The Importance of Batching Tasks to Get More Done

The following post is from Jo-Lynne of Musings of a Housewife and DCR Design:

Batch of Cookies
source: cw3283

As a work-at-home mom, my life is a constant balancing act — dishes and laundry and errands and car pools and homework and blogging and designing are just some of the proverbial balls I have in the air at all times. I’m not a particularly scheduled person by nature, and I used to flit around from one thing to the next to the next, all day long. Before I knew it, I’d have started five or ten projects, with each at a different level of {in}completion.

Can’t you just hear Dr. Phil saying, So how’s that working for you?

It worked fine for a while, but the more commitments I’ve taken on, the more I’ve realized how inefficient this system is.

A much more efficient (and sane) approach to accomplishing my myriad of responsibilities is to practice batch processing.

What is Batch Processing?

I first read about batch processing from ProBlogger. Batch processing is basically collecting up a bunch of similar jobs and doing them all at once. Rather than doing a little bit of everything every day, you set aside concentrated times to work on specific jobs.

For me, that means that one day I may spend a big chunk of time blogging or writing freelance articles. And then the next day I may focus on design work. Another day I will dedicate to household chores.

It’s amazing how much time this frees up, because so much time is wasted starting and stopping each task. If I can bang out a whole group of articles in one morning, or bake my bread and granola for the week, or follow a design project through to completion, then I’m freed up to tend to the other random assortment of tasks that I may have on my to-do list.

There are still activities I do every day, like read and respond to emails, write on my personal blog, participate on twitter and facebook, cook dinner, etc. But even then, I try to focus on one task at a time, rather than tend to each item as it crops up.

How It Works

1. Make a list. I am not a list maker by nature, but it has become a necessity. I try to prioritize what needs to be done, and list my projects in that order. Then I prepare to tackle the first task on the list.

2. Turn off the noise. My biggest distraction, whether it be to computer work, housework, or relationships, is Facebook/Twitter/Skype. When I want to hunker down and focus on a task, I shut it all down. Don’t get me wrong — these are great tools, but sometimes too much of a good thing is, well, no longer a good thing.

3. Wrap up loose ends. We all think and focus better in an uncluttered space, and this goes for a cluttered to-do list too. So before tackling a big task, I go through my emails and make sure there is nothing that needs my immediate response, and I like to make sure the house is picked up and the kids (if they are home) are occupied. Then I can focus on the task at hand.

4. Gather everything you need in one place. If it’s a baking day, I make sure I’ve been to the store and have all necessary ingredients. If it’s a design day, I make sure I have all the info I need from my clients. If it’s a writing day, I make sure I have all the information I need for the posts I want to write. If it’s an errand day, I gather all my coupons, lists, returns, etc. and load them into the car. If it’s a household chores day . . . well, you get the drift!

5. Focus. Once everything is prepped, it’s time to dive in and get to work. If the task at hand is something I’m really having a hard time completing, I’ll set a goal and give myself some type of award. I often find that once I get going, I’m on a roll and nothing can stop me. Just ask my husband. When I’m in the zone, there’s no point in trying to talk to me.

There are still plenty of days that I flit around from task to task, but I’m most efficient when I set aside a portion of the day to dedicate to a specific task or set of tasks.

How do you get it all done? Do you use batch processing? What tips would you add to make this system more efficient?

Jo-Lynne Shane is a happily married mom to three lively school-aged children. When she’s not buried under piles of laundry or a kneading a mound of bread dough, she writes at Musings of a Housewife about faith, family, food and fashion, as well as blogging and design tips. As if that’s not enough, you can also find her beautifying the blogosphere at DCR Design.