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The Definitive Guide to “Batching” Your Work

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Batching of meals

This is a guest post by Ryan McRae. He is the creator of the blog the ADHD NERD, a blog dedicated to helping people be more productive, successful and happy, especially if they have ADHD. He is the author of Conquering the Calendar and Getting More Done, and it’s available for a free download today.


A new word is buzzing around the productivity world, and it’s called “batching.” At first, I thought it only dealt with cookies — making endless batches of chocolate chip cookies or snickerdoodles.

In fact, batching is getting a long list of the same task completed over one to two days.

There are a lot of things people batch:

  • Cooking for the week.
  • Writing blog posts.
  • Editing.
  • Grading papers.
  • Cleaning.

The reason this is successful is that the myth of multi-tasking has crushed our productivity for years. When we switch from one task to the other, our attention and willpower to complete the next task is diminished, especially if we are switching from something that isn’t completed.

Batching is the other extreme: we’re only doing one task until it’s completed, and everything related to it is also completed.

For example, people will take 3 to 4 days in solitude (coffee shops count as solitude only if you have headphones on), write their blog posts for the next four months, and queue them so they self-publish. Now that entire task is off their list for four months.

When I was a teacher, I would batch my grading. I wouldn’t touch it for the entire week and then every Saturday morning, my local coffee house would see me with my red pen and I wouldn’t get up out of that seat until all of my grading was recorded, in folders and done.

We have also seen people “batch” their week of food, simply cooking up a large pan of stir fry, throwing it into containers, and having lunch and dinner done for the week.

Why Does Batching Work?

Hard work ensures success

When we are batching our work, we don’t have to switch tasks or think about anything else; we are simply doing this one thing. Flow — that feeling of effortless work where time slips away and we are just doing —is much easier to attain.

When we are constantly switching tasks, writing a little bit here, paying a bill over there, our willpower expenditure is huge. We have to rev ourselves up for the next task, use another set of skills and then get that task done and start all over again.

But with batching we are in the zone. We hardly have to make any decisions because we have blocked that time for only that task. Only.

The Mise en Place of Batching

When you want to batch something you will need certain components for whatever task you are doing.

Time

You are going to need uninterrupted time to batch. You have to somehow block all distractions and other tasks if you are going to get stuff done. Hire a babysitter. Ask your neighbor to watch the dog. Use a vacation day or perhaps two vacation days. You will need a dedicated block of time to get this batching project done.

Consider the Environment

You may need to change where you are going to batch your work (unless it’s cooking—I suggest using your own kitchen). I have to suggest going somewhere your odds of meeting someone you know are slim. If you get work done in a coffeehouse, you will need to go to a new one, a bit out of town. If you don’t, you’re going to run into Bob, the guy who shares his witty political commentary, and then Maria is going to ask you about how to fix her password. And your day is done.

If you are doing some extreme batching, getting grad work done that you’ve put off (I’ve been there), working on a massive art or book project, or simply wanting to put a huge dent into Infinite Jest, I would suggest an Airbnb. Find somewhere a bit out of town and stay there. I recently completed a 3-day writing/reading retreat in Chattanooga, Tennessee after visiting Nashville. I paid the same that I would have for a hotel, but I got the entire house and it was minutes from downtown.

With my own space and wifi I was able to get a ton of work done, reading and writing in a very pleasant home environment.

Very Clear Goals

If you’re going to batch some work, you need a very clear outcome for constitutes a successful day. This isn’t a typical work day, this is a day of getting all of one thing done. Here are some examples of how you might look at “success” when it comes to different tasks:

  • Writing: 12 blog articles completed and ready to launch, an outline of a non-fiction book with 3,000 words completed, edit of a manuscript.
  • Cleaning: deep clean every inch of house including garage, 5 bags of clothes donated, 5 bags of trash filled.
  • Blog setup: New theme found and installed, all buttons functional, 3 blog posts set up, 100 subscribers.
  • Reading: 200 pages a day, 5 index cards filled with quotes, 3 Goodreads entries made.
  • Marketing: Reach out to 15 potential clients, land 3 gigs, and prepare to bill X amount of money.

You want to set a clear finish line of when your batching is complete, so you can check it off and move on to something else. I’ve batched writing emails for launching one of my books, reading a book I’ve always wanted to get around to, and cleaning my 1-bedroom apartment (as a bachelor, sometimes it can be a bit “fraternity-esque”). I’ve always felt grateful to see the finished product.

The Right Equipment for the Job

If I’m going to be working on my computer to complete my batch, I bring two computer chargers. Yep, two. Because undoubtedly something will go wrong with the first one. If I need a notebook, I’ll bring two, plus two pens and two of everything. I have a backup battery for my phone.

In the Art of War by Steven Pressfield, he talks about Resistance, and when you are batching your work, making a huge dent in your workload or starting a creative project, you need to guard against Resistance. Things will start to fail you never expected. Prepare for those disasters.

