For years I have been struggling with the nagging feeling of not “having time” to get the small, but sometimes important stuff done. I am talking about things like
- cleaning my car regularly
- paying that stupid bill
- calling my doctor for an appointment
- replying to WhatsApp or Facebook messages from old friends I haven’t seen in a while
- booking that flight in time
I always saw these things as not important enough to make time for it during the day, until I had put them off for so long that they had become an urgent thing. Moreover, I often simply forgot to do them because I didn’t have a well-working to-do list and system for those non-work related things, let alone having routines that allowed me to get those things done regularly as part of my week or day. Because of this, I always felt I was “running behind time” and never “on top of things”. Often I was embarrassed by having such seemingly mundane parts of my life “out of control”, like constantly getting payment reminders or having a dirty & cluttered car when I picked up friends.
Last year I finally developed a system for myself that lets me squeeze in all these little things into my day and finally be in control of the “mundane” things in life. Implementing this system has left me feeling calmer and more in control. My mind is less cluttered by constantly thinking “shit I need to do this, but I don’t have time” and thus I am now able to focus on the big things in my life in work. The technique is definetely not groundbreakingly new, but rather a combination of already existing productivity tips & tools out there. It’s called BATCHING!
What you need to implement a batching system:
Batching means taking a specific time slot to do a “batch” of similar little jobs. This could mean taking an hour after work every Monday to do your personal finance stuff (pay bills online, check credit card statements for weird charges, track your budget, whatever) or it could mean taking an hour before work to stop by the post office and the pharmacy. Another example is to reply to all your WhatsApp messages every morning on your way to work. As you can see, the basic idea is to batch similar tasks and errands together and then do them in one go, which allows you to get more done faster. Furthermore, by having dedicated times for these batches every week, you ensure that you are always on top of things and over time it becomes part of your routine like making excuses was before.
Here is the step-by-step process for creating your very own batching system:
1. Look at your weekly schedule and ask yourself the following:
- Are there any open time slots that can be used to power-through a few quick tasks? That could be your lunch breaks, the 30min you spend in the tube every morning, Tuesdays after working out, Saturday mornings, etc.
- What where the times when you actually got stuff done in the past?Can you see patterns about when, where and why you are willing or like to do certain things? The key is to make it easy for you and play on the sweet-spots of situations where you actually don’t mind doing those things.For example, I hate replying to WhatsApp messages unless its for coordinating with someone when and where to meet, I just really prefer face-to-face contact. However, I have found that I actually enjoy replying to messages when I am at work just in-between two tasks. So now, I deliberately take 5min breaks between tasks and reply to my messages.
Another example is that I actually don’t mind cleaning up if I do it right away when I come home from work, just for 10–15min, get all my things together for the next day, load the dishwasher, whatever. However, if I sit down or do something else right after coming home, I can’t get around to doing it later.
2. Note down all the stupid little jobs that you have been putting off for a while.
Also add tasks that you don’t necessarily need to get done this week, but that are recurring like paying bills, cleaning, laundry. Basically, note down everything that is part of keeping your life going but is neither your actual work nor something you would consider enjoyable.
3. Categorise the tasks
Think about which categorisation makes the most sense for you personally. A few types of categorisation would be: by type, by area of your life, …
For me, I categorised them in “digital tasks” including everything I can do with my laptop or phone when I have internet (paying bills online, booking hotels, replying to messages, etc.) and actually “running errands” which require me to go somewhere like to the doctor, to the post office or buy something.
4. Use a Tool
Once categorised, put them in a to-do list tool. I love to use Wunderlist. In Wunderlist, I have different lists which would be my categories. For example I have a list for digital errands and one for actual errands.
5. Identify weekly time slots for “batching”
Here are a few examples of my week:
“Admin Mondays”: I take an hour after work every Monday where I stay in the office and get a bunch of “digital errands” done. To do that, I open my to-do-list with digital errands, pick the ones where the deadline is close and get them done in one go.
“Errands-Lunch”: I usually keep it flexible which day I use for it, but I take one of my lunch breaks each week to get a few things done in town. That could mean grabbing something from the drugstore, stopping by the post office or buying a birthday present. It’s also a great way to spend an active lunch hour and get outside 😃
“Organizational Saturday Mornings”: I realised I love staying in bed on Saturday mornings a little longer and plan my weekly meal plan by flipping through my favourite recipe books and then making a meal plan and a dedicated grocery list. Those days, I usually have a bowl of porridge in bed and coffee which I absolutely love to do ❤️ After I get up, I try to do all the stuff around the house in one batch. For me that means: laundry, cleaning out the fridge, grocery shopping, ironing, sweeping the floor, taking out the garbage. I find that when I have an “admin” batch first thing Saturday mornings, I tend to enjoy my weekends so much more, because I am free to enjoy the rest of it without the nagging feeling of “damn, I need to do my laundry” and then being stressed out and having a cluttered mind all weekend. Furthermore, I love to have a clean house on the weekend, makes staying at home so much more enjoyable.
6. Add the time slots into your calendar
Turn on the “repeat” function in your calendar so you don’t need to think about it every week and over time you will do each batch as part of your normal routine
7. Experiment, learn and iterate!
It will take some time to integrate this new system into your life and find what works for you. Don’t worry about having the “perfect system” right away, just get started and then reflect on what worked and what didn’t (why not have a reflection batch?!). Iterating the system might include finding a suitable to-do list tool and system, finding reasonable time slots every week, finding the sweet-spots for when you actually enjoy which kinds of errands and assigning them there.
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Liz Huber is a Mindset & Productivity Coach and Founder of refinedlife.io. With her books, courses, and 1-on-1 work, she helps entrepreneurs overcome overwhelm, lack of focus, fear, and self-doubt. As a result, her clients are able to confidently achieve their goals by prioritizing what is truly important and streamlining everything else.