Productivity: How much time do you waste task switching?

Are you constantly jumping between tasks?

This post is part of a series in Productivity and Getting Shit Done. You can read the original introduction post here and part #1 here.

I’m constantly being pulled between tasks and tools

The smartest and most productive people do something very subtle, but very important, with their time.

Yes, they break their day into “chunks” (5 minutes, 25 minutes, 45 minutes, whatever works for you), but more importantly they “batch” similar tasks together.

Batching

Batching, or time batching, is a technique that groups similar tasks together, and then sets aside specific time to complete them (or work on them until a particular point).

I’ll repeat that again:

  1. Group similar tasks together
  2. Set aside specific time to complete them

Most tasks, if broken down correctly, are actually rather small. To give ourselves the best chance of starting a task, it helps to make it small enough that it’s just above our belief system, but not overly huge, audacious, or scary.

When tasks are small, however, a lot of time is wasted switching between tasks.

side note: this task switching, incidentally, is what people confuse with multi-tasking. Multi-tasking as we typically believe, is a myth, it’s really just your brain switching between multiple tasks really quickly. Real multi-tasking does exist, but it’s slightly different…

For example

An email may take 2 minutes to write, but involve 5 minutes of:

  • opening our email client / browser (ideally you shouldn’t have it open all day long)
  • finding & opening the email
  • collecting whatever information you need for the email
  • composing and writing the email
  • archiving the email as appropriately
  • getting distracted by something else in your inbox

That’s a 250% time increase, and that kind of expansion of time – over the course of your day – really builds up, negatively.

Some real world examples

Think about it this way, would you write your shopping list like this?

  • milk
  • bananas
  • muesli
  • yoghurt
  • cheese
  • kiwifruit
  • half walnuts
  • tinned tomatoes
  • chicken breasts
  • Camembert cheese

I don’t know your supermarket layout, but I guarantee there’s not a single supermarket in the world where that list is written efficiently. You’d be jumping from the fridge > fruit&veg > dried goods > fridge > fruit&veg > dried goods > meat > fridge… you’d be back & forward across the supermarket, your visit would take you twice as long as it needed, if not more.

(I use this example because this is how my wife used to write her shopping lists… it drove me utterly crazy!)

Or consider a simple break during the day. You’d leave your office / workstation, and you’d:

  • have a pee ( bathroom )
  • make a coffee ( kitchen)
  • prepare some food ( kitchen)

… all at the same time, in the same batch. It would be ludicrous if you visited the kitchen for a coffee, only to return 30 mins later to make some lunch, and then realise you needed a bathroom break another 15 mins later.

You batch those actions together, and you do it naturally.

So why wouldn’t we do the same with our business tasks???

What does that look like for a creative?

Many of us believe our lives involve a huge variety of different tasks, but if you take time to analyse the variety of tasks you undertake, you’ll realise there’s not as many as you think.

It’s eye opening to realise that we feel we have thousands of tasks, but in reality we typically have no more than 150 tasks across our entire life, let alone within our business.

I’ll repeat that: you don’t do as many tasks as you believe you do.

Consider, for instance, the following list of tasks that probably constitutes 80% of a photographer’s typical day:

  • Reading & filtering incoming email, messages, DMs
  • Editing images
  • Writing and responding to emails
  • Refreshments, food & coffee
  • Writing blogs / articles / posts
  • Social Media content / posts
  • Business admin tasks (accounting, paperwork, etc)
  • … there’s not a lot more in a typical day

However, I’ve worked with too many creatives who spend their entire day jumping between their Email > Lightroom > Email > Insta > Email > FB > Insta > FB > Lightoom > Xero > Email > Lightroom… and that level of task switching is severely affecting their focus & productivity.

I can see many of you nodding your heads. I see you!

Ready to own Time Batching?

Here’s a simple batching process:

1. Identify your tasks

Whether a To-Do list or a Focus List (my favourite), ensure you capture the tasks and importantly the context (tool / place / system) they require:

  • Respond to the overnight enquiry (email)
  • Contact the venue with some imagery (lightroom + email)
  • Edit 100 photos from the last wedding (lightroom)
  • Edit a photo for social media (lightroom + Insta)
  • Get back to that enquiry’s further questions (email)
  • Reconcile today’s accounting txns (Xero)

The content is so important, as you’ll see below:

2. Batch your tasks

Go head and group them – find related tasks and align them together:

  • Lightroom
  • Edit 100 photos from the last wedding (lightroom)
  • Edit a photo for social media (lightroom + Insta)
  • Contact the venue with some imagery (lightroom + email)
  • Email
  • Respond to the overnight enquiry (email)
  • Get back to that enquiry’s further questions (email)
  • Contact the venue with some imagery (lightroom + email)
  • Insta
  • Edit a photo for social media (lightroom + Insta)
  • Xero
  • Reconcile today’s accounting txns (Xero)

See the important difference? All Lightroom tasks happen together. All email tasks happen together. This is batching at it’s simplest and most efficient.

(Side note: you’ll notice I’ve put Lightroom editing first and Xero reconcilation last. This is intentional for my energy levels: for me, Lightroom editing is my most hated and despised task, so I accomplish that first thing when my energy levels are highest. There’s more to learn on energy levels and tackling big projects later…).

3. Set Your Timer

From the previous post, focus on the next 10 minutes (creating the good “eustress”) and set your Pomodoro timer. Remember, the point of time batching is to help your attention & focus, we can only stay fully focused for so long.

Do the work!

What do you think?

I’d love to know how this resonates with you?

Are you already a ‘batcher’, do you process your tasks optimally like this?

Or would you like some more help identifying and batching your tasks? Reach out, happy to assist!