Batch Work and Experimentation

Liz Sumner Experiment, Productivity 1 Comment

A freelance writer emailed me yesterday. Here’s what she said and my response:

I found you through an Inc. article you were quoted in and reached out because I’m hoping you’ll contribute to my next article.

Here’s my topic: why you should try batch working, or why focusing on one thing for a sustained period of time is the best way to be productive. I reached out to you because you coach people on getting the most out of their careers, and I think you’ll have a unique perspective.

Thank you for your request. I like being asked for my opinion but I should clarify that I don’t really coach about careers anymore. I now work with women 50+ who want more joy, meaning, and connection in the next third of their lives.

But since you asked, and because I believe that feeling productive is good for anyone, I’ll attempt a response.

Should you try batch-working? I think the key word in your question is “try.” If your work lends itself to organizing tasks in batches by all means try it. The first person I saw demonstrate this was a receptionist managing the daily mail. She’d open all of the envelopes first and then sort what was inside. Her predecessor had opened everything one piece at a time– open, decision, action, over and over again. Way less efficient. Each transition point along the way can send you down a rabbit hole of distraction. The mail process had taken all day in the past. Now it was streamlined.

But this type of batching works best with multi-step projects over which you have control of all the actions.

If your work is more consultative you might design your workweek to have similar functions grouped together– client meetings on certain days, administrative tasks on others, content development at a time of day when you are at your most creative. That way you stay in one mode of thinking and don’t need to switch back and forth.

Researchers have proven that multi-tasking diminishes performance and focus is key. The issue is often how to carve out that uninterrupted time. When I coach clients, we examine their real-life schedules, determine the areas that aren’t working, and experiment with possible solutions.

One woman told her team that on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:00 to 3:00 pm she was not to be interrupted unless it was an emergency. That was her brainstorm time. It took awhile to work, mostly because she had to uphold the boundaries for herself and believe she deserved the quiet time.

Another client is experimenting with reclaiming the hours from 4:00pm to 6:00pm. It was an energetically dead time of day for her when her kids were home from school and she felt burdened with hausfrau duties. By planning meals in advance she no longer feels the oh-god-what-do-I-do desperation every day. The goal is to do the upfront work when she’s not in a time crunch with hungry children, then it’s just a matter of preparing what has been planned and purchased.

I definitely believe in experimentation. And I recommend addressing the areas of your life that aren’t flowing– the tasks you dread, the projects that never get finished. If you only tweak and optimize the aspects that are already working fine you won’t make much progress.

Comments 1

  1. Hi Liz,

    I loved your reply to the question about batching or sustained action, and the way you parsed each option. As a teacher, my day often starts with a crammed to do list, even when things are prepped ahead. This is largely due to the fact that I don’t recycle curricula quarter after quarter. I would get stale and the class would suffer.
    What happens in class is partially driven by objectives and SWBATs, but each quarter’s class groups arrive with different skill sets and personalities and they demand a focus on new, targeted, or distinct materials vis a vis the previous or “normal” quarter.

    My response to this reality is to use homework and assignment results, which I generally grade each weekend, to inform the next weeks direction and lesson topics. What works for me is getting to work two hours early, graded work in hand, and a “commute plan” forming. The twenty minute drive is a great time to cogitate.

    At school, I pull out the folder for each class, consider the learning goals, gather the necessary materials, videos, and handouts, and then make copies. All that goes in the folder that I take to class.

    So, as you observed, the task is broken down into elements that allow for individual focus.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *