Time batching is a productivity method that can help people manage their daily work and tasks more efficiently. If implemented correctly, it lends the following benefits:
- Enables us to have greater control of our calendars
- Provides us with a clearly defined schedule
- Improves our time management practices
- Encourages us to make meaningful progress on purposeful tasks
- Focuses our attention on one area (and task) at a time – prevents multi-tasking
This article is a beginner’s guide to using time batching daily, empowering you to improve productivity by realizing the benefits listed above.
Let’s get into it.
What is time batching?
Building a productive routine is something that many of us struggle with. We have very limited time to get everything done, and if we don’t use it wisely, we usually end up wasting a lot of it.
Moreover, we often attempt to work on so many different activities during a regular day but without any legitimate structure, and this is a recipe for promoting stress and feeling overwhelmed.
Time batching aims to resolve these challenges by playing a key role in our daily and weekly routines. It allows us to work on groups of related tasks according to “batches” of fixed time that we schedule in advance throughout our calendar.
Batches or “blocks” of time are displayed as task groups scheduled in a calendar
A group can be a category, objective, or goal, and it has a set amount of time on the calendar throughout the day or week. There can be as many instances of a single group as we’d like. However, the structure, consistency, and relevance of the groups are crucial to ensure we maximize the use of our time.
Valuable contributions to individual tasks occur by working on them in order of priority, and during the associated time batch scheduled. For example, Email could be a group containing 5 open tasks, and the schedule dictates one batch of time at 9:00am-9:30am to work through them.
Are there other time management methods?
It can be a little confusing with the official terminology in this space. This is primarily due to subtle yet key differences between similarly named time management techniques. Other time management techniques related to time batching include:
- Time blocking – dividing the day into blocks of time, with each block representing a specific task
- Time boxing – dividing the day into blocks of time, using an objective-oriented approach whereby each block reflects the time it will take to complete a specific task
- Day theming – dedicating each day of the week (separately) to work on a specific project, initiative, or category of related tasks
What does time batching look like?
Put simply, a weekday view of the calendar will display appointments we’ve created ourselves that represent our task groups (which are also batches of time). The same view may also include appointments scheduled by other people, such as meetings.
The more consistent we make each day with our task groups scheduled at the same (or similar) time, the easier it becomes to create a robust routine.
A well-structured weekday with time batching in place looks like the following:
Subsequently, if we leverage this single day outlook and build a routine upon it, a productive 3-day weekday view with time batching implemented could appear like this:
What do these time slots and appointments mean exactly, and how do we get stuff done by following this schedule? Let’s walk through the process step-by-step and demonstrate what’s underneath it all.
How to implement time batching to increase productivity
Step 1: Define and list tasks in a centralized location
The first part of the process is to determine what exactly it is we need to work on, i.e. our tasks.
For those of us who juggle a relatively large workload, trying to organize it in our heads eventually leads to us forgetting and overlooking tasks. Paper-based notepads and sticky notes provide some benefits, but there’s so much productivity technology available and the best tools provide a lot of opportunities to drastically structure our work effectively.
Need some more help to start?
Check out these easy-to-follow best practices to manage tasks productively with to-do list apps
Step 2: Create groups for different types of tasks
The first part of the process is to define our groups. As mentioned earlier, they can be categories, objectives, or goals – in fact, they can be anything that provides some form of logical segregation of tasks. Each group requires to represent related tasks.
For example, here is a collection of basic task groups that could work:
|Task Group||Task Group Description|
|Reading, sending, or replying to emails|
|Focus Work||Strategic, project-related, or any tasks that require prolonged periods of concentration and effort to work through|
|Regular Work||Trivial tasks that are generally routine and require less thought|
|Meeting||Meetings with certain people, functions, teams, or clients|
|Break||Doesn’t contain any particular tasks, but an important group to ensure adequate batches of time are scheduled to rest and reenergize|
|Admin||Administrative tasks that are easy to overlook, but someone has to do them|
|Personal Development||Training courses, studying, reading, and any other type of learning-related tasks for self-development|
Pro productivity tip: depending on the type of work management or to-do list app you’re using, most of them enable you to color code task groups in one way or another. Then, you can apply the same colors to the task groups in your calendar application (e.g. Google Calendar or Outlook) to keep everything aligned.
This is a neat productivity hack since we’re able to interpret our calendar more clearly, making it easier to navigate. We’ll also be able to quickly relate certain colors to the types of tasks that we need to make progress on.
Step 3: Assign specific tasks to task groups and prioritize them
Now that we have our tasks stored in a centralized location (which is ideally a software product that acts as a to-do list), we can begin assigning those tasks to task groups.
In conjunction with this activity, we also need to appropriately prioritize tasks. This ensures that when we arrive at a particular time batch on our calendar, we can quickly determine what tasks precisely we need to work on.
For instance, let’s say we have 4 tasks that’ll require our full attention and brainpower; they’re challenging and demand careful planning to ensure we make progress on them.
- Create the template for the product strategy and roadmap
- Prepare for the slides for the quarterly sales review
- Review the vendor’s proposal as part of the RFP
- Complete first draft of cloud network diagram post-migration
We assign the 4 tasks to our Focus Work task group as it’s the most logical location. Thereafter, we prioritize them using a task priority matrix.
- Review the vendor’s proposal as part of the RFP – Important and urgent
- Create the template for the product strategy and roadmap – Important but not urgent (1)
- Prepare for the slides for the quarterly sales review – Important but not urgent (2)
- Complete first draft of cloud network diagram post-migration – Not Important but urgent // after performing the prioritization activity, we reassess this particular task and decide to delegate it to someone else, therefore removing it from our Focus Work group
Step 4: Schedule blocks of time in the calendar that reflect appropriate task groups
With our list of tasks prioritized and linked to the relevant task groups, we have the fundamentals in place to prepare our days and weeks ahead.