Keep It on the Down Low

If you announce to the world that you are batching some kind of project, some kind of monumental task you want off your shoulders, you are going to get the following responses:

  • You know what you should do. . . . (Insert totally irrelevant thing here.)
  • Can’t you just get up an hour early?
  • What about your family, dog, significant other? Won’t they feel neglected?
  • That’s a bit selfish.
  • You don’t have enough discipline to just do it? I get that stuff done all the time.

Don’t tell anyone you’re leaving except the people you live with. They clearly need to know. But if you can keep it a secret or just call it a “staycation,” you’ll get much less Resistance from other (sort of well meaning) people.

One Soundtrack to Rule Them All

Listening to music

Tim Ferris, deity of productivity, states that he listens to either one song or one album on repeat to get stuff done. When I’m writing, I listen to the Arrival soundtrack (it’s piped in my ears while I write this). In a Pavlovian move, I simply sit down to write and cue up the music. My brain knows, “Oh, it’s writing time. This is when we write.” I don’t listen to that soundtrack any other time; it’s sacrosanct to writing.

Pick some music to listen to. It needs to be something without lyrics, nothing new, and mellow. You want it to be able to shift into the background, kill any distractions and remind your brain—this is when we work, this is when we work, this is when we work.

Now if you’re cleaning, I might suggest something more upbeat that gets the blood pumping. If it’s a tedious task, like grading a major stack of 1st grade math homework, cue up a podcast.

The more rote the task, the more flexibility in your music. If something takes a lot of thinking, pondering and deciding, opt for the chillest music you can find (Spotify has some great music just for this occasion.)

Don’t worry about constantly switching the music, just play one thing. The goal here is to reduce all decision making.

Food. It’s What You Need

While in Chattanooga, I made a “rookie move” and for breakfast had biscuits, gravy and hash browns. It was a carb on carb breakfast. As I staggered to my Airbnb, I could my feel my pancreas and liver working overtime to process all of this food. The two cups of coffee I had could not compete with the loss of blood flow to my brain as my body processed this southern treat.

I had made a crucial mistake. My energy level for the next 5 hours was diminished. I was fighting against a food coma while trying to make my word count goal.

If you need continual focus while you are batching, I suggest sticking to fats and proteins. Maybe just vegetables and fruits—nothing that is going to sap your strength and endurance for this task. Beef jerky, almonds and Exo bars are my go-to for going the writing distance.

Say a Brief Goodbye

When I’m batching, I make sure that I have zero access to any social media. I delete apps like a tyrant. I make sure that I am completely unreachable, except for my significant other in case of emergency. My phone is on “do not disturb,” my social media is silent, my notifications are off and I’ve stepped out of the digital world to get this work done.

Use Your Breaks Wisely

Walk in breathtaking light of the autumn forest

If you need a mental break when you’re batching, make sure you change your environment. If you are constantly in front of a computer, and you take a break to check some websites or news, your brain does not realize you are on a break. You are simply doing something else in the same environment. Get up from your chair or from whatever you’re doing and go for a walk or take a hot shower, something that completely removes you from the task you’re drilling down on. Keep those breaks to 15 minutes at MOST. Set a timer if you need to.

Create More Limitations

When I’m batching, I set little mini-challenges that keep me motivated. These are completely extrinsic, but they do light a fire under me to keep me going. Here are some examples:

  • Finish writing 3 blog posts by [1:00] PM. I can’t eat lunch until it’s completed.
  • Edit 30 pages by [12:00] PM or do 50 air squats.
  • Listen to “Never Going to Give You Up” by Rick Astley until the entire 2nd floor of my house is clean.

This is dire, but it does help me refocus when the temptation of getting on Twitter is overwhelming.

Reward at the Finish Line

When you are done with your batching, when you wipe the sweat from your brow and check off the last bit, you need a reward.

  • A hardback copy of a book you’ve wanted.
  • That cooking gadget you’ve wanted to try.
  • Calling a friend and catching up because it’s been awhile.
  • A subscription to your favorite magazine or service.
  • Get a housekeeper for one month.

Whatever it is, you need to deeply acknowledge the work you’ve done and congratulate yourself. It’s no small feat what you pulled off.

In the immortal of words of Parks and Recreation: “Treat Yo Self.”

Plan Your Next Batching Day

Don’t wait until you need a batching day to have one. Put it on the calendar immediately. This way anything that falls under that category can just be set aside and added to that day’s work. Keep a constant list (for example, on Evernote), so your brain doesn’t keep reminding you of what needs to happen (but don’t overload the list so there’s no possible way of getting it done).

Keep these batch days on your calendar, and your productivity will skyrocket.


This is a guest post by Ryan McRae. He is the creator of the blog the ADHD NERD, a blog dedicated to helping people be more productive, successful and happy, especially if they have ADHD. He is the author of Conquering the Calendar and Getting More Done, and it’s available for a free download today.

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1 Comment

Posted by Bruce J  | March 2, 2017 at 7:52AM | Reply

Great article, lots more detail than most topics or blog posts. Always good to have more ideas on how to be more productive. Thanks AE and Ryan

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