Batch, batch, batch

I just spent an hour writing and mailing checks. Most of our household’s recurring bills get paid automatically, or through a quick process of entering the month’s amount on our bank’s bill pay system. But my business contractor payments, and various one-off things like the balance on a summer beach rental, some charitable donations, and estimated tax payments usually happen via the paper check route.

I had several of these building up on my task list. So I designated the window right before lunch today as the time to tackle them. Doing them all at once, rather than here and there over the last few weeks, meant I spent less time on these tasks, total. I’d like to think it helped with keeping time open for other things too.

“Batch processing,” according to my dictionary, is the processing of previously collected jobs in a single batch. In considering workflows, it’s always good to look for opportunities to do this. I usually write my Before Breakfast podcast episodes for the week in a batch. I practice them in a batch, record them in a batch, and listen to and send in the sound files in a batch. I know some people with daily podcasts record a little bit every day. That can work but I like to get in the flow and have my equipment up and running and then be done until next week. There are often transition times associated with activities. Batch processing minimizes these. Transition costs might be worth it for some activities. But not for everything.

That can be reason enough to try batching the little things, but I think there’s an important psychological factor at work too. We all have lots of administrative or small tasks we need to tackle. When these are always options to do, we can either feel overwhelmed or sometimes we elect to do these little things instead of deeper work because of the lure of easy accomplishment. I should be working on my next book manuscript but…I need to send in my vehicle registration renewal form! And send in the balance for the beach rental! Lots of stuff gets crossed off the list, but the big main thing isn’t getting done. The little stuff does need to happen eventually — but probably not exactly at the moment when these little tasks become useful for procrastination purposes.

Set a time to batch process the little stuff, and you can tell yourself — nope, not now. Now is the time for book writing. You’ll write out those checks at 11:00 a.m. Wednesday. Not before.

Do you batch the little things?

Photo: Batch processing the Easter eggs…

16 thoughts on “Batch, batch, batch

  1. I tend to batch non-urgent emails until the end of the day/every few days and then process them all at once. The nature of my job (academic without teaching responsibilities at the moment) means that nothing is really urgent, but it’s easy to get distracted with my important work of writing. I’ll do an admin power hour at a slightly slower time of day or when I’m already a bit distracted. When I am teaching, I like to respond to student emails on my bus commute + write lectures 2 at a time, I can get into the flow of things and find spending 1 day every two weeks is more efficient than scattered throughout the week. I often write them on Friday when I’m tired anyways.
    I also open the mail 1x a week, we don’t get anything massively important or urgent, it can all wait and then I can recycle/shred/file in one go, instead of having little piles in random places.

    1. One thing I make sure to batch is running errands. About once every two or three weeks, I get everything ready the night before (items to be returned for refunds, packages and other outgoing mail, confirmation emails for pickups, etc). Then I plan out my route around town and go at it. We have nine kids, so we usually have a lot of little bits of things that need to be done. If I try to do just one errand, it seems to take up half a day. But if I decide ahead of time that the whole morning is for errands and plan exactly which ones, somehow I can run through a whole list in the same amount of time. This is without kids in tow though. If I have kids with me it’s a whole other story. Unless something is an emergency, I’m at the point now where I don’t even try to do errands with children along. It’s too hard on them and me and it is just not an efficient use of time!

      1. @Elizabeth – I would imagine that nine children can produce a lot of errands! Wise idea to batch them into one morning every few weeks. They can, indeed, expand to fill the available time.

  2. I do alot of batching with my job. I have designated time blocked on Monday morning, Wednesday morning and Friday afternoon to complete admin work (timesheet approvals, resource allocations, status reporting and financial analysis). It really helps me compartmentalize those activities and absolutely makes it more efficient. The only issue is when I forget to set my Zoom chat on DND. #distraction

  3. I love to batch tasks, but my nebulous work schedule can make this challenging. Generally though:
    Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings are dedicated to work and home administration tasks. I work part-time, but my jobs (though salaried) are very sporadic [I coordinate academic support – tutors, help centers etc – at a university, but my work demands fluctuate dramatically throughout the academic term (pre-midterm panic is understandably predictable). I also co-own a tech company and our SaaS basically runs itself at this point… until there is an urgent fire caused by an unpredictable software bug. I could go a month with almost nothing but admin work to do, and then have a flurry of days where all I do is sit and troubleshoot/connect with our developer to fix the bug, communicate with clients, etc)].
    If I have to reach out to a contractor, write cheques, pay bills, make calls to our accountant, etc – I put those items on my desk for MWF mornings.
    Tuesday and Thursday morning I batch cook (2 hours each day). Those 4 hours of meal prep are my main cooking for the whole week.

  4. Batching admin work is something I’ve been trying to lean into as both my work life and home life have gotten busier. I really like Lisa Woodruff’s approach of a Sunday Basket… I write notes to myself throughout the week, drop them in there along with the mail, things to return, etc. and deal with them all at once. I’ve started doing something similar on Friday afternoons for work — saving non-urgent emails, notes to myself, reimbursements, meetings to schedule, planning for the next week, etc. and pushing through it on a Friday when I wouldn’t otherwise get anything else meaningful done. It’s helping me feel less scattered as responsibilities ramp up!

  5. I have improved at batching tasks for work but my best batch work is done in the kitchen. I’m not a huge fan of food and meal prep so I like to power through a bunch of items then clean everything when done.

      1. Ditto. I LOVE my food processor and have multiple recipes that require the use of this handy kitchen gadget, but I hate cleaning it. One of my two meal-prep days I often will make a flurry of these recipes, rinsing them between each use (nothing with raw meat etc – mostly energy balls/Aussie bites/healthy muffins) and reducing my cleaning time dramatically.

        I’ll also batch cook up something like hamburger – making some in to meatballs, some in to loose meat for tacos etc. I hate handling meat, but when I do it in a batch environment it’s so little muss and fuss and I just freeze the prepped meat for a later meal.

  6. I layer my batching of paperwork filing and administrative tasks with a monthly upload of pictures (to allow far-away family to see how the kids are growing). Since the uploading just takes time, I start with that and then switch to paperwork.

    I also batch errands, e.g. I do grocery shopping, go to the post office and bring bottles to the recycling center in one outing. It saves time and gas.

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