Today I want to share a technique that has increased my productivity levels incredibly.
image by estherase
“How do you fit so much in?”
This is a question that I’m asked a lot.
Yesterday I kept track of the work that I did. It included:
- Researched & Wrote 5 blog posts (2500 words) – Planned a future series – Edited 3 guest posts
- Moderated 150 comments (Lara did the rest)
- Read 300 emails – replied to and wrote 50 emails
- Twittered 30+ times (including private messages) – Plurked 50+ times
- Participated in a b5 training chat (1 hour)
- Read (scanned) my RSS reader (600+ feeds)
- Used StumbleUpon, FriendFeed, Digg and other social media sites
- Took 4 Skype calls – IM’d around 8 others
- Oversaw the upgrade of DPS forums
- Did an email interview to promote the book – Arranged to do a radio interview later in the week
It was a reasonably busy day (on top of all that I did the normal dad/husband things as well as managing to go out for beer with a mate) – but not untypical at all. In fact last night I went to bed at 11pm – I often work for another hour or two.
So how do I get it all done day in day out?
The technique that I’ve been using more and more is what I call ‘batching’ or ‘batch processing‘.
It’s not a new concept by any means and I’m probably not using the terminology correctly – but it’s what I call it.
Batch Processing 101
In my understanding of the term ‘batch processing’ it was always used to describe systems (usually computerized ones) where data was collected together for a period of time before it was processed. Instead of doing every small ‘job’ as it arrived jobs were ‘queued’ or collected until the computer was ready to process them all at once. This meant that the computer could do these ‘batches’ of jobs all at once when it would otherwise be idle.
My First ‘Discovery’ of Batch Processing as a Blogger
My own ‘discovery’ of batch processing was quite intuitive. I’d not heard of the term until this last term but when I did I realized that I’d already been doing it to some level.
I’ve written numerous times before about how I apply the principle to writing blog posts.
image by Karsoe
I generally set aside Monday mornings (and usually Wednesdays also) for writing posts. I take my laptop – camp out in a cafe – spend most of the morning off-line (so there are no other distractions) and just write. My goal is to write at least 5 posts that I can then use later in the week. Quite often I’ll write as many as 10 posts in a 5-6 hour period.
Having these batches of posts in reserve means that during the week my time is freed up to engage in other blogging activities. Of course I supplement these batched posts with others during the week but having the bulk of my writing done in one go enables me to be more efficient. It also means that my posts quite often build on one another as one will spark another idea. If I get on a roll it’s amazing how much can be written in a short period of time.
This was my first taste of ‘batch processing’. As mentioned above – I started doing it intuitively (I think the first time I did it was when the internet went down at our house for a week and I had to go to the library to use the public computers to post for short periods of time).
My Messy Life
The problem was that while batching my post writing helped free up the rest of my week – that the rest of my week was a jumble of activities – I ran from one task to another and never seemed to get anything done. My life felt like a traffic jam with tasks coming from all directions.
A typical day would see me checking email 30 times a day, moderating comments as they hit my inbox, being interrupted by IM throughout the day, reading RSS when I remembered to do it between using social media sites and writing extra blog posts. The result was that my inbox had over 10,000 unread emails, I never cleared my RSS Reader and that I would get to the end of most days feeling like a nervous wreck.
My mistake was feeling compelled to deal with things as they came to me.
This only worsened as my blogs became more successful and as I took on more commitments (writing a book, speaking engagements etc).
Over the last six months I’ve taken batch processing to the next level and applied it to many aspects of my blogging.
I have discovered that most of the activities that I do in my work can be ‘batched’ in one way or another. I have discovered that many ‘urgent’ things can wait and in fact to make them ‘take a number’ and ‘get in line’ brings order to mess.
image by BenJTsunami
Siphoning off time for bursts of focused activity around a certain task means that I’m less inclined to flip from one thing to another. It means that I finish tasks. It means that I free up more and more time for the things that are important to do – not just the things that seem urgent.
Different activities need to be ‘batched’ at different intervals. Some are weekly (like my Monday morning writing sessions), others are every other day (like reading the bulk of my RSS feeds), others are daily (checking vanity feeds) and others I do for short sharp bursts multiple times a day (reading my A-list of of RSS feeds for breaking news, checking email).
