Darren Rowse over at Problogger has a good post up the gets at the heart of many productivity systems: “How Batch Processing Made Me 10 Times More Productive.” The basic idea is to bring some order to the chaos that is the average web worker’s day by letting work pile up a bit, and doing coherent groups of tasks together. Or as Darren puts it:
My mistake was feeling compelled to deal with things as they came to me….I have discovered that most of the activities that I do in my work can be ‘batched’ in one way or another. I have discovered that many ‘urgent’ things can wait and in fact to make them ‘take a number’ and ‘get in line’ brings order to mess.
One thing that Darren doesn’t cover is why this works so well. After all, moderating ten blog comments and answering ten emails should be the same amount of work whether you group them together or not, right? Not quite – because not all work time is created equal.
As DeMarco & Lister pointed out in software development classic Peopleware a decade ago, the best creative work comes when you are “in the flow”: deeply, almost meditatively involved with a single task that takes all your concentration. And, say the Peopleware authors
Unfortunately, you can’t turn flow on like a switch. It takes a slow descent…during this immersion period, you are particularly sensitive to noise and interruption. A disruptive environment can make it difficult or impossible to attain flow.
The more you allow yourself to be ping-ponged around from IM chat to email to what you should be working on to social network to phone call, the less likely you are to ever hit a flow state. At some point, your day becomes just an endless series of stacked-up interruptions, which is far less efficient than a day where you’ve grouped like things together and really focus on them.
So, if you’re struggling to keep up – take a tip from Darren, and others who have discovered the benefits of batching tasks. Impose a bit of discipline on your chaotic day and you just might find that you have more time than you think.