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The multitasking myth is pervasive. No matter how much multitasking research we see, we continue to tell ourselves that most people can’t multitask, but we can.
Time and time again, research shows that when we think we’re multitasking, we’re not actually doing more than a thing at once. We’re switching back and forth between activities, and that a phenomenon known as “switching cost” makes us less efficient (and may put us in danger).
There is one particular type of multitasking that could be more efficient. Maybe not as efficient as focusing on a single task. But if you just can’t stand focusing on one thing for more than a few minutes, you may be in luck.
(To be fair, there are some cases in which multitasking can be an efficient way to do things.)
An Introduction to Task Batching
Different productivity gurus have defined task batching in slightly different ways. But what it comes down to is this:
“Task batching is the practice of grouping similar tasks together.”
So you might have a list of “coding,” “debugging,” “documenting,” and “planning” tasks, for example. In my own life, I’d probably batch tasks as “writing,” “editing,” “researching,” “pitching,” and so on.
How is this helpful?
Task batching helps you become more productive by encouraging you to stick with a similar group of tasks to reduce the switching cost when you move between them. Going from editing photos to managing your email is a big switch, and could incur a large switching cost as your brain struggles to change gears.
Switching from editing photos to, say, posting photos to stock photography sites might create a smaller switching cost. Or imagine that you switch from calling potential clients with sales pitches to calling existing clients to check in. That would be easier than switching from pitch calls to creating quarterly reports.
And that lower switching cost results in increased focus.
How you put tasks into batches is up to you — the important thing is that they’re similar. If you find it hard to switch gears between two tasks, then they don’t belong in the same batch. You can have a large number of batches or a smaller one, depending on the types of things you need to get done.
Once you’ve grouped your tasks, you can dedicate time to each batch.
Scheduling Your Batches
This is where task batching gets really useful. When you designate a specific block of time to a particular batch, you’re free to switch between tasks within that batch. Which is great for those of us who like to move between projects a lot.
As long as you don’t switch to a task outside of that batch, you’ll be more efficient. The cognitive switching cost will be lower, and you’ll get more done.
It’s as simple as that.
And once you start putting your task batches on your calendar, so you have a set time to work on them, you’ll start seeing your productivity skyrocket. Because your switching cost is lower, you’ll spend less time getting up to speed on each task. And having a set time for specific batches will help you reduce distractions (which have a huge switching cost).
Using a time management system like the Pomodoro technique or something similar will boost your productivity even further.
If you’re ready to try task batching, here’s what you need to do:
Batching Tasks With Google Calendar
The first thing you’ll need to do is create task batches. As everyone will have different sets of tasks and different methods of batching, how you go through this process is totally up to you. As I mentioned, it might be good to start with three or four categories. For the purposes of our example, we’ll use “planning,” “building,” “reviewing,” and “reporting.”
We’ll combine these batches with the concept of time blocking. Simply set aside blocks of time in Google Calendar for specific batches.
Here I’ve added events that tell me when I should be working on specific batches:
I’ve also added a reminder to make sure that I know when my reporting block starts:
Now I’ll get a reminder when it’s time to work on my reporting tasks. During that time, I might use the Pomodoro technique to manage my time on various tasks. Or I might let it happen more naturally, where I move between tasks whenever I want. This part is up to you.
You get the idea. Now just insert more batches into your calendar! But keep in mind that you still need unblocked time. You’ll need a few minutes here and there to manage email, catch up on calls, chat with people in the office, or just let your mind rest for a bit.
One question you might be asking right now: how do I choose when to schedule each batch? There’s no right answer to this. If you have a specific type of task you do best in the morning, schedule it early. If you like less cognitively intense tasks in the afternoon, schedule them there. Prefer switching to something completely different when you change tasks? You can do that too.
You know how and when you work best, and you can put that knowledge to work in your batch schedule.
Once you have your batches in the calendar, you’re set to go! Now all you need to do is get to work.
Using Google Calendar to Boost Your Productivity
Scheduling your task batches in Google Calendar might be enough to completely revolutionize your productivity. But if you need a bit more of a boost, you can use Google Calendar’s other awesome functions.
For example, you can sync your to-do list with Google Calendar and see your important tasks alongside your batch schedule. This might help you prioritize among tasks in each batch.
Or you could use the updated multi-calendar view to keep your batch scheduling separate from your other appointments.
You can even tag your calendar entries to see where your time is going and how you can improve your time management.
There are so many features and tools out there that you can do almost whatever you want with your Google Calendar.
Task Batching in the Long-Term
Of course, it’s never that simple. There’s always upkeep. For example, you should regularly set aside a few minutes to review your batches. If you feel like a certain task isn’t flowing with the others in its batch, you might want to create a new batch to reduce switching costs.
And you may find that your scheduling isn’t optimal. Maybe you need more time in between batches, or you need a full day with no scheduled activities to catch up on things.
Even when you find the perfect productivity system, there’s always going to be some upkeep that you need to perform. Batching tasks is no exception.
But when you batch your tasks successfully and integrate them into Google Calendar, you’ll have a nearly automated time management system. And it doesn’t get much better than that!
Have you tried task batching? What do you do to minimize the time and effort it takes to switch tasks? Share your advice in the comments below!
Image Credit: photographee.eu/Depositphotos