"Batch processing" for time management

I want to be a bit more mindful about how I spend my time.

I was talking with someone recently about how she and I consume articles and blog posts online. I told her that I use the Pocket app extensively: whenever I encounter an article that looks interesting, but I don’t have time for the context switch required to read it, I simply add the article to Pocket to read later. (The problem, though, is that I often don’t end up actually making time later to read it.)

She has the opposite problem: whenever she encounters something interesting online, she immediately switches contexts and reads it, thus interrupting her current mental process.

The conversation highlighted a larger problem for me: I’m not very deliberate about how I use my time. The way she is with articles, I am with tasks: as soon as I remember something I need to do, I drop what I’m doing to check that task off my to-do list.

The problem is, many of these tasks are on my computer. So, I’ll be journaling, for example, and then recall that I need to buy, say, more camera film on Amazon. So I go to Amazon immediately to buy it, only to notice that my dedicated Facebook browser tab is prefixed with a “(1)”, meaning I have a new notification. So I switch tabs to investigate, only to realize it’s a politically charged comment about Uber that I’ll need to argue with. While I’m typing out a lengthy response, I recall that I’ve actually been meaning to set up an auto-forwarding Gmail filter that sends Uber receipts straight to a dedicated Evernote “Receipts” notebook, so I Google how to do that, leaving my Facebook comment draft open in its original browser tab. Meanwhile, the film is still sitting idly in my Amazon shopping cart…

You get the idea. But it’s not a matter of eliminating these tasks: with the exception of the Facebook argument, each of these items actually did require attending to. The problem lies not in the fact that I did them, but in the fragmented state it left my mind in afterward – especially since I consider journaling important to my health, and the journal entry likely would never get finished.

And the time management problem can go even farther than this: often, I find myself treating the completion of tasks as an end in itself, rather than just a necessary chore. I often catch myself, while on my computer, trying to think up tasks to do – usually process or efficiency improvements, such as the aforementioned Gmail filter.

But, as one might imagine, I don’t feel particularly good about how I’ve spent my time afterward. I never feel very accomplished after a long evening of setting up Gmail filters or organizing digital receipts or making semi-useful Amazon purchases.

This is where batch processing comes in. Instead of randomly doing tasks as they come to mind (and inevitably getting distracted if those tasks are on the computer), I want to start adding tasks to my iPhone’s Reminders app as soon as I think of them. Then, I’ll reserve thirty or sixty minutes each day to knock out everything I’ve added thus far that day. It’ll be important to make sure I only do those tasks and nothing else during that period. Because then I actually will feel accomplished, since they’re tasks that were important enough for me to write down.

It’s worth returning to the motivation of thinking about all this in the first place: better time management. The reason this has been on my mind lately is that I frequently find myself craving certain creative outlets, whether that be journaling, taking photos, writing letters, etc. But I tell myself that I don’t have time for these things, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: since I assume I won’t have time for anything creative after, say, coming home from work in the evening, I just waste time on the computer instead.

So! This blog post (which started as a letter, actually) serves as my starting gun to a new approach I’m taking to time management. Hopefully it catalyzed some practical ideas for you, too. And if so, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

OKAY. Commencing a batch process in 3, 2, 1…