The importance of batching your work

Aug 25, 2022

Table of contents:

  1. What is work batching?
  2. Batching your work is a form of Interrupt Coalescing
  3. How can you batch your work?

An important thing to consider when choosing what to work on next is how to minimise context switches. Whilst preemption can be important under certain circumstances, generally you want to avoid wasting time and energy on the meta work of switching tasks.

Batching your work is a good way to ensure you maintain focus on the given task by dealing with similar tasks all in one go, instead of sporadically throughout your other tasks.

In this article we’re going to be looking at the importance of batching your work.

What is work batching?

Batching your work is when you group and complete similar tasks all at once. For example, the most common form of batching work is probably replying to emails. Instead of replying to emails when they arrive, which can be an annoying distraction, you would reply to all emails at once during a set window.

Typically when you think of batching your work, you think of doing tasks that are basically exactly the same all at once, such as replying to emails. However, you don’t have to limit batching to tasks that are exactly the same.

Certain types of tasks have unavoidable setup costs that can be mitigated through batching. For example, say you had a variety of tasks involved with dealing with accountancy. The setup costs might be getting your paper records out and organised on your desk and logging into multiple software applications, or opening Excel files. You could batch all of these tasks together so you only pay the setup cost once.

Finally, every type of task consists of a unique set of characteristics. For example, the amount of energy involved, or the level of anxiety that it causes you. The tasks that you have can belong to completely different parts of your life, but still have a profile that overlaps in such a way that they become good candidates to be batched together. For example, you might need to visit the bank manager during the work day, but you also need to buy a loaf of bread to take home. If the bank and the bakery are located near each other, it would make sense to batch these tasks together.

Batching your work is a form of Interrupt Coalescing

Previously we have looked into how Interrupt Coalescing allows you to purposely block out distractions so you can concentrate on the given task.

Batching your work is a form of interrupt coalescing because you purposely ignore tasks that can be batched together. This allows you to focus on tasks that require a high level of creativity or concentration knowing that you will handle the batched tasks all together at a later date.

This is also a good strategy if the pay-off of completing tasks is delayed. For example, instead of submitting expenses whenever you incur them, you should batch those tasks and complete them all in one go. This is particularly important if you are reimbursed for those payments on a fixed given schedule and it won’t make a difference if you submit the expense in 5 minutes or 5 days.

How can you batch your work?

Batching your tasks is an effective way to work in both your professional and personal lives. Here are a couple of examples of tasks and situations that would be more effective if they were batched together.

If you are constantly asked questions or enquiries by colleagues or team members, a good way of dealing with this is to have a set regular meeting to handle them, instead of sporadically whenever they come up. When everyone on the team knows that they should hold their question until the meeting, you will have a lot less interruptions and distractions. This also has the added benefit of making sure everyone gets the benefit of the answer, rather than answering the same question multiple times to different people. Obviously if something is on fire you should deal with it then and there, but the majority of questions and enquiries won’t need an immediate response.

An example from your personal life might be to batch paying your credit card bills all at once. Having a credit card bill hanging over you can cause anxiety, and so a lot of people like to pay them as soon as they arrive. But this can mean you sacrifice chunks of time that could be better used for creative or complex work. Instead, wait until all of your monthly credit card bills have arrived and pay them all at once. A good way of doing this to set a recurring task as a reminder. It really doesn’t make a difference when you pay your credit card bill, as long as you pay it before you start incurring interest.

Philip Brown


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