Some of the tasks that I Batch Process
By no means are my processes perfect. I’m still a fairly impulsive guy so don’t have a set routine that I follow every day. I’m also fairly flexible and shift things around a lot – but here’s a list of some of the activities that I batch process and a short description of how I do each one:
Writing Posts – I’ve already described my weekly rhythm for this (Mondays and Wednesday mornings) but I also set aside other shorter times to write on a daily basis. This usually happens late morning on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and in these times I aim to write a shorter post for the day (often more news related).
Email – I’ve written previously about how I overhauled my inbox using Gmail but batching my use of email has helped me even more than the systems I put in place to filter my inbox. I generally do a very quick scan of my inbox first thing in the morning to look for anything genuinely urgent – but then do most of my processing mid morning and then in the evenings. Of course I scan it a few other times a day in case there are urgent emails (or if I’m expecting something) but attempt to get it right down to 0 every day (I don’t always succeed).
RSS Reading – I have two rhythms of reading RSS. I check my A-list folder in Google reader numerous times a day (my A-list contains just a handful of blogs that often break news in my niches). The rest of my RSS reading happens in less frequent batches. I do try to do it every day in one ‘batch’ but quite often I’ll only get through half of it and so ill do the 2nd half the next day. I tend to do this in 30-60 minute batches.
Twitter/Plurk/FriendFeed – These social messaging sites can be a time sucker if you let them so I tend to only allow myself to do them in 5-10 minute batches. On an average day I probably have 4-5 such ‘batches’. The reason that I do this numerous times a day is that it helps me to connect with different groups of people in different time zones.
Social Bookmarking – other time sucking services including Digg, StumbleUpon (especially) etc – I tend to do these for short sharp bursts – usually at the end of the day.
Editing Posts – At DPS I have a great team of bloggers who write weekly posts for me. They have taken a lot of the load off considerably when it comes to writing posts – but I still edit them (formatting pages, checking spelling and grammar, layout etc). I tend to do this in the evenings – but lately have tried to do 2-3 days worth at a time. So I allow incoming posts to queue up and then process/edit them in a sitting.
Instant Messaging – my old habit was to leave IM clients on all day every day and to respond to people messaging me as the messages came in. As a result I was constantly being interrupted. These days I have stopped using most IM clients and focus upon Skype and Gmail chat but don’t leave them on at all times. And when I do have them on I don’t always respond to IM’s straight away (I turn the sound off). Instead I let a few IM chat requests come in at a time and then respond to then all at once every hour or so.
Comment Moderation – I now filter all of the comment moderation emails that come in to an email folder dedicated to capturing them so that they never hit my inbox. I then moderate them periodically in batches throughout the day. The frequency between moderation batches changes depending upon what else I’m doing but also what is happening on the blog. For example if I’ve done a reader question post where I get lots of answers I moderate more regularly to keep the conversation flowing.
Book Writing – while I was writing the book I found it very difficult to fit it in to what was already a full day. As a result to get my part done I put aside extended periods of time just for writing. This included a few mornings at cafes but also one weekend away where I booked myself into a bed and breakfast down the coast and did nothing but write for the whole weekend.
image by margolove
The list could go on
There are very few (if any) tasks associated with my work that I don’t batch process (or at least attempt to). As I’ve mentioned above – my system isn’t perfect – I still have days when I’m less disciplined and return to old messy habits – but in general I find that batching my day into different activities means I’m being more focused and as a result more productive. As a result I tend to fit a lot more in than I used to and am able to achieve more.
A Word About Personality Types
Perhaps batching works best for me because of my personality type – I know some would resist it because they work best when they’re able to be very impulsive and have freedom to jump from one thing to another.
I used to think that I was this way – I thought I could be more creative if I approached each day like a ‘choose your own adventure’ book and flitted from one thing to another as my impulses led me. However I found that this kind of approach only worked for me when I didn’t have as many things to do.
When life gets busy I need systems and structure to keep on track. In fact putting boundaries in place around different activities allows me to be quite impulsive and creative in those times rather than getting stressed because of all the ‘urgent’ things that I need to do distracting me.
What about You?
Do you batch process tasks in your blogging (intuitively or strategically)? What would you add to my list of tasks? What ‘urgent’ things take up your time that might not be that important (candidates for batch processing)?
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