Do you ever feel overwhelmed by your to-do list? Ever have trouble knowing where to start? Do you feel like you spend your time flitting from one activity to the next just trying to get everything done and keep all those plates spinning? I feel you. Being a freelancer is tough work and the balancing act of working on many projects at once is no joke. The solution? Batching.
Described in the book, Getting Things Done, batching is a process of grouping like tasks together and doing them at the same time (source). Batching is great for emails, phone calls, social media, errands, paying bills, planning, cooking, cleaning, and much more.
Think about it: If you need to run to the Post Office, deposit a few checks at the bank, and pick up something quick at the grocery store, would you make three separate trips during the day, or try to run all three errands while you're out? If possible, it probably makes sense to try to get all your errands done in one trip. Similarly, if you're cooking dinner, would you start sautéing, then file a few loose receipts, then go check the mail? I hope not! When you're cooking, you chop, sauté, stir, serve, and eat, without stopping in the middle to change gears and do something else.
Want to know a few secrets? Here's why batching is the way to go:
Secret #1: Batching helps you be more productive.
By grouping similar tasks together and blocking your time, you give yourself a small window of time to accomplish a small set of tasks (e.g. schedule bill payments for next month, file receipts, update spreadsheets). Keep it simple. You don't have to tackle your entire to-do list at once. And - bonus - you won't be crippled by indecisiveness and not knowing where to start. Once you're done with one set of tasks, take a short break and move on to the next set!
Secret #2: Batching helps you manage multiple projects more successfully.
It's easy to feel overwhelmed when you have multiple projects on your plate. Instead of simply "keeping up" with everything that needs to be done, flitting from one thing to another, batching lets you plan ahead, prepare for what's coming, and focus on the things that need your time and attention at that moment. You'll feel more in control of your projects instead of feeling like they control you!
Secret #3: Batching helps you stay focused.
In our fast-paced world, it's really hard to stay focused for any length of time (read more about that here). We are expert multi-taskers (or, at least we'd like to think so), but this affects our productivity in a big way. In fact, "Every time we become distracted, it takes an average of 15 minutes to regain complete focus, and that adds up over time" (source). By grouping like tasks together and eliminating distractions, you can do more focused work without losing the time and energy it takes to switch gears and refocus.
Secret #4: Batching saves you time.
Switching from task to task throughout the day takes a lot of time and mental energy. We waste time by checking email several times an hour, scrolling through social media just to see what's new, or opening up a new browser every time we think of something we need to do. "The time it takes for you to shift gears — whether it’s opening your inbox or running to a coffee meeting — might not seem like much, but it adds up over time. Even worse is the mental delay it takes to switch from doing one type of task to another" (source). By batching and focusing on one thing at a time, you save all the time you'd spend switching back and forth, trying to decide what to do next, or working aimlessly without a clear goal in mind.
Ready to get started? Use this handy worksheet to work through the following steps:
Step 1: Write down a list of tasks for each project you're working on. These should be short-term tasks for the next week or two.
Step 2: Group these tasks into like categories (e.g. emails, appointments, business to-dos, etc. See an example here).
Step 3: Time-block your schedule. Depending on what your day looks like, you might be okay with three large time blocks: morning, afternoon, and evening. If your day is more split up, you may prefer to block off specific times in between your appointments, such as 9:30-11:30 a.m., 1:00-1:45 p.m., and 3:45-5:00 p.m.
Step 4: Schedule sets of tasks based on the amount of time in your time blocks and when you do your best work. For instance, if you're most creative first thing in the morning, don't waste that time writing emails or updating spreadsheets. Use it to plan, design, or write.
Have you ever used batching to stay on top of tasks and projects? What are your secrets?
*Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means if you purchase through some of them, Amazon.com will pay me a small fee for referring you to them at no extra cost to you. Win-win!
Looking for more? Here are a few helpful resources:
Productivity Hack: Work More Efficiently By Batching Your Time
Time Is Money: 7 Proven Ways Freelancers Can Get More Done
Why You Should Add a Batch Day to Your Calendar
The Importance of Planning Every Minute of Your Work Day
How to Block Time to Get More Done