Batch tasks, create a state of flow

Batch Tasks To Create Flow

When one year passes to the next, there are invariably about 19,287 articles about how exactly to make the next year more productive than the past one. Here’s what probably actually happens: you go back to work tomorrow or the next day, you have a mountain of e-mail to sift through, meetings begin to pile up, and after about two weeks, BLESSED BE THY LORD, here comes a long weekend (MLK). By that point, you’re back in the old work habit formation. People very rarely pay direct attention to these kinds of productivity articles — if they did, those articles wouldn’t need to be written every year — which is one reason I think business journalism, conceptually, may have no value.

But here’s an interesting, mostly easy, idea you could enact in 2015.

This is about “batching tasks,” which essentially means doing the same things in chunks. You can read a bit about it here, and I wrote a little bit about it here once too.

The basic idea is this: the human brain isn’t great at switching between activities/concepts. It can distract you, and it can be hard to get into the flow of the latter/second activity. This is one reason e-mail is so bad — checking e-mail, and assuming it’s all very important, basically constantly forces you to switch out of your previous activity. It’s hard to get a flow going then.

When you talk about “batching activities,” then, it’s a little bit similar to the idea of each day at work having a theme. On Tuesdays, for example, you might only interview potential new hires — that’s all you’re doing on Tuesday. This seems absurd in the sense that, well, other things might come up on Tuesday that need attention.

But if you batch (group) activities together and increase the flow of what you’re doing (create a zone), you can basically quintuple your productivity.

I had this old co-worker and I posted another article of mine, about the idea of using mise-en-place at work, on Facebook. One of her comments was that she wanted to try this out, but it’s hard to do “mise-en-place” (the idea of preparing everything in its right place, which cooks are taught to do) at work, because you can prepare a day and then that day can totally go to shit with new priorities and deliverables.

That is accurate. That does happen. Probably often.

But at the baseline, that’s also an excuse — that’s a way of saying, “Well, here’s a new idea. I can’t try that idea because I figure this other thing will come up and stop it.”

Insert a bunch of bullshit here about what if Henry Ford had stopped trying, what if the Wright Brothers had stopped trying, etc, etc.

That stuff can make me groan, but think about it like this:

  • This is a new year.
  • You have a new slate in some respects.
  • You can try new things out and see if they work.
  • So …
  • Start batching tasks and creating more flow for yourself.
  • See if it works.
  • If it doesn’t after a while, stop and do something different.
  • (You can test if it works via personal analytic projects, if you’d like.)

Remember: work is, at essence, a series of designed tasks hopefully towards some type of end goal. It can be frustrating and political, but it’s by no means rocket science. So when people come along and say “Hey, research and experience indicates that maybe this could be effective,” give it a shot.

Ted Bauer

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