How Batching Improves Your Personal ProductivityAUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
Batching has its origins in the computing world. These are programs that run large but similar batches of work in terms of their resource requirements. An initial setup is required, but once this is done, all tasks can be run sequentially without the need for user interaction.
When a company designs an email marketing campaign, the program that segments the people who should receive the campaign and then sends hundreds of thousands of emails to its recipients is an example of batching.
What does this have to do with your personal effectiveness? Behind batching lies a key concept in productivity issues. Most activities require a certain amount of preparation, physical or mental. Often, the cost of this start-up period is relatively high relative to the results obtained, and more or less fixed. This means that, once the start-up cost has been assumed, it costs about the same to do one thing as it does to do a hundred.
Preparing a paella for six people is not very different from preparing a paella for three people. They require practically the same time and effort, although the former will feed twice as many people.
Another example: Running a washing machine with three items consumes the same resources—time and energy—as running it with five kilos of laundry. If we want a cost-effective and time-efficient solution, we will wait until we have enough laundry to fill the washing machine drum.
Likewise, your personal productivity will increase if you group tasks that are similar or require the same resources, and do them one after the other. Let’s look at a case study:
Imagine you spend some time every day managing your expenses. To do this, you need to collect your day’s invoices, turn on your home computer, open the management program and access the option to enter new data. Let’s assume that this takes you about ten minutes. If recording each bill takes you one minute and you have an average of five expenses per day, you need five minutes more. In total, 15 minutes a day, 105 minutes a week.
What would happen if you did this once a week, instead of seven times a week? Well, you would need only 45 min. (10 for start-up and 35 to record the week’s expenses). One hour less. By grouping tasks that need the same preparation and doing them in the same “batch” you save the preparation time required for each one separately.
This approach will allow you to work much more effectively with the time consuming routine tasks such as reading emails, making phone calls, chatting, accessing social media, etc. You can save a lot of time if you group these activities in continuous periods of time.
By doing this you avoid interruptions, which are the great enemy of your productivity. There is a psychological cost of adaptation to resume work that has been interrupted. It’s estimated that regaining full concentration on your work after an interruption takes about 15 minutes on average.
In GTD (Getting Things Done), the batch processing technique is used at almost every stage of the workflow, in one form or another:
- In order to clarify and organize captures, a certain amount of concentration and the right state of mind is necessary. That’s why it’s recommended to clarify all things at once, as often as necessary. Clarifying things as they’re captured is a highly ineffective practice, as it becomes a source of interruptions.
- The Weekly Review is another clear example of batching, with specific fine-tuning in terms of materials and mental state needed. One day a week you set aside time to review and update all the lists in your system.
- Grouping the Next Actions by context has a similar background. The reason for doing together —one after the other—tasks that belong to the same context is to minimize preparation times, both physical and mental.