I am a work-from-home mom. Let’s rephrase that. I’m a never-sleeps-because-she-stays-up-all-night-catching-up-on-the-work-she-couldn’t-do-around-a-tiny-distraction-monster mom. Glamorous, no?
In all honesty, it’s pretty much the greatest job I can imagine, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else right now. I absolutely love writing and blogging from home.
But sometime last month, I discovered I felt worn out by early afternoon, even though I had nothing to show for the day. In fact, I was getting less done than when I casually blogged for fun.
What was keeping me so busy, yet so unproductive?
“Busy” Is Not the Same as “Productive”
Before I started task batching, my typical day sent me running from one unfinished task to the next. I was juggling, or “multi-tasking” as people sometimes call it.
Multi-tasking is a myth in my world. I would start a task, get interrupted, try to start again, get all ready to accomplish something only to be interrupted again! Not only was I not getting anything done, I was exhausted! There’s nothing more frustrating that seeing a line of unaccomplished bullets that you worked on all day.
So, I took a hard look at my routine and discovered 2 things:
- Most of my time was wasted switching gears (i.e. putting my brain in the right mode for parenting, writing, taking photos, editing, brainstorming, journaling, etc.).
- My windows of uninterrupted work time only lasted about 30 minutes.
I knew that if I was going to get more done, I had to be ultra productive in those 30 minute windows. Task batching is how I’ve made that happen.
What’s Task Batching, Anyway?
Years ago people were all about multi-tasking. Then a bunch of scientists (science people who get together to science some science) told us it’s actually task switching, and it’s uber bad for us. Our brains need time to catch up when we move from tasks to task. Once we’re in a certain mode, it’s best to focus on that mode until the task is done. Switching is what makes us tired and unproductive, not the tasks themselves.
One of my favorite books about personal productivity is Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy. If you’ve ever procrastinated yourself into a corner, you need this book! I’m not usually impressed by anti-procrastination books since they basically say, “Just get it done.”
This book goes much further by suggesting habits and techniques for maximizing your time (everything from planning to execution).
Eat That Frog! says,
It’s estimated that the tendency to start and stop a task–to pick it up, put it down, and come back to it–can increase the time necessary to complete the task by as much as 500 percent.
In an attempt to cut down on the “pick it up, put it down” time, I’ve been grouping similar tasks together (a.k.a. batching or batch processing). Task batching allows your brain to focus on one type of task at a time. For example, email correspondence and answering blog posts call for similar mindsets. I group them together without losing my work flow.
Here’s what that looks like:
Monday- Write two blog posts
Tuesday- Take photos for two blog posts
Wednesday- Edit photos for two blog posts, take care of administrative tasks
Thursday- Errands, catch up on home tasks
Friday- Creative writing, all day
Saturday- Finish leftover photo editing, and weekend errands
Sunday- Home, church, light administrative work in the afternoon
*Pre-planning is key here! If you wait to group tasks until it’s time to work, you’ll end up in a reaction pattern again.
Make Task Batching Work For You
Make a list of all the tasks you need to accomplish in a typical week. Computer tasks, house work, research, phone calls, emails, design work, fitness…basically, whatever your day entails.
The list doesn’t have to be strictly work related. Try to imagine all the things in your life that need your time and attention. In my case, work-at-home mom, I know a huge portion of my day is devoted to parenting. Let’s face it, scheduling parenting is like asking the weather not to change! I might not always be able to guard against distractions, but I can take the time to group snack, story, and snuggles. I find my son is usually happy to play solo while I work as long as I’ve tended to his needs first.
Group tasks logically by their function or locations. I try to lump computer work together on the same days because if I leave the computer, I’ma nota comin’ back! I combine photos and video because lighting/props are a factor. It’s much more efficient to take a group of photos all at once. I also schedule difficult tasks in the morning because I’m less likely to get interrupted then.
I thrive on a routine. I use scheduled time blocks for my work and assign a focus to each window (see my handy dandy table above). You can split your days into time segments however you work best. I like to imagine my days in an a.m./p.m. split. I can either assign the same task to both segments (an all day focus) or give a different focus to each half of the day.
For example, I’ve devoted Mondays completely to drafting blog posts. I split Wednesday between graphics (a.m.) and administrative work in the afternoon. I assigned each focus twice a week so I have a backup in case life happens.
I sometimes have to move my focus to another day, but this schedule gives me a place to start my week.
So, we have time windows with a focus. What now? How to we make sure we’re effective within those time windows?
The Pomodoro Technique
I first learned about the Pomodoro technique on Michael Hyatt’s website, but you can get it from the source HERE. I won’t go into too much detail here, but the idea is simple. It requires you to focus intensely on a single task at a time.
1 Pomodoro= 25 minutes + 5 minute break
You set a timer for 25 minutes, turn off distractions, and focus on that single task for a solid 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, take a 5 minute break. Some tasks may take 2 or 3 (or more) Pomodoros to achieve.
The time block works great for me. The timer usually goes off just as my attention begins to wander or my son needs something.
** Turn off distractions! No phone, no email, no social media. If you’re like me and work with a tiny distraction monster at home, try to create a suitable independent activity before you start a Pomodoro.
It takes me roughly 2 Pomodoros to write the copy of a blog post. So even with breaks and Mommy time, I can easily write two or three posts in a day.
Now that I’ve been using the technique for a few weeks, I can honestly tell you it’s life changing! I can accomplish more without sacrificing time with the people I’m working so hard for.
Have you tried task batching? Share your secrets to stress-free productivity in the comment section below.
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