Many of us have lofty ambitions for our personal and professional lives. We want to devote hours to solving big problems, coming up with new ideas, and so forth. At home, we want to spend our time relaxing or doing high quality activities with the people we love.
Then there’s the reality of our to-do lists: Fill out permission slip, return that form to HR, email John about the office party three weeks from now, sign up for the next session of parkour, send $25 by Venmo to a friend’s gift collection, book the dog sitter for next weekend. And so on.
The result of hacking through all these little things is that we can feel incredibly busy, yet still feel like we’re not getting much that matters done. Or, in the words of Tolstoy about his W&P character Prince Andrei, “He was so busy for whole days together that he had no time to think about the fact that he was doing nothing.”
Napoleon’s invasion solved that problem for Prince Andrei, but in the absence of that, I’d suggest Rule #8: Batch the little things. By designating a small window in a schedule for doing lots of little tasks back to back, you can keep other times open for deeper work or relaxing.
I’m posting this on a Friday, and long-time readers know I create a “Friday Punch List.” This is a running list of all my not-terribly-urgent little tasks that I allow to accumulate during the week. Since I mostly leave Fridays open, I can work through the punch list during an hour or two in the morning, checking off thing after thing.
Batching the little things has a few upsides. First, a limited window creates efficiencies. Tasks tend to expand to fill the available space. To make them take less time, give them less time. If “order a birthday present” is on the list, and I’m aiming to get through the whole list in 60-90 minutes, I won’t hunt through the entire universe of available options. I just pick something, order it, and cross that off.
Second, I don’t feel guilty about not doing any of these tasks at other points. I know I’m going to respond to person X on Friday, so I don’t worry about the fact that I’m not doing it on Thursday morning. This allows for more focus.
It also creates more discipline. I’m working on a novel right now, and sometimes it’s tempting to stop working on it to go order a birthday present. If I know that Friday is the time for birthday present ordering, that takes away some of this procrastination temptation.
I’d note that you can batch chores as well. Rather than have house cleaning hanging over your head the entire weekend, decide that you’ll tidy for, say, 60-90 minutes on Saturday morning. If it doesn’t happen during that time, it was probably not terribly urgent. And if you find yourself looking at a dirty floor at some other point, you don’t need to hop up to clean it. There is a time for that, and now is not that time.
Anyway, I know not everyone can follow this rule. Some sorts of work are more urgent than others. But even people who traffic in tight deadlines often have some little, non-urgent tasks that might be suitable for batching. You can file your breaking news stories right away…and fill out those forms or send invoices or respond to that email about the networking lunch in one fell swoop on Fridays. And even with things that can’t wait too long, you can create a small batching window during a non-peak-productivity time on any day. The point is to separate out the tasks that need to be done, but don’t require your best self, from the tasks that do.
Do you batch the little things?
In other news: This rule, like all the rules I’ve been writing about over the last eight weeks, comes from my new book, Tranquility by Tuesday: 9 Ways to Calm the Chaos and Make Time for What Matters. If you haven’t checked it out, please do! And if you have read the book, and enjoyed it, would you consider writing a review? Reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other book sites really do influence other people’s purchasing decisions. I would appreciate it! Let me know if you do write a review so I can thank you.
Also…do you have Friday planning on your to-do list for today? There’s an excerpt from the book over at Quartz this week about why Friday is the best day for weekly planning.