If you find yourself easily distracted, unable to focus on the task at hand, or struggling to meet deadlines, time batching could be a real help. Time batching is an effective time-management technique that helps you to better manage your working day and improve productivity by eliminating external distractions.

The theory behind time batching is to group tasks that are similar in nature and allocate a set amount of time in which to complete them.

Imagine your to-do list looks something like this:

  • Catch up with John about a project you’ve both been working on.
  • Clear out your email inbox.
  • Respond to 14 emails.
  • Catch up with John about the presentation you’re due to deliver together next week.
  • Send out invitations for next month’s team-building activity day. 
  • Follow up with three of your suppliers regarding shipment delays.

It would be highly inefficient to first meet John about the project, then reply to four emails, go back to John again to discuss the presentation, chase one supplier, then send another couple of emails, and so on…  By grouping these tasks into similar activities instead, you’ll find you can work with increased efficiency and purpose.

What Are the Benefits of Time Batching?

Time batching improves concentration, productivity, and attention to detail. Many people pride themselves on their ability to multitask, but numerous studies show that flitting between different tasks that require focussed attention wastes a huge amount of time.

Multitasking can result in as much as a 40% drop in productivity and a 10% drop in IQ. A study of Microsoft employees found that each worker took an average of 15 minutes to refocus on brain intensive tasks. The New Yorker reported that 98% of people focus better when they tackle a single type of task.

Time batching also helps to build a structure and routine to your working life. This can make the busiest day or the biggest challenges seem more manageable — ultimately reducing workplace stress and keeping you calm.  

4 Steps to Effective Time Batching

Step One: Write Your To-do List

Before you can begin time batching, you’ll need to develop a comprehensive to-do list. Take the time to write a detailed list of your upcoming projects and deadlines, as well as every mundane task you complete on a weekly or day-to-day basis. Anything that takes up time during your working day should appear on the list.

Step Two: Group Your To-do List into Batches

Once you’ve completed your to-do list, it’s time to sort the items into batches that will allow you to give complete focus to a particular group of tasks.

Your tasks will typically fit into one of two categories:

  • Shallow tasks — These are quicker, easy tasks that require little energy.
  • Deep tasks — These are more intensive, bigger tasks that demand focus for a greater length of time.

You’ll probably be able to churn through several shallow tasks in one sitting. Your work on a deep task, however, may need to be broken down into several focussed sessions which means your targets will be goal-oriented rather than being about completing an entire task in one sitting.

Step Three: Set Attainable Batching Goals

Allocate a set window of time for each batch of tasks, being mindful not to underestimate how long you can focus for or how long each batch will take to complete. You can always divide a batch into separate sittings. For example, if you have 30 emails to read and respond to, you might manage 15 emails in two 20-minute time slots.

You could use your smartphone stopwatch to keep track of time batches or check out Pomofocus, a simple timer app based on the Pomodoro Time Management technique.

Once you’ve decided how to divide your time, log all tasks into a workflow program or your calendar. It’s helpful to have a visual representation to encourage you to stick to your schedule.

Step Four: Get Rid of Potential Distractions

External distractions are the biggest threat to effective time batching. For this method to work, you cannot deviate from the batch on which you are currently focused.

You might need to turn off email notifications while you’re focussing on a specific task, set your devices to Do Not Disturb mode, close windows on your computer, or put on headphones so you’re not distracted by workplace — or household — noise.

It’s also important to inform your colleagues that you’re time batching so they know when and why you won’t be available and not to disturb you.