Maximize concentration & reduce distraction by organizing your workday
Do you feel like you lose focus as soon as you finish checking those morning emails? It’s easy to have a long list of small tasks to complete, finish one of them, then feel like you’ve earned the right to scroll through social media for an hour.
We all know this approach gets us nowhere- while taking a break between each and every task may feel like a reward at the time, it’s a habit that can actually significantly lengthen your overall work day. So what’s the solution?
Enter task batching.
What is task batching?
“Batching” is a term used to describe the ability of computers to run multiple jobs scheduled at times that make the most sense. In human productivity terms, this means grouping similar tasks that require similar resources and doing each batch within a set time period.
Here’s how Mary Clare Novak from Go Skills describes it:
“Time batching is a time management technique that includes grouping similar tasks together and setting aside a time to complete them all or work on them until a predetermined point of progress. The purpose of time batching is to minimize distractions for a workflow that enables concentration, attention to detail, and productivity.”
By reducing precious time, energy, and attention spent remembering, preparing for, and completing similar projects, task batching is a productivity technique that maximizes concentration and reduces distractions, while helping you keep on top of that bottomless to-do list.
What batching can help with
The cost of switching mental lanes as you try to focus (even if it’s only a split-second distraction) can lead to a reduction of up to 40% of your total productive time, as well as contribute to mental health issues.
As you tackle similar tasks one at a time within a certain timeframe, you actually reduce the total “attention residue” your mind has to deal with because of the similar mental and/or physical requirements each task demands of you.
Sending an email to a client and then switching lanes to type up notes from a meeting with the same client creates less mental strain than sending that same email and working on an unrelated research project right after.
Organizing your workspace and getting prepared for each work session gets easier with task batching. By nature, similar tasks require similar resources. Instead of needing to have everything you use for work around you at all times (because you never know what you’ll have to do next), you’ll simply need a handful of items at a time to get through a specific bunch of tasks. As a bonus, you’ve also reduced the total time needed to complete each bunch of tasks, compared to how much time and effort you’d need to complete those same tasks at different times and in different places.
Batch working decreases your chances of burnout at work. According to this study, an environment filled with constant interruptions increases stress and frustration; context switching encourages high levels of cortisol in your brain, which can lead to mental exhaustion and burnout. By limiting context switching and removing the distraction of irrelevant work, task batching through your workday helps keep the symptoms of burnout—exhaustion, inefficacy, and cynicism—at bay.
Task batching also helps you save time in three major ways:
- It prevents multitasking by grouping tasks together that must be done at a certain time while reducing the urge to work on something else that looks more fun but is probably totally different and irrelevant to what you’re currently working on.
- By dedicating a certain period of time to doing a certain type of work, you limit distractions and the need to refocus over and over, helping you focus better.
- With the given parameters of tasks and time allotted, you’re motivated to get everything done on time, reducing the urge to procrastinate and taking away much of the inertia of each new task (where you’d have to psych yourself up to begin and complete the next task).
Time batching examples
Here’s a snapshot of what task batching looks like in real life:
Say you’re a freelance content creator. On any given day, you’d probably have to write several emails, make several client calls, research a topic in-depth, and write an article (or edit a video).
The instinctive mode of operation for us is to tackle them in a haphazard order, jumping from an email to a client call to scrolling through search results for research, depending on the urgency of the task. But this approach leads to loss of focus, increased stress, and lowered productivity due to constant (and unnecessary) context-switching results.
Batch working provides a simple solution: why not focus on getting the article draft first before touching the other tasks; writing emails for an hour before lunch; booking all your client calls in the afternoon; and then (maybe after taking a quick break) going through your research in the evening all in one go?
Notice how much more organized and productive the flow of the workday becomes? Time—and focus—is saved and increased when you help yourself focus and do great work by simply batching tasks together.
Task batching vs. time blocking
As you’re reading this, task batching might sound a lot like time blocking, where you set time periods to focus on certain tasks. While similar, these two techniques have one key difference:
- Task batching is grouping similar tasks (or tasks related to the same project) into designated time periods.
- Time blocking (also known as “time batching”, which adds to the confusion) refers to scheduling your work into specific time blocks throughout the day.
Scheduling thirty minutes on email writing is time blocking; putting aside an hour to send invoices, pay your bills, and balance your checkbook is task batching.
Combining these two techniques takes your productivity one step further.
How to task batch
If this is your first time batching tasks, you might be scratching your head over how to find the right project buckets to separate your tasks into batches.
It’s really not that complicated, but it does take a bit of thinking and experimentation to see what kinds of task categorization works for you.
