Email, calendar defrags and task batches (or "How Gina Trapani could preserve my sanity")

I read a post by Gina Trapani on her Work Smart blog last night on my Kindle (I sent a batch of her posts to my Kindle and finally read them in the last few days). Her post is titled “Work Smart: Defrag Your Calendar by Batching Tasks“. The idea is pretty simple and will probably help me preserve what is left of my sanity by allowing me to process my inboxes to a big fat 0 and still get through everything within 24 hours of receiving the email:

One of the more advanced (and obvious!) productivity techniques is to group similar to-do’s and knock them all out at the same time. I call this task batching. It makes better use of your day by chunking similar activities into contiguous blocks of time.

Take a look at Trapani’s video guide to the topic with a focus on batching tasks by actions or contexts:

The idea for email management is similar and it involves blocking off time to just deal with email and then close your email app and get all that other work done. This is consistent with the Getting Things Done methodology and part of the process (at least how I understand it) is to process your email, set tasks, file your email and then get on with the tasks. If your inbox is anything like mine then you probably feel like the email just never stops coming in and you can find yourself constantly checking your inbox and never getting anything else done.

The problem with email is that it is almost immediate and people expect immediate responses. It is a totally irrational expectation because there is rarely anything communicated by email which has to be dealt with right away but because we have Blackberries, constant connectivity and the ability to receive and deal with email anywhere, we are expected to do just that. A number of productivity experts, including the awesome Merlin Mann, have advocated setting your email application to retrieve email in larger intervals rather than right away or every few minutes. I feel more than a little paranoid when I do that but it is more conducive to real productivity and worth the sweats.

A similar productivity suggestion came from the 37signals guys (can’t remember where the post is). The idea is, similarly, to block off chunks of time to focus on work. You close your IM, email and non-task-at-hand apps (TweetDeck would qualify here for me – talk about a time sink) and just work. No calls, meetings or distractions. That sort of approach appeals to me largely because I have a pretty fragile attention span. It also requires a fair amount of discipline to achieve that sort of work regimen.

Of course the point of all of this stuff is to actually get your work done and not waste even more time messing around with methodologies and systems. Find a system that works and get the work done. Speaking of which …







One response to “Email, calendar defrags and task batches (or "How Gina Trapani could preserve my sanity")

  1. Paul avatar

    We live in a wondrous technological age that also makes it harder to get things done. This is a challenge when you have a lot of things to do. Obviously.
    Fortunately there are a few steps you can take to be more productive. Here is my list for tomorrow morning.
    Step 1: Silence reminders
    I love that I can set, snooze and gaze fondly at reminders on my phone. I also really like how Google Calendar can help me schedule time to achieve goals such as learning Hebrew, how to code in Python and do my weekly reviews.
    It’s all great.
    The problem is that these reminders tend to chime at the same time when I am in the middle of some or other task. That is mostly my fault because I don’t really think through the timing for my reminders when I set them.
    My first step is going to be clearer about when I need to block off time to finish a task. With that done (possibly by blocking off the time in my calendar), I can set my reminders for “unreserved” times.
    Step 2: Email should know its place
    I know better than to keep checking email throughout my morning whenever my phone informs me that I have received more email. Sadly, I have forgotten the importance of batching this sort of stuff.

    Email, calendar defrags and task batches (or “How Gina Trapani could preserve my sanity”)

    My next step is to remind myself to keep my email tabs closed until I reach my designated time slots dedicated to checking my email and other batch-able tasks.
    Step 3: Be antisocial
    I should have paid attention to Catherine Jenkin’s Facebook/Twitter hiatus. She clearly had the right idea.

    Catch you on the flipside, in May, folks. I’m outta here for a bit.
    — Cath (@cathjenkin) April 12, 2017

    Although I am tempted to take an extended break from social media, I probably won’t. What I can, and must, do is severely limit how much time I spend on social when I need to focus on my work.
    I am also going to keep WhatsApp and Skype closed. Yes, people contact me through those apps and some of those conversations are even work-related. But do I need to keep the apps open all the time and check them obsessively? Probably not.
    I can batch this stuff too.
    So, step 3 is resisting the idiotic urge to open Facebook/Twitter/Google+ (yes, it is an equal opportunity, time-wasting urge) when I should be focused on the task at hand. That goes for WhatsApp and Skype too.

    I’m beginning to understand people who don’t “do” social media. It’s a weird insight into a life I haven’t really known.
    — Cath (@cathjenkin) April 23, 2017

    Step 4: Quiet, you beast!
    One of the biggest culprits is my phone. It notifies me about everything. My phone finds everything just so exciting that it has to tell me immediately.
    Lacking discipline and willpower, I pull my attention away from what I am working on and check my screen far too often. Each time I do that, I break whatever flow I’ve managed to cultivate and cost me additional time restoring my focus on what I was doing in the first place.
    This sort of thing does not constitute “winning” when you need to get things done.
    Fortunately, my phone has a handy “Do Not Disturb” mode that silences notifications from anyone outside my family members. It also silences incoming phone calls, which can be a challenge in itself, but the benefits may outweigh the downsides.
    Step 4 is going to be to switch my phone to “Do Not Disturb” and cut out most of those little interruptions that pour in throughout the day.
    Note to self (2017-04-26): Create an exception for event notifications so you don’t inadvertently miss the important, scheduled events you need to attend!

    If anything, I’ve learnt now that 1) The world doesn’t explode if I don’t know something the second it happens. 2) I sleep better.
    — Cath (@cathjenkin) April 23, 2017

    Right, so that is the plan for tomorrow and, quite possibly, all the other work days that follow.
    I hear that it can be pretty rewarding when you actually get things done when you mean to.
    Featured image credit: Veri Ivanova

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