Smarter Working

Batch Working 101

A new method of working is helping some professionals focus more and increase productivity. Can it work for you?

How many times have you ended a day and wondered exactly what you accomplished? The feeling is quite common, and usually because you spent most of your day multitasking, bouncing from one task to the next.

But contrary to every person who sings the praises of juggling five tasks at once, recent research has shown multitasking actually makes you less productive. One study from the University of London found this way of working can lower your IQ to that of an 8-year-old child. Another found that multitasking reduces productivity by 44%.

Batch working can eliminate that scatterbrained feeling and help you tackle dreaded tasks and projects that never get finished.

That’s why more professionals are latching on to a new way of getting things done: batch working—a method that promotes focus and productivity, allowing most tasks to get done in one to two hours. It can eliminate that scatterbrained feeling and help you tackle dreaded tasks and projects that never get finished.

Of course, trying this new way of working doesn’t work for everyone, particularly for professionals who have to react on a dime, like a Wall Street trader or a reporter. But for those seeking a way to streamline their to-do lists, here’s a primer on how to “batch.”

Group similar functions together.

One of the first tenets of batch working is to tackle the same task on repeat. This means you could, for example, block out Tuesdays to make all your sales calls and schedule all your meetings for Thursdays. The key is to “batch” it all so your mind is able to focus on one task instead of several. Doing this can make the work that requires deep thinking more doable, says North Carolina-based productivity expert Peggy Duncan, because you stay focused on one thing until you either finish it or get to a good stopping point. It also helps creativity flow, because you won’t be doing that same task again for, say, another day.

Set boundaries.

If you work in a field where other people put meetings on your calendar, it can be a bit tougher to apply the theory of batch working. Still, one way to set up your day is to block out your calendar at all times except when you’re willing to take meetings, so people only see that you’re available on Fridays, for example. Another option is to tell people, says Liz Sumner, a life coach and productivity expert. One of Sumner’s clients told her team that Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. was her brainstorm time, and that she wasn’t to be interrupted unless it was an emergency. The trick to this, Sumner says, was her client first believing she deserved the quiet time in order to uphold the boundaries.

Eliminate distractions.

For batch working to be truly effective, you must put unnecessary technology out of sight and out of mind. Put your phone in your desk or on airplane mode so you don’t have to depend on willpower to ignore it. Turn off email notifications on your desktop and, if need be, check email only at predetermined times throughout the day. Responding to emails as they come in—as tempting as it may be because it appears like we’re getting something done—is a recipe for distraction. Maura Thomas, a productivity expert in Austin, Texas, says you need to commit to focus and not expect that it will be easy. “It might take you 30 minutes to get focused, and if you don’t clear away all distractions, you have almost no chance of getting into flow state,” she says.

Be realistic about your focus time.

Energy peaks and ebbs throughout the day, and it often depends on how much you’ve slept, how hydrated you are, and if you ate a salad versus a carb-heavy bowl of pasta for lunch. “For most people, after 75 minutes, energy starts to lag and focus gets harder to maintain,” Thomas says. “That’s a good time to take a break, stretch, eat something, or meditate.” Another way to do this? Set a timer for 50 minutes and then take a break when it goes off—even if you don’t feel like you need one. This will give you stamina so you won’t burn out.

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