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.
9 thoughts on “Tranquility by Tuesday Challenge, Rule #8: Batch the little things”
The following is the review I put on Goodreads for Tranquility by Tuesdays:
I gave this book 5 Stars!
This is my favorite book by Laura Vanderkam!
I love the examples of her rules and being able to determine which ones work best for me.
See my Kindle notes for more information. The first three entries in my Kindle notes include the entire Table of Contents for the book showing the 9 Rules explained in the book.
Thank you for writing your book and creating this program.
@Barbara – thank you so much! I’m thrilled it was your favorite book. I keep trying to aim upward, so hopefully the next is even better 🙂
I really appreciate your support — it means a lot to me.
“There is a time for that, and now is not that time.”
I have a short list of favourite quotes from 2023 handwritten out in the front of my planner – and this one made the cut today. Such a helpful perspective for me and I love how it’s written in the style of a self-talk mantra.
@Elisabeth – excellent, so glad the quote made the cut 🙂
I love this rule. I have a special spot in my weekly plan to dump things like this that require a bit more focus. I put work emails in an “admin powerhour” folder and blast through them when I’m on the bus etc.
@Coree- admin power hours are great! I got through a ton Friday morning and it felt good. And I didn’t try to do those things at other points!
One thing I struggle with is managing personal email as it tends to generate lots of little (or big) tasks to-do. I will never be an “inbox zero” person and it’s hard for me to stay on top of it. I don’t get phone notifications for every email so I don’t check it obsessively. Do you have any recommendations or best practices for tackling personal email? Batch it/like only look at it once a day? Thanks!
@Katie – Yep, that personal email can generate a ton of little tasks. If that is not the primary way people who are closest to you contact you (like they call or text) then I’d check it once a day as a “batch” time, and then if a task needs to be done relatively quickly, do it as part of the batching or write it on the list for your weekly punch list if you have one.
Thanks for the tip. Will try this. It will take some self control to limit checking in during short times between calls, tasks, etc.