Here’s our take on how to approach task batching:
1. Track your work for a week to get a sense of what kinds of tasks you’re really doing on a regular basis. Admin work might fall into one bucket; research into another; networking may also be one on your list.
2. Set aside blocks of time on your calendar for each of those different categories. You might block out a whole day for meetings when you’re open for people to book calls with you. The morning of each day might be dedicated to research; and so on.
3. When you’re in a time slot with a dedicated project category to work in, focus on completing tasks within that bucket until the time is up. When a particular task is finished, don’t hop into the next shiny project; if the timer hasn’t gone off yet, make sure that you’ve emptied the current project bucket before doing projects from another bucket.
4. If irrelevant to-dos and ideas come to mind during these set times, jot them down on a notepad and get back on track.
As time goes on, evaluate your process. How long can you actually stay focused, and is there a sweet spot for the number of tasks you do within that time frame? Are there certain times of day that work best with certain types of tasks (for example, mentally demanding research and writing in the morning, lighter admin work in the afternoon)?
Content creator Madison Hunter likes to do “day batching” where entire days are focused on different project buckets. As a freelance writer, I find half-day or hourly batching makes more sense for my work schedule.
There’s no right or wrong approach to this time management technique; each batching schedule will look different for each person (or even for the same person every week), so try it out for yourself!
Tips for getting started
Set clear goals for each session
Having set due dates and holding yourself accountable to the tasks and time periods you’ve set up is crucial to a stable and successful task batching practice. Loose time perimeters invite procrastination and lack of focus, driving down your productivity.
Create as many mini-challenges and limitations (such as “Edit 25 pages by noon or do 50 air squats”) as you might need to motivate yourself through this set time. Batching takes away the power of distractions and excuses as long as you stay within the time and project-type limitations you’ve set for each session.
Optimizing your environment
Before you begin each batch working session, prepare your environment for the work ahead. This means limiting distractions both around us and online; making sure we have the tools and resources we need to complete the tasks at hand and having a clear order of which tasks to do first, and how we’re to approach them.
Organizing your tasks
How do you which tasks to put together, in which order to prioritize them, and when to best crush a particular set of tasks?
There are two organizational approaches we’ve found helpful: the deep/shallow categorization and the Eisenhower Matrix.
Tasks can often be split into two large categories: shallow ones that are quick and easy to complete and don’t demand much energy or focus, and deeper tasks that take more time and energy.
Mixing the two together in the same work session can spell disaster for your focus and productivity—as anyone who has ever responded to a quick email in the middle of writing an article can attest to.
Know which tasks fall into which category, and group them accordingly. Scheduling a deep work session during your peak focus time each day (and minimizing distractions for that period) is an effective strategy for managing those deep tasks; less intense tasks may be scheduled during more relaxed times of the day.
This mindful approach to task categorization can be further enhanced by the Eisenhower Matrix.
With the Eisenhower Matrix, each task is placed into one of the following categories:
- Urgent and important
- Important and not urgent
- Urgent and not important
- Not urgent and not important
Each of these categories has only one action assigned to them:
- For important things you need to get done soon, the action is “do it” (right now, if possible).
- For things that are meaningful but don’t come with deadlines, schedule them for later.
- Urgent but not important things, also known as “busy work” that don’t require your specific skills, should be delegated to someone or something else.
- And the non-urgent, unimportant things? Delete them.
Once every task has been placed into one of the four boxes, you’ll have a clear picture of what to do with each of your tasks and a better idea of why you do them in the first place.
Tools to consider
The power of task batching is multiplied when paired with the Pomodoro Technique. Setting a non-negotiable timer for each batch working session can help you stay on track with those tasks. And don’t forget the mandatory break between each Pomo that keeps you feeling refreshed and productive for the next session!
Website or app blockers like Freedom keep digital distractions at bay as you go through a task batch of work email and admin work. Or, if you’re in your writing bucket, consider blocking social media, Slack, and email.
Music tools such as Focus Music guides your brain into a less distracted mode (closer to a “flow state”) as you work through task after task. When your set work period is over, a soft chime indicates that it’s time for your break.
Making the most of your time with task batching
If you’re always trying to remember each small task on your list or struggling to dig up the motivation to start working on that next part of a big project, task batching can help you make the most of your time and do great work by organizing similar tasks into manageable chunks of time, systematically guiding you through each mindfully productive workday.
Mix and match your work tasks until you find project buckets that work for you, then incorporate time-blocking techniques like Pomodoro to bring your batching game to the next level.