How switching tasks throughout the day could be costing your productivity—and what to do about it

For small business owners, it can feel like there is never enough time to accomplish everything. If you’re feeling scattered in your day-to-day responsibilities, it may be time to implement a new approach to tackling your workload. One strategy that can help optimize your efforts is time batching (also called calendar blocking). If this is the first time you have heard of this, time batching can revolutionize the way you approach work.

What Is Time Batching?

Time batching is the act of grouping similar tasks together on your calendar to gain economies of scale. Almost everything can be batched: answering emails, running errands, customer calls or appointments, answering employees’ questions, and even meetings.

Here are a couple of examples. Instead of running to the office supply on Tuesday, going to the printer on Thursday, and visiting the warehouse on Friday, why not accomplish all your errands on Wednesday in one trip? Instead of answering emails as they appear in your inbox throughout the day, set aside designated time to answer them two to three times a day. If your calendar is overrun with meetings and appointments at all hours of the day, consider scheduling future appointments back-to-back, or designate one or more days a week as “no meetings” days by carving out time as “not available” in large chunks on your calendar. 

The beauty of time batching is that your brain will be less exhausted at the end of the day. When your workday is spent jumping from one task to the next, the brain experiences greater fatigue, and productivity suffers. These dings to your output are called switching costs, because they describe the tax that results from switching tasks often. 

Studies show that time costs are more significant when transitioning to more complex or unfamiliar tasks. Dr. David Myer, a psychologist who studies multitasking, determined that “even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time,” according to an article by the American Psychological Association.

While switching tasks throughout the day is often necessary for most professionals, excessive switching can strain the brain. Time batching, on the other hand, helps reduce the number of times you switch tasks throughout the day, thus reducing mental fatigue and time costs that result from multitasking or frequent task switching. 

Business vs Personal Time

You can apply time batching to more than just your work life. In fact, it’s likely that you’re already practicing it at home and don’t realize it. Common examples of time batching at home include prepping meals for the week on Sunday or washing several loads of laundry in a row. 

While some things can’t be batched (like walking the dog), many more can. You just need to be open to the possibilities.

The Highest Payoff

The highest payoff with time batching comes when you can reduce your most common interruptions. For example, employee questions could be fielded more strategically by cross-training employees. Or, you could host recurring “office hours” for your team to address any questions or roadblocks with you, instead of stopping by throughout the day. 

Emails, chat platforms, and texts are also a source of constant interruptions. If your role allows it, consider reducing your distractions by silencing one or more of these communication methods. If you set aside designated time throughout the day to answer these communications, they’ll never go more than a few hours without being addressed anyway, and your day will grow a little quieter. 

Phone calls can be another source of interruption. When possible, encourage callers to schedule a time to call you or let them know how much more efficient email is, or silence your ringer and get back to them at a designated point in the day.


Getting It All Done

You can practice time batching for years and still get better at it. Try implementing just one element of time batching to start, like scheduling time to answer emails and then stay out of your inbox. Slowly transitioning to time batching will help you avoid change overwhelm. Then, every few months, look for more items to batch (no matter how long you’ve been practicing).

Time batching will not only help you get home to your personal life sooner; it will help you feel less drained and more energized at the end of the day, allowing you to actually enjoy your personal time. Try it and see what you think.