your lifestyle.
However, the effort you’ll put into setting up these systems will be 100% worth it. Task batching will save you hours of time in all areas of your life, and the more you practice it, the better you’ll get at thinking critically about how you spend your time. The end result? More productivity. And we could all use a little more productivity in our lives.
And, don’t forget to sign up for my free 7-day productivity course that’ll help you take control of your life and live a life you love!