What’s the first thing you do in the morning? Open your emails, right? You take each email one by one, opening each, completing the task that it invites, and responding to it. You cycle through this process for the next hour and a half maybe, intermittently picking up the phone, hanging up, and asking yourself that famous question that signals a distraction: ‘ah, where was I?’.
Each of these interruptions and switches of task causes a lapse of focus. It has been reported that interruptions can take as much as twenty-five minutes to recover from! That’s why I wanted to write about Task-Batching as a useful ‘structural element’ to implement in your organisation to enhance your time management.
Batching tasks together
We all know our fair share of productivity hacks, those elaborate theories or time management techniques about how best to maximise your efficiency. But this one is slightly different – and its power comes from its disarming simplicity.
Really, the idea boils down to one notion: that you can focus better – and get things done quicker – by doing similar tasks at the same time. I am a fan of FOCUS – Follow One Course Until Successful. So rather than flicking from email to phone call to meeting to spreadsheet, keep all the different types of task together.
This prevents you from expending your effort switching gear, in moving from one type of task to the next – those movements which impede your focus and get you stuck in those twenty-five unproductive minutes of lost focus and procrastination.
Changing the way you think about your work
The reality of work is that you probably don’t just have the one project on the go. You won’t have a simple straight line of a step by step process you need to follow. Rather, as David Allen observed in our blog on Getting Things Done, we all have roughly thirty projects that we are juggling at any one time.
And all of these different projects involve very similar tasks: planning; coordination with your colleagues, staff, and partners; writing blogs or reports maybe. And all these different types of task require a particular way of thinking, a particular action different from each other.
How to task-batch
The technique of task-batching suggests that you divide your day by the different types of task that you need to complete – and strive to complete them in the time you’ve allotted.
Phone calls & Messages
Put all of your work phone calls and messages into an hour-long slot. Throughout the day, write down who you need to call and work through the list at a point during the day. You can cut the idle chat and keep your efficiency high.
Then, create ‘protected-time’ where you have your phone on airplane mode and can execute on other tasks with focus. Same with messages, make sure you know the expected response times to messages. Maybe prepare to check these just on the hour. That way you have an hour of undisrupted time between checks.
Make sure your team know this policy and your expected response times for each method of communication.
What did we do before email?! This can swallow an enormous amount of time. Rather than endlessly refreshing or diving into your email client whenever it shows a notification, set aside a bit of time everyday dedicated to getting through all of your emails.
In an office environment, firstly turn off your notifications (you know the ones that pop up in the bottom right). Your focus will be improved ten times over just by doing this! Another good idea is to set an hour or so in the morning, half an hour at lunchtime, and an hour at the end of the day – just dedicated to emails.
At all other times, have your email closed. Book these time-slots in your diary as a recurring entry. You can even set auto-responses to notify people of this schedule – so they don’t pester you for a response outside of these times.
Now, emails on your phone. Hmmm… I have heard many conversations about this: some productivity people say yes, others say no.
Personally, I do have my emails on my phone, but I suggest turning notifications off, so that your email only loads when you open the app, rather than them pinging in all day and distracting you.
I also bury my mail app on my phone, so it isn’t on my main page. I have quite a relaxed schedule and I am away from my desk quite a bit: it’s good to have it with me should I need to check something.
Task-batching for big projects
If there is a big task that you need to complete, the principle of task-batching suggests that you should do a large part – if not all – of it at once. Think through the project, split it into chunks that can be completed in two-hour slots and schedule these in your diary, blocking the time and outlining the part of the task to be completed in each slot.
Remember, turn off your phone, your email, your social media feeds. With dedicated time comes focus.
Honestly, you can time-batch with almost every task you can think of. You could buy all your groceries once a week to prevent the endless back and forth from the shops. You could, as people are doing more and more, make lots of meals at once and freeze them – to free up the rest of your evenings.
So, what does this have to do with ‘structure’ in your business?
A major structural element in your business is how you communicate with each other and interact during your day. As the business owner, you dictate the rules and policies around this: the expected response times, habits, practices, methods of communication, and if your staff can have ‘protected time’ where they are not interrupted, etc.
This is all down to you both implementing and enforcing these initiatives. Have you reviewed these practices? Have you consulted with your staff about the best ways they work? How quickly is someone expected to respond to an email or message? How do you use email in your organisation?
These are all questions to ask, to begin the conversation around more effective working practices and greater efficiency in your business. It won’t be easy in the beginning, but do persevere. As with all things, the long-term advantages will be worth the initial pain!
Give it a try this week!