Did you know that lost productivity costs between $450 billion and $550 billion per year?
And that the average employee is productive for only two hours and 53 minutes per day?
It is possible to boost focus and productivity by completing similar tasks all at once instead of tackling them individually. That’s the basis of the productivity method called task batching.
The brilliance of task batching lies in its obvious simplicity.
A cousin of time-block planning, task batching involves grouping similar (and usually smaller) tasks in clusters and completing them all at once.
For example, it is more efficient to schedule two 25-minute blocks twice a day to organize and respond to emails than it is to check your inbox each time you get a notification.
Tasks may also be batched according to the amount of attention they require. Such tasks are of three kinds:
- Low concentration – emails, data entry
- Medium concentration – client calls, team meetings
- High concentration – research, writing, planning
The brain needs time to shift between each of these types of tasks, hence it is more efficient to club together tasks requiring similar skills.
Task batching is not the same as time blocking.
Task batching focuses on doing similar kinds of work during a block of time so that you can avoid using up cognitive energy switching between different types of tasks.
Time blocking involves scheduling time in advance to prioritize the most important tasks on your to-do list.
Examples of tasks suitable for batching are planning, paperwork, email, research, networking, professional development, writing, coding, and designing.
The cost of switching tasks
You may have noticed that despite being busy the whole day and feeling exhausted in the evenings, you haven’t really accomplished anything.
That’s because your focus gets interrupted by office distractions like emails or coworkers coming up for a chat. It forces you to jump between several tasks, effectively doing neither well.
Sophie Leroy, Assistant Professor at the UW Bothell School of Business, describes this as ‘attention residue’ – when you continue to worry about the previous unfinished task even though you need to pay attention to the new task at hand.
She explains what happens when you get interrupted: “As I am still thinking about Task A while trying to do Task B, I don’t have the cognitive capacity to process those two tasks at the same time and do a perfect job on both tasks.”
Task batching works because it favors the way our brain functions. We’re neurobiologically wired to pay attention to a single task at a time, a phenomenon called single-tasking.
Complex tasks that require greater alertness, creativity, and focus such as critical thinking and problem-solving benefit from single-tasking.
Research findings back up the benefits of single-tasking vs. multitasking:
A University of London study found that multitasking causes a loss of IQ similar to people who have stayed up all night.
Other research has found that even brief mental blocks created by switching tasks can cause one to lose up to 40 percent of one’s productive time.
On average, it takes 23 minutes and fifteen seconds to recover fully after an interruption.
Thus, by grouping similar tasks, we reduce the amount of lane switching or context switching required.
Performing more than one task simultaneously, especially more than one complex task, takes a toll on productivity, focus, and mental energy.
Therefore, when you think you’re multitasking, you’re really just rapidly switching from one task to the other, reducing accuracy and increasing mental strain in the process.
Benefits of task batching
Task batching curbs the impulse to multitask and check-in frequently. It organizes projects to help your brain perform efficiently while minimizing stress and overwhelm.
The advantages of task batching are:
1. Improves focus
When your brain is in single-tasking mode, it is capable of shutting out all external distractions and unrelated thoughts. You can wholeheartedly focus on the task at hand.
The more you practice batching tasks, the better you get at it.
Task batching trains your brain to resist the temptation to multitask and focus on single-tasking.
2. Reduces stress
A welcome benefit of task batching is lowering stress levels. When you have a long to-do list and you convert them into manageable buckets of work, you feel more confident.
As a consequence, you’re likely to enjoy working on those tasks and staying on schedule to completion.
On the other hand, if you feel stressed and overwhelmed, it affects you physically and mentally.
Stress can manifest as a headache, stomachache, or overall low immunity. It could also translate into greater irritability, frustration, and anger.
3. Increases productivity
Task batching allows you to achieve a higher focus, thus you’re less likely to notice any distractions around you.
The quality of your work gets better and the speed of your work increases, too, because you’re performing tasks that require similar skills together.
By doing similar tasks repeatedly, you’re honing associated skills as you work and improving your productivity.
Also, task batching enables you to enter a ‘flow state’, wherein you achieve higher levels of focus and concentration.
Switching from one task to another (of dissimilar nature) makes you inefficient because your brain needs time to readjust between the shifts.