How Batch Processing Made Me 10 Times More Productive

Today I want to share a technique that has increased my productivity levels incredibly.

stress.jpgimage 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.

batch-writing.jpgimage 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.

traffic-jam.jpg

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).

Batching Everything

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.

queues.jpgimage 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.

focus.jpgimage 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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About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
Comments
  1. An often overlooked aspect of this is that not only does this focused time let you get more done, it often lets you get that work done in a more creative and higher quality manner. I reference a couple of other good pieces on context-switching and the cost of interruptions in this blog post: http://www.emaildashboard.com/2008/06/interruptions-c.html

  2. You all sound so organized.
    As soon as I wake up I comment on ten blogs in my area of interest. Then my kids get up and I play with them till noon, they both go down for a nap and I write posts in advance, email people, network, read problogger. There just isnt enough time to do everything I want.

  3. This article came at the perfect time for me. I’ve been trying to do too many things at the same time and was finding that I didn’t feel like anything was accomplished. I’m trying to stick to a batch processing model such as you described but since I also work full time it can be difficult to do the the things that have to get down and find time for the things I want to do (twitter, play a game, read). I’ve been getting less sleep but that is not a long term solution.

  4. Darren –

    Wondering what you do with the random thoughts and reminders that jump into your head as you are processing one batch. What is your method for capturing the “oh right, I have to call XXXXX today.” and “Need to get stamps” stuff that jumps into your mind during the batch sessions?

    Great post. Thank you…found you via chrisbrogan.com

  5. Well done! yeah, I also complete tasks in batches but I like to set a timer because like you said it’s easy to lose track of time.

    This is one of the best posts I’ve read in some time. Thanks for showing us an inside peek of your schedule, and how you tackle your daily batches.

  6. Thats an incredible regiment. Most of that stuff overwhelms me everytime I try to make it into a process. I can’t tweet that much and I can’t handle the idea of jumping to plurk too. And I have enough trouble writing a post a day, but 6 at once… Ah!

  7. Excellent post, thanks! As I find myself juggling writing work and other commitments, I’m beginning to have more and more messy days, as you described. I’m going to try batch processing my work and see how it goes.

  8. Thank you.
    I already apply this ‘batch processing’ to email and other aspects of my life – it never occurred to me to apply it to blogging.

    I suppose that’s because blogging, for me, arose out of a need to express myself and communicate to others.
    But as a writing process, it makes MUCH more sense to do it this way.

    This is probably the most important & relevant post I’ve read all year.

    Thanks again.

  9. Good one Darren!! THanks I am just planning to embark on this next week and this post gives me a boost to know I am headed in the right direction! There is so much I want to get done this summer! Now.. if I can just apply it!! And if I can work around the kid inertia!!!

  10. What does this say about me? I could maybe research and write 5 blog posts, but that would take the entire day.

    To read 300 emails would take me half to 2/3 a day. Writing 50 emails would take me a week.

  11. Awesome post! I find for myself that establishing a schedule and sticking to it enables me to be more consistent about getting things done. I have certain days of the week when I write, and the other days I do “blog admin”. As I get more involved I’m going to break it down even further, but at the moment even as simple a schedule as that has made a tremendous difference.

  12. nice post darren…

    i have been trying to do this not with my blog… but with my other day today things….. managing friends and social networking in today’s world can really be daunting….

    hope i can use some tricks of yours…. will update with some of mine once i put it into practice and end up saving time and energy

  13. I like your game plan. I shall ponder upon it for a bit to see how I can modify it for my schedule. Have a great weekend. And thanks to Chris Brogan for sharing your link with us. Namaste.

  14. I’ve been looking for an answer for quite some time when it comes to organization. Hopefully I can take a little (or alot) from this article and implement it in to what I’m doing.

    Thanks for the ideas.

  15. I don’t batch process, but I need to start immediately. I need to just sit down one day and get ahead, because when you are behind, it’s difficult to catch up, never mind getting ahead.

  16. Darren,

    This is a great tip for people who has multiple blogs or sites to manage by his/her own!

    Any softwares you use to aid your batch processing?

    Cheers!

  17. When do you pray?

    Your day seems to very busy doing things for this world, but did you asked yourself what are you doing (praying) for the God who created this World?

