Unite and conquer. That should be your mantra if you’re after better time management and productivity.
When it comes to getting anything done well, multitasking is a big no-no. It involves constant switching from one task to one or more unrelated ones and back. This plays havoc with your concentration and efficiency. On the other hand, “chunking”, a different kind of multi-tasking, is good for you. It’s not a new concept, and has existed under the geeky term of batch processing for a long time now.
You know how once you are in the middle of a task, you get so involved in it despite any initial resistance you might have had? With chunking you take advantage of that momentum to wrap up tasks that require similar skills as that first one. You don’t need to change your approach or strategy. You just continue in the same vein as before.
Think of chunking as tackling your to-do list in assembly-line fashion. At every workstation, you complete one type of task, and at the end of the assembly line you get an empty to-do list as the finished product. Of course, once you have picked a task to work on, complete it any way but mechanically. There are no rules for chunking, but here are some task suggestions to help you see what’s possible.
Clearing Your Unread Queue
Chances are that you’re tempted to read articles and newsletters as and when you stumble upon them or when they arrive in your inbox. This can hijack your day before you know it. Earmark a daily hour or two to get your reading done, be it blog posts or newsletters or books. Cultivate the habit of saving articles for later instead of reading them at random times during the day.
Create a Pocket account to keep your reading material organized, and couple that with some IFTTT-Pocket recipes to automate the whole process. If Twitter links are a major source of your reading, use Siftlinks to have links from your timeline delivered to you in the form of an RSS feed. Before you begin reading, make a list of your sources to stay aware of what’s included in your pending queue. Also, read smarter with these tips to read more everyday.
Managing Your Writing
Writers or not, we write (or type) some every day, if only to make sense of our thoughts. Emails, blog posts, idea snippets, notes, to-do lists, ebooks, journals, etc. involve writing to various degrees. Work on them in chunks to save time.
The more steps in your workflow, the more opportunities you have to procrastinate at each step, and you’ll do your best to take advantage of every single one. It’s best to keep your processes simple. Write in one app (or book) and port your words to other apps and formats as required. I write first drafts in Writer, the perfect writing app for me. Then I bring blog posts into WordPress, journal entries into little memory, emails into Gmail, etc.
Getting On Top Of Email
Dealing with email is the subject of many conversations across the Web, because something so simple and useful takes up so much time. To chunk email-related tasks effectively, you need some preparation. First, take out the email trash, declutter your newsletters, and get as close as you can to inbox zero. Next, bring all your email in one location, either by using an email client or by redirecting email from multiple accounts to a single one. Set up smart filters to automate the sorting of emails as they appear in your account. Now you’re ready for chunking.
Instead of living in your inbox, set aside one to three chunks of time for dealing with email. Using a simple note-taking app, make a list of any emails that you have to send or respond to. Every time you think of another email that you need to send, jot down the recipient’s name and the subject of the email in the list. Save one time slot to sort incoming mail and another one just for sending out emails. As described above, write your emails during a writing session and read newsletters during a reading session.
Planning Your Time
A planning session can help your day and week go more smoothly. Come up with a to-do list every morning to get a clear picture of what you want to finish that day. Items like work-related tasks, chores around the house, what needs buying or fixing, etc. can go on this list. Don’t go into details and come up with a list a mile long. You’ll take one look at it, be convinced that it’s too much for you to handle, and plonk yourself in front of the TV thinking that that’s a much better way to spend your time. Stay realistic, start small.
All during the week you search for a variety of information. Which movie to watch over the weekend? Which designer-developer to hire to create your website? At which restaurant to meet your friend for lunch? What steps can you take to go green? What to gift your daughter for her upcoming birthday? Which computer to buy for your home office? How to get started with the Paleo diet? Whatever info you’re looking for, try a dedicated time to search for all of it.
Organizing Your Life
Be it your possessions, commitments, data, or your ideas, the stuff in your life accumulates over time. Keep all of it manageable by spending regular time on organization and maintenance. Accomplish these “cleaning house” tasks in batches.
Here are a few examples to get you started.
- Money-related tasks can form one batch. Balancing your checkbook, sending out invoices, creating a budget, ordering things online, keeping track of your investments, etc. can go in this batch.
- Tasks related to boosting your online security and privacy can go in another session. Utilize this session to keep your antivirus software up-to-date, run a scan for viruses, enable two-step verification for your online accounts, secure your smartphone, etc.
- Decluttering tasks or repair work around the house and on your computer are also convenient for grouping. Get rid of junk, go paperless, delete old files and folders, clear out accumulated bookmarks, remove unused apps and accounts, etc. during one of these sessions.
Updating Social Media
Social media forms a core aspect of our lives these days and deserves a category of its own. A big reason conversations on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook get in the way of our work is because we put no limits on how and when we’ll take part in such conversations. We react to these streams as and when they are updated, which is just too often for our good.
It helps to have designated times for checking and updating your social media accounts. Automate your social media activity, wherever it makes sense to do so. Put social media IFTTT recipes to work. For example, use IFTTT to post an update to Twitter and Facebook every time you publish a blog post. Configure a scheduler like Buffer to tweet interesting links at set times during the day. If you really want to get into it, the Buffer Blog has a handy social media posting frequency guide.
Taking Care Of Odds & Ends
Separate errands that you have to run at home and those that require you to step out of the house. Group them further based on the work involved. For example, shop for groceries, return that library book, and pick up those smart lamps for your next DIY project when you’re returning home from your daily walk or after dropping off your kids at school. Schedule dentist appointments around this time to save yourself an extra trip. Start with a to-do list in hand to keep tasks from slipping your mind.
Weekends are a great time to make headway on DIY projects of all kinds. Make your own lightsaber, design a laptop sleeve, build a Tor proxy box, or experiment with home automation. Tackle them in one or more DIY sessions to make faster progress.
If you’re a blogger, batch tasks like writing blog posts, sending out guest post pitches, making website tweaks, gathering article ideas, communicating with readers, etc.
Tasks related to learning can also go hand in hand. For example, if you’re learning to play the guitar, picking up a new language, and working on your computer skills, in one session you can make progress in all three. Use Anki flash cards to memorize music notes, French words, and keyboard shortcuts in one session.
Unite & Conquer
Chunking can give you the golden 25th hour you have always been asking for, or make it seem so anyway. As a member of an era always strapped for time, you’re sure to appreciate it. Now list your tasks, divide them right, and start tackling them group by group.
Have you tried chunking your tasks this way? We’d love to hear how in the comments.
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