Batching Tasks

Lately, I’ve been struggling with the amount of context-switching I have to do each day. One minute I’m knee-deep in coding, the next I’m interviewing a prospective employee or doing a 1-on-1 with a member of my team. And that’s before I get to any meetings I have to attend. Oh, and don’t forget about the emails piling up in my inbox.

It’s frustrating. Every switch means 20 minutes of trying to get back in the “zone” and, by the time that happens, it isn’t long before I have to run off to my next task. I haven’t been able to give 100% of my attention to anything. And that isn’t fair to me, or my coworkers.

Despite having quite a bit of agency over how I schedule my time, I’ve never actually taken advantage. So, last week I decided to experiment with a technique I’ve heard a lot about over the years: batching similar tasks. I decided to tackle the two biggest pain points first: meetings and email.

Meetings

I’ve moved all of my non-project work to one day a week: Wednesday. From morning to night, Wednesday is now my “sit in a room and talk to people” day. Internal meetings, client meetings, interviews, 1-on-1s, you name it. Where possible, they all happen on that same day. I try to schedule consecutive meetings in the same room to cut down on the amount of running around I have to do.

It isn’t perfect – last Wednesday was a long day – but it means I can put myself in the right state of mind for whatever the day will bring. Is it Wednesday? Okay, that means I need to be ready to sit down, be mentally present, and have real conversations with my team. Any other day? Time to crank out code.

Email

I’ve scheduled two 30-minute blocks each day for processing my email; 9 am and 4 pm. All other times, my email client is closed. I’ve also set it to only fetch new mail manually, just in case my muscle memory kicks in and I open it accidentally.

When an email block rolls around in my calendar, I take the approach that every email in my inbox has to be dealt with in that time. I force myself to make a choice to either respond immediately or ignore/archive it. Every once in a while, an email has to wait until the next email block – or even the next day. But I never go over my 30-minute window. I’ve found most emails can be answered right away, or don’t need a response at all.

Experimenting

I’m only a week into this experiment, but the results have been promising so far. I’ll be sure to let you all know how it goes. At best, it will improve my productivity. At worst, it’ll be a good example of what not to do.

Like most things in life, I suspect the answer will fall somewhere in the middle.