Tools for Thought

Thinking beyond productivity

A Pattern Language for Productivity, Pattern #17: Batching

by Andre · 1 Comment

Repetitive tasks are usually not high-priority ones, but they still need to be done. The fact that they need to be done doesn’t mean they need to be done the moment they have your attention. Let them accumulate, handling them at optimally infrequent intervals, between which you spend the bulk of your time focusing on higher-impact tasks.

Instead of making a commute for each new errand, write all errands on your @Errands context list (after deciding that it really require a physical trip instead of, say, a phone call), and aim to batch the completion of all errands in a single loop between home and work. Instead of making numerous non-emergency calls throughout the day, set specific times to place and return phone calls.

For knowledge workers, email will be the single most repetitive task that can benefit from batching. A common recommendation is for two email sessions per day: 11:00 am and 4:00 pm, for example. Another is for once every hour. Response requirements will naturally depend on your job — batching is a non-starter for financial traders — but few jobs actually require the persistent availability that’s usually assumed.

Fine tune your email batching by starting with once an hour, then gradually increase the length between sessions. Some people will find that even once a day is enough.

Escape the inbox. Focus primarily on output. Turn off email notifications and decide to let email collect in sufficient quantity to justify processing the entire inbox in one sitting. Checking email at arbitrary times leads to a habit of looking for emergencies, which you’ll inevitably find as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Most of us our have at least some inefficient people in our lives who impose manufactured emergencies on us in order to make themselves feel important. A protocol of answering email at regular intervals helps put you in control of the information flow, thinking instead of reacting.

Tags: A Pattern Language for Productivity


  • AmandaNo Gravatar // Apr 30, 2008 at 1:28 am

    This works for me in my home: I do the dishes once a day at 4:30pm while dinner cooks. It works well with any task that tends to ‘pile up’.