As a productivity enthusiast, there are so many tricks, strategies and techniques to try the very thought of them can almost make you less productive. Cue paralysis by analysis.
In saying that, according to Thomas Frank, there is one technique to trump them all, making you more productive with minimal additional effort. What is this particular technique? Find out below.
It all started 100 years ago
More than 100 years ago, Henry Ford adopted a technique that changed manufacturing practices forever. What was this technique?
The Assembly Line.
This technique involved keeping workers in stationary positions and then bringing the car parts along a conveyer belt.
When Ford applied this technique to build the Model T’s chassis, assembly time was reduced from 12+ hours to down to just 93 minutes. Now that is efficiency.
This allowed cars to be produced more quickly and at a much lower cost.
Fords Assembly Line in the Modern World: Task Batching.
When Ford adopted this technique, he was really doing task batching, getting each of his employees to focus on one thing and one thing only. Task batching is simply organising tasks into groups or batches, enabling someone to work more efficiently and get more done in less time.
Batching tasks together achieves a few positive outcomes.
- Reduces the startup and cleanup cost of each task; Almost anything you do requires some sort of startup time and setup cost. You have to get the correct tools and set up your proper workspace. Sometimes, this even includes getting yourself to the right location to achieve the task. All these seemingly little startup and shut down times add up over time, or as Sam Ovens says, creates 1000 paper cuts.
- Less cognitive switching; A great benefit, especially in this day and age of constant distraction. When you switch tasks often, you get this kind of cognitive switching penalty where it takes your brain a while to regain focus on the task at hand or switch to the next job. During this time, productivity can drop until you get into the flow state of deep work where great work happens. This is why notifications can be so detrimental to productivity.
- Setting expectations for when you don’t do the task; Another benefit to task batching is that when batching as part of your daily schedule, you set the parameters for when you don’t do the thing. For example, if you were to set up your schedule to check email from 9-10am every day, you are then setting the expectation for when you don’t check email.
Contexts: The Secret of Task Batching
Popularised by David Allen, contexts are the first step in producing high-quality work by batching into specific areas of your life. Context areas may include:
- High energy or Low energy; Some tasks create a high amount of mental energy, while others need low mental energy. By batching your tasks by energy level, you know to do the high energy tasks when you have high energy and the low energy tasks when you have lower energy, i.e. morning of high energy and afternoon for low energy. This is also useful if you know your biological prime time, a term coined from The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey.
- Location context; Another good context for task batching involves location or technology. For example, you can batch all your errands together to make more efficient time. You can make all your calls at the same time, take all your meetings in a defined block, and many other ideas.
Most task managers allow you to create contexts as labels that you can assign to your tasks as you see fit; you may have a tag for energy level, internet usage, and/or tools required.
To start task batching effectively, gather all your tasks and label them with some of the contexts mentioned above or others that may be logically useful. Then, schedule these into the calendar for extra productivity points.
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