I could hear it in his voice — the frustration over trying to figure out how to deal with a never-ending flow of email was palpable. Unfortunately, before I could share a few thoughts, the elevator door opened and I had to walk away. If only I could have had a little more time. That’s the real issue, isn’t it? It’s always about time. There never seems to be enough of it. I suspect you can relate because I can’t imagine there are many out there who have never felt overwhelmed at some point by a cluttered inbox, a stack of phone messages, sticky notes posted all over the place (you should see my office!), the pile of files on their desk, and/or all the entries on their “to do” list.
Had more time been available on the elevator that day I would have told my fellow passenger, “there are ways to make the task manageable; and while I’ve never stumbled upon a one size fits all solution, I do like the idea of task batching” and the conversation would have progressed from there. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I will readily admit I’m not a devout practitioner of task batching. I wouldn’t have sticky notes all over my desk and monitors if I were. That said, I am perhaps best described as beginning to appreciate its value proposition, which is why I chose to share it with you.
Here’s what task batching is all about. You combine similar tasks into batches and then tackle each batch of tasks head-on during a set time each day, week, or month. This will allow you to devote time to — and focus exclusively on — one task at a set time as opposed to trying to juggle fifteen different things at once. For example, if you are a morning person and tend to have an energy drop every afternoon, you might schedule three hours each morning to solely devote to working on client matters and then set aside an additional block of time a few afternoons a week for client interactions. If you receive a significant amount of email, perhaps you set aside two smaller blocks of time each day to focus on email. If you need to create content for your social media space, you might set aside a block of time every other week for content creation. Rinse and repeat for client contact (phone calls, voicemail, text messages, etc.), business development, administrative tasks, taking care of self, and anything else that can be batched together.
Of course, the trick in finding success with an approach like this not only in committing to the plan, but in following through in terms of staying focused when working on any given batch of tasks. Here are a few tips that can help get you started. Calendar all blocks of time set aside for working on the different batches of tasks you establish. Silence your alerts and close your email program when you need to concentrate on tasks like writing or working on client matters. Use an autoresponder as a way to inform clients and others what your email response policy is. Let staff know when it’s fine to interrupt you and when it’s not. If you can receive messages through a client portal, let all clients know that messages that come through the portal are a higher priority than messages that come via email or text.
I know closing an email program is a tall order. Change is hard. I get it. However, be open to recognizing the true value proposition with task batching, which is in helping you save time. Think about it. Every time you try to juggle multiple tasks, your brain needs time to catch up with each move. When you sum total the time lost as a result of your brain trying to accommodate excessive jump shifts throughout a day, the answer is not insignificant.
If you’re still not convinced, allow me to share one final thought. I do still occasionally hear from a few who tell me they’re accomplished multitaskers who have risen above the need to worry about time. All I can say is I don’t buy it, because the self-proclaimed proficient multitaskers I’ve come to know over the years always seem to live in a perpetual state of hyperactivity. Maybe I’m alone on this; but it seems to me multitaskers are in denial about there never being enough time. Seriously. Do you know any accomplished multitaskers you would describe as being cool, calm, and collected day in and day out? The defense rests, your honor.