    Please ignore, if you do pray in your daily life and do not mentioned it in your post, thanks.

  18. Great content!

    I have the same trouble with checking email too many times and being on social sites for longer than batching periods.

    I will definately use your suggestions to become more productive.

    I am half way done with your book as well and there is some great content in there, I look forward to reading the rest of your secretes!

    Thanks Darren

  19. I’m still a blogging hobbyist, so I have my “day job” that seriously cramps my blogging style :D However, even in my career, I’ve always been a batcher. It’s a classic time management technique; batch similar tasks together to maximize the number of tasks you can get done during the work day.

    With regard to blogging, it’s a different story when I am in mobile mode, but when I am not, I tend to blog at night and on the weekends. I have been known to queue up a daily post for times when I am away on business. I don’t want my meager but beloved subscriber base to get bored looking at the same post all week, simply because I had to go away on business.

    I’d like to get to the point where I am queuing up posts all the time, either in draft mode or else pre-dated to post automatically. This would be a great contingency in the event of unexpected business activity that prevents me from blogging.

    Tink *~*~*

  20. I am really happy that you brought up task and time management issues when it comes to blogging. I have just given in to the fact that I need to be blogging, so have not been at it very long, but I am quickly finding that there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done. I am going to take some of your approaches, and I think that I am actually the type of person that needs to build myself a schedule. Although, it could be just one more headache — another list to check and worry about clearing it off. Thanks for the insight into how you do it.

  21. As I’m not a “full-time blogger”, I don’t feel the pressure of posting. It’s not a problem for me if I don’t for a week or two. I just do it because I like it and when I want to do it.

    However, when I’m blogging I set up priorities. First I post, then I answer the comments, then I update digg (and others) and finally I do RSS reading.

  22. Ah, so that’s what I’ve been doing all this time is called! Great to be able to put a name to it, and an excellent post that really adds some clarity.

    I realized several years ago that keeping the communication lines open was pretty important, and that information processing and organization was a vital part of what I would be doing. Developing an information relevance system that enabled me to multipurpose information for a number of creative projects, each of which required forward movement enforced the organic and rational development of a batching system, and the discipline to work with it.

    It takes a bit of time and some tactful approaches and strategies to know when and how to gently but firmly move others into a time slot where you can commit energy to their needs also. Once you have that sorted out life does become easier because it gives you time and space to consider and gather the resources that will make the time productive.

  23. Not having to switch gears is a huge time-saver in of itself. I find myself using a time of sorts and dedicating all of that time to one specific action. Thanks for another good post.

  24. My partner has taught me a lot about this type of efficiency gains. She develops lists and bath processes them.

  25. Great post
    I will use this for my financial blog in the near future

  26. The idea of “batching” jobs is just something that I have always done. I guess with having two kids, two jobs, starting my own business, running a blog, and finishing my degree online; “batching” jobs is the only way that I could get anything done in my life.

    I found out an interesting thing when I presented this idea to my class: Many of them were actually against this idea. They felt that it created too much work for them. They couldn’t see the whole picture. All they seen was what used to be one project on a Monday and two projects on a Thursday; now turned into three projects on Monday–even though they had the entire rest of the week off.

    People are so adamant against change that it sometimes makes me wonder how we even advanced at all.

  27. Great post. I got many ideas to use in my blogs.

  28. My blog i till very new and I really don’t have o much work on it now but I gues in the future (about a year from now) it will be big time and I will have many challenge to face. I mut get ready for batch procesing before then…

  29. I got about a quarter of the way through this post, got distracted, and only re-discovered it as I closed up all my tabs on my way out the door. I’d be happy enough with PROCESSING, let alone batch processing.
    Earlier today, I just went into Bloglines and found I had more than 7,000 unread feed items. I just unsubscribed to everything. Now THAT’s my idea of batch processing!

  30. Thank you for the information, it sure helps.

  31. Thanks a lot for advices! Maybe now it would be possible for me to arrange my working time for being more productive(and free time as well).

  32. What a fantastic post! I felt like you were describing me to a tee when you wrote it. I am horrendously impulsive, not only when it comes to writing tasks but just about everything else as well. I love the concept of batch processing and plan to try it out right away…provided I can focus long enough, that is. Thanks for sharing your words of wisdom.

