The Case for Batch Processing
You guys. My life has just been changed by batch processing. With batch processing, you do the same type of task all over the course of a day, rather than shifting focus between many unrelated activities for shorter periods of time. For example, spending an entire day focused on applying to young artist programs rather than applying to each one as they post (or, let’s be real, the day they’re individually due).
Why have I not tried batch processing until now, you ask? Well, for one main reason. I suffer from an intense fear of falling behind. I am not good at giving myself breaks, because in my mind if I’m not currently working toward my goals it means that I am falling behind on them. The fear of falling behind led me to try to work by means of “a little every day.” I scheduled a little bit of time every day for every goal I wanted to reach. My schedule might looked a little something like this:
9:00am-10:00am – Breakfast
10:00am-11:00am – Workout
11:00am-12:00pm – Respond to and process emails
12:00pm-12:30pm – work on German (Duolingo ftw)
12:30pm-1:30pm – practice
1:30pm-2:30pm – lunch
2:30pm-4:30pm – work on current projects for Graphic Design biz
4:30pm-5:00pm – respond to and process emails
5:00pm-6:00pm – work on projects for The Organized Singer
6:00pm-8:00pm – cook and eat dinner
8:00pm-11:00pm – evening off and get ready for bed
This sounds good in theory, right? I mean, I scheduled time for all three of my businesses (singing, graphic design, and The Organized Singer), plus time to work out and cook meals. I even gave myself the evening off. Generous of me, huh?
But looking at this schedule a little closer, you’ll notice that there is zero wiggle room in there. If I fall behind even a little bit the whole schedule gets thrown off. And you know what? More often than not I fell behind. I overslept. I would get absorbed in one particular task and accidentally go way beyond the time I had scheduled for it. An old friend would call to catch up or some other interruption would inevitably come to pass.
I’d end up trying to catch up on the things by working during the free time I had scheduled for myself at the end of the day. But by then, I’m too tired to get anything done, and I’m feeling crabby for letting myself fall so far behind, and I didn’t get to work on two out of my three businesses even though the whole point of this was to be able to work a little bit on everything every day – not to mention that I worked through my intended free time. During any of my accidental “free time” during the day I still had work hanging over my head.
For some reason I kept thinking this schedule was the best thing for making steady progress toward my goals. But for months and months, I ended up only making a little bit of progress on only some of the things. I felt guilty any time I would take any time off to spend with friends or family, and I felt like a total failure at the end of every single day.
It wasn’t such a great schedule after all. So I had to change something.
Since one of the biggest problems I had was getting too involved in one task at a time, I decided that I would try to dedicate each day of the week to one particular type of task, and have only ONE thing to focus on for an entire day.* Now instead of scheduling out each day hour by hour, I focus on one “to-do” area and leave anything else to its appropriate day. As of right now, I process the following types of tasks:
Monday: Administrative tasks - pay bills, update website, etc.
Tuesday: Emails and Applications
Wednesday: Repertoire Research
Thursday: Create All The Things - new products, plan out recitals, etc.
Friday: Writing - blog posts, newsletter, program notes...
Saturday: Social Media - scheduling important posts
Sunday: DAY OFF!
*To be fair, some things you probably still have to do every day. I still make time to practice each day, to do my daily workouts, and to answer time-sensitive emails, etc. It wouldn’t really work to do a week’s worth of practicing in one day and I certainly don’t want to try.
All of a sudden everything changed. I could get interrupted and not fall behind on my work. When all of my work for my one daily “thing” was complete, I could relax and be done for the day without feeling like I was wasting time. I didn’t feel like I was behind on other things because I knew I would get to them on their assigned day. I even had a day OFF, for Pete’s sake.
It’s not like the amount of work changed. It just turns out that it takes a huge amount of time for our brains to switch between tasks. We focus far better when we stick with one subject and run with it. You’d think that by only having one day per week to send off applications I’d fall far behind. However, when I have 6-8 hours in one day completely devoted to the task? I am 100% sure that I get far more done in those 6-8 hours than when I split up the work over the entire week. So not only am I not falling behind, I’m actually working better and getting more done. Who’d have thought?
So now that I batch process my major areas of work, a couple of things have happened:
I can actually enjoy the free time that comes my way.
I now feel like I can get more done than ever before, and am making faster progress toward my goals.
I have made time for things that I always wanted to do but that kept getting pushed to the back burner, like repertoire research and recital planning.
Not bad for one simple change of focus! Do you think this same type of change could work for you?