Now we’re ready to open our calendar and begin inserting blocks of time that reflect our task groups. We must take extra care when performing this activity because what we put in the calendar defines the schedule we’ll follow day-to-day. The last thing we want to do is create a busy mess that’s painful to follow!
How NOT to schedule your batches of time
This is the WRONG way to plan your day following the time batching technique:
Arguably, the poor example is how the majority of busy people work every day. They’re very likely not adopting time management techniques, but they’ll be bouncing around and in between meetings, emails, and different types of work – similarly to what’s in the calendar here but with very little structure. It’s chaotic and unsustainable.
How to do it right
Let’s take another look at an effective way to schedule your time blocks and task groups on the calendar:
There is a clear difference between the 2 examples that we’re all able to appreciate. The latter provides clarity, space, and relevancy in terms of what types of tasks we should work on more vs. others.
Walk through of the effective time batching example for a single weekday
To provide more context and further acknowledge why this can be highly effective, let’s walk through the day as the calendar shows above:
|Time Slot||Task Group and Plan|
|08:30 – 09:00 ______________||Email – the first official activity of the day is to catch up on emails and work through any email-related tasks that we have on our to-do list|
|09:00 – 10:00||Focus Work – we’ll spend a full hour (undistracted!) focusing on our strategic projects and tasks, such as ‘Review the vendor’s proposal as part of the RFP’|
|10:00 – 10:30||Meeting – join the weekly team meeting|
|10:30 – 11:00||Regular Work – right after the meeting, we work through any trivial tasks on our list, in addition to debriefing and logging new tasks from the meeting|
|11:00 – 12:00||Break – we have a 1-hour break, which could be classed as an early lunch|
|12:00 – 13:30||Focus Work – since Focus Work is the more valuable work, we give ourselves 1.5 hours to continue from where we stopped earlier at 10:00|
|13:30 – 14:00||Email – the last time we checked our emails and worked on email-related tasks was 3.5 hours ago. So, we’ll work on them again for 30 minutes.|
|14:00 – 14:30||Meeting – we have another meeting in the early afternoon: it’s a 1:1 with John|
|14:45 – 15:15||Break – it’s time to have another break in the mid-afternoon. Note that we allow ourselves 15 minutes unscheduled after the meeting in case it overruns|
|15:30 – 16:00||Meeting – another meeting, this time with Jane. Again, we have a little breathing space with a 15-minute unscheduled gap before and after|
|16:15 – 16:45||Meeting – our final meeting of the day is a weekly review with the management team|
|17:00 – 17:30||Regular Work – after 3 meetings in the afternoon, some new tasks have come up that we capture and categorize. We also need to clear out some other regular tasks.|
|17:30 – 18:00||Email – before we switch from our work, we’ll navigate through emails and related tasks|
|18:00 – 19:00||Personal Development – as a reward for being so productive today, we’ll take some time out from actual work, and continue studying towards the new certification|
It can’t be that easy – what about unforeseen situations that need attention?
Of course, there might be situations occurring during the day that can throw us off guard and there’s nothing we can do but entertain them. The best practice is to stick to our batches of time per the original schedule, however, we need to accept that it’s not always possible.
This is OK though because we have the flexibility to shuffle around our time batches where required. All of them except for the meetings are appointments we have full control over, i.e. we created them and no one else is attending.
For example, we can shorten one of our Focus Work blocks to squeeze in the new urgent meeting. Equally, some urgent admin work flies in that means our Personal Development time moves to the following morning.
Plan for the weeks ahead
By now, we can appreciate what a typical (and uninterrupted) day looks like with time batching installed. The final piece of the planning process is to utilize a similar structure of time blocks and insert them throughout the rest of the week.
This enables a clear view of what we’ll focus our time on, and what specific tasks we’ll aim to make substantial progress on or complete.
To take it to the next level, we can plan further by embedding task groups in the calendar 2-3 weeks ahead. A useful tip to facilitate this is to create recurring appointments for some of the task groups that we’ll work on every day.
For example, working on emails 3x per day: once in the morning, the afternoon, and the evening. We can even add task group instances throughout the month ahead (if it makes sense to do so). Furthermore, if our peak level of concentration is during the mornings, then we can schedule 1 hour for Focus Work every morning.
Step 5: Frequently review and maintain the time batching workflow
So far, we’ve only set up time batching. As great as that is, we need to spend sufficient amounts of time to maintain it, routinely. We can do this by staying on top of our calendar; reviewing and updating our time blocks at regular intervals throughout the day.
On some days, we might just require to glance over things once or twice. On other days perhaps we need 20-30 minutes for carefully planning and reshuffling calendar appointments to facilitate changes or urgent situations that need addressing.
Regardless, it’s paramount to maintain ownership of our newly adopted time management method, otherwise, it’ll become irrelevant or even worse, a daily burden.
Step 6: Practice, practice, practice
Our final step to wrapping up the beginner’s guide to time batching is to practice, practice, practice. The more we practice it, the more productive we become. It’s not an effortless time management method to implement, so we can’t expect to become an expert overnight.
The key is persistence and consistency – continually make use of it to master the processes and workflows, from assigning tasks to the most logical groups, to adding solo appointments throughout the calendar. We must not forget the importance of prioritizing our tasks properly too!
Once everything becomes familiar, we’ll be able to work through all of the activities very quickly, and we’ll have established a framework to support many productive days ahead!
What do you think of the beginner’s guide to time batching? Hopefully, you’re able to learn how it can be an effective way to improve productivity. Or even better, you take these strategies away and commence the journey to becoming a time management expert!