Reducing mental load, but not waiting for the perfect time (more on Rule #8: Batch the little things)

In Monday’s blog post I talked a little bit about mental load. I have personally been thinking a lot about this topic lately. I am working on revising a novel and I also want to think about my next non-fiction book idea. Both of these require a lot of mental space.

Ideally, I would go off to a cabin in the woods somewhere (well, perhaps to the beach somewhere) and work on these things for the next month. I might pop home for a day or two here and there to say hello to everyone but other people would be managing all the details fabulously. Not only would all the logistics be flawless, potty training would be done, all the camp sign-ups finished, etc.

I will wind up taking a few days away at some point to work on my big projects (so this is not exactly a woe-is-me post), but a month probably isn’t going to happen.  In the meantime, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about such lofty matters as how to prove a child understands the quadratic equation so he can take a summer engineering course (harder than you might think when your district doesn’t do a standard algebra 1-geometry-algebra 2 sequence, but combines topics from each in different years). Also, a competition blazer that was dutifully ordered during one week’s Friday Punch List has gone missing. UPS claims it was delivered. The package is no where to be found.

Anyway, there is much to be written about who does what work, and much has been written on this topic. But if you happen to be in a situation where you are carrying a substantial mental load, I think batching the little things is one of the most practical strategies for at least keeping the heavy mental load in check so time is available for longer projects that require focus.

This somewhat radical proposition is that you carve out time for your highest value work, or the work you want to do, and then you force as many of the other things as possible into the remaining chunks that you allot for them. I know this doesn’t work for all professions, or even make sense for some. But if you are in the business of coming up with ideas or analyzing complicated matters, there is no substitute for time and attention. It’s just a matter of what you give your time and attention to.

And so, yesterday, despite the missing competition blazer (re-ordered because we need it) and the camp issue (I gave up and my kid chose a different class with no algebra 1 pre-req), I carved out time to write a new short chapter and revise a different one. I’ll do more today and Thursday as well.

I guess I could end the blog post there, but there’s a second and related point about deep work and mental load, which is that if you do want to do creative work, or speculative work, or any sort of focused and intense work, it can be easy to tell yourself a story that you need a month in that cabin to do it. Or even that you need a free day. I had been somewhat telling myself this story as I looked at this week’s schedule. The only really open day is Thursday, so I figured I’d work on the novel then.

In particular I did not think that Tuesday (yesterday) would be a good day for creative work. I was a guest on several podcasts (batching those on the schedule too of course). I love talking about time management and I’m flattered that any host wishes to talk to me about it. I also know that as an introvert, talking to lots of people all day can take a lot out of me.

But I had a two hour break between shows in the middle and I had a revelation (as I might tell someone else…) that you don’t actually need a whole day to make progress. You can do a lot in two hours if you just get started.

And so I did. Perhaps I would produce better work in that cabin. But if the cabin is not happening soon, something is almost always better than nothing.

So batch to reduce the mental load. And then don’t wait for perfect conditions to do the work you want to do. That’s how these things actually fit into life.

In other news: Wondering what this talk of batching is about? This is Rule #8 in Tranquility by Tuesday, my most recent time management book. We’re working through the nine rules over nine weeks here on the blog, and are nearing the end! If you’d like to pick up a copy of Tranquility by Tuesday there are links to retailers here.

4 thoughts on “Reducing mental load, but not waiting for the perfect time (more on Rule #8: Batch the little things)

  1. This really helped me, Laura, since I’m sitting with my husband for a long (routine) test day with my laptop shut off. I will turn it on now, rewrite the scene in my novel I’d planned on doing, and doing a tiny batch instead of yearning for the cabin in the woods.

  2. I have scrapbooked at the last three kid hockey games I’ve been at. It sounds really odd, but it’s a wonderful use of time during pre-game waiting and intermissions. It’s not a perfect set up, but I focus on what I can easily do (cropping pictures) and have more progress than waiting around for that elusive set of a couple free hours while at home.

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