  33. thats a great post! I saw this on chris bogans’ site and this is just genious. I had heard of a few of these ideas before – but putting it all together is a great idea.

  34. nice..very nice darren,that’s very good advice

  35. This was the right post at the right time for me, thanks so much!

  36. Something I need to learn for sure

  37. Great post most definitely something i fall down on to, i get to distracted to earl i need to do what you seem to have planned here.

    Thanks.

  38. I agree this is a great post, I think I can use this to make me more productive with m blogs.

  39. I think I do a similar method. On Saturdays, I write nothing but video, and news post for my blogs a href=”http://www.pariahs-guild.com”>Pariah’s Guild and a href=”http://www.hypertechninja.com”>Hyper Tech Ninja .Then during the week, I write nothing but feature articles. Although I slacked up a couple times (I just made video posts for Hyper Tech Ninja today), this method is defiantly effective and time saving. I can’t imagine my blogging routine without it.

  40. It also occurs to me that the “switching gears” concept mentioned by Josh is an important factor in managing and focusing your own attention.

    Thought is fragile and an excellent escape artist (rivals Houdini!) until it is recorded, so managing time and attention to ensure it doesn’t have an escape route is a valuable discipline to develop.

    It’s a lot to do with being able to understand the way your mind works, and then give it the opportunity it needs to gather, consider and communicate.

    If you’re having to constantly switch or shift gears from one subject to another, your mind either needs to become a gymnast swinging on the trapeze of thought, or stay tight and taut on the rope that links your observation with your destination; imparting valuable information to your readers, without falling into the void of zero accomplishment.

  41. This is one of the best posts I’ve read on a blog in a while. It’s definitely something I need to get into. Managing time is a place I need improvement haha. Great post.

  42. I generally find that I work best in “batches” as well. It’s hard to get into work mode, but once it happens, it’s easy to keep working. I like the ideas of Mondays and Wednesdays for posting. You seem to have a great balance of social media… it’s needed whether we like it or not! *=)

    Great post! (as always)

  43. This is a great post, I am a strong believer in having a plan, it really sends your energy into one place keeping yourself in line.

    I was just like what was described in the beginning. Very scatter brained, just reacting to circumstances as they came along. I was so busy wasting time in between steps I could never get anything done.

    Batch processing is just like having a plan, I think it solidifies your thoughts and gives a guideline for the steps you can take to accomplish what you want. A mental picture to refer when you finish one thing and find yourself asking, “what next”.
    Mark Babineaux
    Progressyourlife.com

  44. At this moment I find it easier to just do things as they come around. I know that as I start blogging on more than one blog organizing my habits will be a must. I could see things pilling up and getting very difficult once I am busier. I hope to need a system such as this within time but right now I’m still able to be sporadic.

  45. Great advice Darren! You caught my attention with ‘how do you fit so much in’.
    IM is a real problem for me and you really gave a good method to deal with them. I’ll try ‘batching’ my work now.

  46. Darren:

    Another great post! You have great points. I used to consider myself “the most organized person I know!” until blogging became my passion. There are so many things to do, so much to learn. I am going to – step away from the computer – and create a priority list. You can’t do everything!

    Congrats on the arrival of your son. There is nothing like it! You have enough content on your site to take a couple of weeks off and I will still be trying to catch up!

    Thanks for your insight.

  47. dam, im lazy. my routine:
    stare at wall
    sleep
    write half an article
    sleep
    watch old episodes of saved by the bell
    sleep

    I need to change it up.

  48. Thanks for this post! I’ve been thinking I needed to put something like this into my schedule for a few weeks now, and this gave me the push to get at least the first try in place. So far, so good — I’m fifteen minutes ahead of schedule today instead of an hour behind; allowing the perfect opportunity to comment!

  49. Firstly, I would like to mention my gratitude for the practical and useful tips provided in this post.

    It certainly helps those of us who may be overwhelmed by the number of tasks that need to be address in any given day.

    Your article is laced with substantial truths that most online surfers can relate to, even if they do not blog.

    Keep posting valuable information.

  50. Thanks for the tips. I am a newbie in the world of blogging and I have been looking for efficient ways to produce regular posts without it taking me all day. However I must admit that I do get distracted with Instant messaging icon placed at a prominent position on my desktop- I will be removing it now.

    I will try batch processing and see if there is any improvement at all.