Do you ever try working on a project but find it hard to stay focused? Next thing you know, you’re taking frequent breaks to scroll through your social media. Do you start making progress on a task, only to be interrupted by phone calls or the ping of an email in your inbox?
These distractions are enemy number one when it comes to saving time and being productive. Not only do they chip away at your ability to focus, but they also hurt your efficiency, making projects take far longer than they should.
If you’re looking for a way to do more deep, focused work, time batching might be just the thing you need to skyrocket your productivity during the workday.
What is time batching?
Time batching, also known as the Pomodoro technique, is a productivity system that helps individuals focus on a group of similar tasks during a dedicated time period without interruptions. Batching time helps minimize distractions for more concentrated workflow and attention to detail.
Cal Newport, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University with a PhD from MIT, describes this as doing “deep work.” In his book by the same name, he breaks down why building periods of concentrated work in your daily schedule as a part of your time management practices is essential:
“Less mental clutter means more mental resources available for deep thinking. No one ever changed the world, created a new industry, or amassed a fortune due to their fast email response time.”
Why time batching works
“Batching tasks is one of the only ways I get anything done,” said Brendan Hufford, an SEO Consultant. “If I had to constantly switch between all of the seemingly infinite myriad of tasks that I work on throughout the week, I’d lose my mind. I recommend that my team batch their tasks at the same time that they time-block out their calendars.”
Time batching is effective because it builds structure and boundaries around blocks of time so that you can dive deep into specific tasks without interruptions that break up your workflow.
There are typically two types of tasks you can batch:
Shallow tasks: Require lower levels of productive energy, ideal for short work sprints
Deep tasks: Require high levels of productive energy, minimal distraction, high focus for longer periods of time
By time batching and blocking off set periods of time for these two types of tasks, you can achieve a state of flow, which is a mental state where you work efficiently and make meaningful progress toward a goal.
Statistics on time batching
Time batching is highly effective as a productivity system because it eliminates multitasking, which it turns out is not helpful when it comes to focused work–and statistics back this up.
- The New Yorker reported that 98% of the people focus best when facing a single type of task, instead of multiple tasks.
- John Media wrote in his book Brain Rules that switching between various tasks can make projects take up to 50% longer to complete. Instead, it’s best to focus on a single batch of similar tasks.
- Several studies show that it takes at least 15 minutes (or 23, on average) to refocus your attention on a task after a distraction or switch to a different task.
Should you use time batching?
Many people find it helpful and swear by the practice.
“We love blocking our calendars for time batching,” said Ronny Sage of ShoppingGives.com. “We actually run our marketing team on sprints similar to our dev team. This enables us to be agile in prioritization and to group similar tasks by focus, and it also helps drive transparency and autonomy for the whole team.”
“I tend to group a day’s tasks by level of dependency. This means, for example, working through emails first thing in the morning to ensure I’m not preventing anyone from completing their tasks for the day. I batch longer tasks — particularly those that require focused, long-term thinking — toward the end of the day, as that’s the point where emails, calls, and meetings have quieted down and everyone else has what they need from me. This allows me to work uninterrupted,” said Brady Donnelly, CMO at Cannuka.
Time batching might make sense for you if:
- You struggle to concentrate on a single task.
- You need to eliminate distractions to make meaningful progress.
- Your work environment is full of interruptions.
- You repeat similar tasks on a regular basis.
However, time batching might not be ideal if:
- Your work is highly variable and tasks are often very different from each other (this will make it hard to batch.)
- Your work doesn’t require deep focus or uninterrupted periods of work.
- You get back on task quickly after interruptions.
- You enjoy switching tasks to bring variety to your day.
Tips for time batching
By following some of the best practices around time batching, you can be sure you’re on the right path to maximum productivity.
- Group your tasks by function and/or objective, and then assign each to a set window of time. For example, 9:00-10:00 a.m. might be the window that you answer and send emails, but for the rest of the day, your email is off limits.
- Enter your batched tasks into a calendar or scheduling tool so you have a visual representation of how you’ll spend your time during the week, day by day. Be mindful of how you schedule things–if you frequently have meetings or calls on a certain day, you may structure things differently on those days.
- Set reminders or alerts that keep you on track with the set blocks of times you’ve established for task-related work. Over time, you might delete these reminders.
- Turn your devices to Do Not Disturb mode and close your open tabs to eliminate distractions. Close the door to your workspace or put on headphones to eliminate noise.
- Share plans. If you work in an office setting or with a team, it’s important that you share that you’re experimenting with time batching with others so they know you’re working to cut down on interruptions and distractions. If you’re going to close your door and/or put on headphones, be clear with others that this is a signal that you’re in the middle of deep work and the conversation will need to wait.
Time batching: make the most of your day
Meaningless distractions wreak havoc on your day. “One look at an email can rob you of 15 minutes of focus. One call on your phone, one tweet, one instant message can destroy your schedule, forcing you to move meetings or blow off important things,” says Siegfried Lenz
This is exactly why time batching is worth experimenting with. We could all use a little nudge to be more focused and less distracted during the day, and this approach has just the right amount of rigidity to help you stay on task. Give yourself a few weeks to experiment with the approach, and you might be pleasantly surprised.