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Can’t Focus at Work? Use Task Batching to Organize Your Brain

by Robert Dickie III March 14, 2018

Creativity has never been a more in-demand skill. As automation takes over millions of low-skill, easily repeatable jobs, human creativity is one of the core attributes that differentiates us from machines. Real creativity, the kind that leads to breakthroughs in thinking and design, requires long stretches of deep, uninterrupted concentration.

Multitasking is the biggest threat to real creativity. It makes us less productive, and requires a lot of energy. Even when our multitasking is all related to our jobs, it distracts us from reaching our biggest goals. Therefore, we must abandon multitasking and instead embrace task batching.

Batching vs. Multitasking

Multitasking makes you feel like you’re being productive, but prevents you from completing your most important task. The batch method brings order without forcing us to sacrifice any of our goals. It helps us become better stewards of our time.cant focus at work? try task batching instead of multitasking

Batching requires you to categorize all of your tasks. Then you schedule certain times during the day or week to work on each category. The batch method helps you use your time more effectively than when you’re multitasking. It also fosters peace of mind. When you know you’ve set aside time for answering emails and calls, you won’t stress about getting back to people. The quality of your responses will likely improve as well, since you won’t be rushing to write a reply so you can get back to other work.

Maker Days and Manager Days

To become more productive, try to institute Maker Days and Manager Days, a productivity approach built on batching. All of your meetings, scheduling, phone calls, and other administrative tasks happen on Manager Days. Maker Days are for getting things done.

The Maker vs. Manager model allows you to work effectively and creatively. When everything has an appointed time, nothing falls through the cracks. The quality of your output increases significantly.

Not everyone at your company may be on board right away. When you tell your coworkers, “I won’t be responding to emails this morning,” they might worry that you’re slacking off. But once they realize the opposite is true, they’ll be more forgiving of your slower response times.

How to Shift from Multitasking to Batching

Still, shifting from multitasking to batching takes some transitioning. Here’s how to make it easier on your boss, your colleagues, and yourself:

Get Buy-In

Don’t just stop responding to messages, especially in the middle of a big project. Before you switch to task batching, sit down with your boss to explain your rationale and ask for their support and permission. Tell them you’ll be more creative and productive if you’re not constantly reacting to other people’s priorities. If they’re skeptical, ask for a trial period and offer tangible metrics by which they can judge your performance.

Once your boss approves this new approach, huddle with your teammates and let them in on your plans as well. Reassure them that you’re working just as hard as before, if not harder. You simply won’t be available to respond to questions and issues at a moment’s notice. Some of them may even join you on the anti-multitasking train.

Set Expectations

Most conflicts start with mismatched expectations. That is why communication is critical during your batching transition. Share your schedule with your boss and colleagues so they know when you’re available for meetings and when they can expect your input via email or team chat conversations. As they become confident that you’re upholding your responsibilities, they’ll support your new way of getting things done.

Some people will have a harder time than others accepting your changed schedule. Be patient and let your results speak for themselves. If they persist in their criticisms, respond kindly but don’t get distracted from your core goal, which is to do good work. Take comfort in the words of Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”

cant focus at work? try task batching instead of multitasking

Allow Time for Fires

No matter how carefully you plan, emergencies happen. A project goes off the rails, a client pulls out of an agreement, a meeting is poorly run and eats into your day. Avoid falling back into multitasking chaos during these crises by building buffers into your schedule.

Give yourself an extra day or two to finish a project, just in case something comes up. Build in 30 minutes more than you expect to need when making phone calls so you’re not pressed for time if a conversation goes long. Having these bonus productivity slots will help you cement the batch method in your workflow.

Batching requires discipline, and if you’re used to multitasking, self-restraint may be in short supply. But you can build those reserves if you stick to your batching schedule and remember that you’re benefiting yourself, and your company, by doing one thing at a time — and doing it well.

In Ecclesiastes 3, Solomon writes about the time and seasons for everything in life. Verse 1 says, There is a time for everything,  and a season for every activity under the heavens. He continues in verses 12 and 13 – I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.

I think this wisdom applies to our modern day workplaces. There are times and seasons for certain jobs, certain transitions, and certain tasks within those jobs. But in all of it, we should find joy and satisfaction by doing what God has called us to – by fulfilling our purpose.

If you’re passionate about productivity or simply want to become more efficient, check out our Modern Worker’s Toolkit to Work Smarter, Not Harder.

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