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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

The To-Do List Strategy You Need if You're Always Busy, Yet Somehow Unproductive

to-do list

I don’t necessarily consider myself a great multitasker. In fact, I find it pretty difficult to do more than one thing at one time. Let’s just say that patting my head and rubbing my stomach is not my go-to party trick.

A project hopper, however? That’s a reputation I will definitely take ownership of. I outline an article, answer a random email, and then start on a project—all before heading right back to my inbox to respond to yet another message. I don’t systematically tackle one thing at once. Instead, I jump around from task to task in order to keep chipping away at my seemingly never-ending to-do list.

However, I recently realized something that made me want to change up my methods. Yes, my workdays felt insanely busy. But, they didn’t necessarily feel productive. I’d get to the evening with large, looming projects still dangling on my list. I knew I spent the last eight hours typing feverishly at my computer. So, how did I not manage to get those things done? Where was my time going?

It’s for this very reason that I decided to give a method called “batching” a try. It’s a funny word, but an incredibly simple concept. Basically, it means that you group similar tasks together and then take care of them in one swoop. This method supposedly increases your productivity by helping you avoid that frantic switching of gears that always occurs when you hop from project to project. Instead, you can stay focused and zoned in on the tasks at hand, decrease your distractions, and conquer those to-dos strategically.

Needless to say, it sounded like a tactic that was designed just for me. So, I gave this system a try for one solid week to see if it was something that actually helped to give my productivity and concentration a much-needed kick in the pants. Curious about what I thought? Well, let’s stick with the “grouping like things together” theme and take a look at some pros and cons.


I Really Did Waste Less Time

While the Pomodoro Technique managed to sway me a little bit, I still consider myself to be a skeptic when it comes to different productivity hacks that promise to maximize my work hours. So, I was hesitant about this experiment. If anything, I assumed I’d only waste precious time trying to figure out how to do this effectively.

However, I ended up being surprised about how much time this tactic actually saved me. For one thing, addressing similar tasks in the same chunk of time helped me feel much less frazzled and stressed. Plus, I can’t even adequately explain how many minutes I saved by not having to constantly open and close a bunch of different documents and browser tabs. Instead, I’d access what I needed, get all of those relevant tasks taken care of, and then cross a whole block of things off my list. It truly was a smart way to work!

I Was Less Intimidated by Large Projects

We’re all familiar with those big projects and assignments that find a permanent home on our to-do lists, mostly because we’re too overwhelmed and intimidated to get started on them.

But, using this batching technique, I decided to break larger tasks into smaller, bite-sized action items. For example, I previously would’ve written “Write article for The Muse” on my list. However, in order to actually group things together more effectively, I broke that one assignment into several smaller steps, such as gathering my research, outlining my piece, drafting and editing, and then submitting.

I did this for all of the articles or bigger projects I was working on that day. Then, I’d do my research for all of them before moving on to the next step—rather than trying to tackle one entire article at a time.

This meant I actually was making progress on those things that I typically have the tendency to push off. But, the entire process felt much more manageable.

I Made Less Mistakes

Let’s face it—constantly skipping around throughout the workday can be distracting and disorienting. Of course, nobody’s perfect. But, I found that this disjointed approach to my work resulted in far too many mistakes and oversights, including typos in articles and emails sent to the wrong people.

By batching, I found myself making fewer of these slip-ups. I’m no scientist, but I’ll go ahead and credit the fact that I was able to dedicate all of my focus to the task currently in front of me. My thoughts weren’t as scattered, which meant I was able to proactively catch any of those little blunders and errors.


My To-Do List Took Longer to Create

In the interest of being balanced and honest, I won’t try to pretend that this productivity technique was totally free of any downsides. The biggest one I encountered again and again was that my to-do list took me much longer to pull together in the morning.

I’m a visual person. So, I knew if I was going to stick with this batching method, my list would need to be structured that same way—otherwise I’d just end up hopping around again. However, I quickly learned that attempting to be strategic involves some serious thought and revisions.

In the end, I usually made it this way:

  1. I’d jot down all of the things I wanted to accomplish that day into one giant list.
  2. I’d grab my highlighters in order to color code and group the similar items together.
  3. Then, since staring at that scribbled and highlighted mess would’ve pushed me straight over the edge, I wrote an entirely new list—paying attention to the grouping of items based on my color coding.

As I’m sure you can guess, this meant just getting ready to do work each day took me nearly twice as long. But, honestly, I think those couple of extra minutes ended up being well worth it!

It Wasn’t Always Sustainable

Random meetings and emergencies pop up throughout your workday—things you weren’t even planning on taking care of suddenly end up being priorities. We all know how that goes.

So, while this method works extremely well on those days when everything goes as planned, it’s not always manageable when you’re suddenly with an unexpected meeting or a work crisis. And, while you obviously need to make some adjustments and take care of what needs to be done, it can definitely be a little frustrating and disorienting to have a wrench thrown in your best laid plans. You can’t really “batch” time-pressing emergencies, after all.

So, Will I Continue to Batch My To-Do List?

As with anything, there are some distinct benefits and faults that come along with this method. But, all in all, I’d say it’s definitely something I’ll continue to implement. It really helped to increase my concentration and encouraged me to conquer my to-do list with a little bit of strategy.

Sure, there were some things that cropped up that I couldn’t plan for. However, as long as you’re willing to maintain a little bit of flexibility with this time management system, I think you’ll find great success with it.

Did you give batching a try? Get in touch with me on Twitter and let me know how it worked for you!