Productivity and GTD

Batching and GTD

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
Blog productivity

Preparing a 6-people paella is not very different from preparing a 3-people paella. It virtually requires the same time and effort, but the former will feed twice as many people. Also, running the washing machine with a few clothes requires the same resources—time and energy—than running it with 5 kg of dirty laundry.

Here is a key concept in productivity issues: Most activities require some kind of physical or mental preparation. Often, the cost of that setup time is relatively high compared to the results, and more or less fixed as well. This means that, once you’ve taken it on, it is the same for one as it is for a hundred.

If you want an effective solution in terms of cost and time, you will wait until have enough laundry to fill the washing machine drum. This is called batch processing or batching. Applied to personal productivity, it’s about grouping similar tasks that require the same resources in order to carry them out in a row.

An example. Imagine you like to use some time each day to manage your spending. To do this, you need to collect the bills of the day, turn on your home computer, open the management application and access the option to add new data. Suppose it all takes 10 minutes. If recording each invoice takes 30 sec and you have an average of four each day, you’ll need 2 min more. Total, 12 min per day, 84 per week. What if you did this once a week instead of seven times? Well, it would take only 24 min (10 for the setup time and 14 to record all the expenses of the week). An hour gained.

This approach proves to be the best solution to accomplish routine tasks that interrupt the most important, like reading email, phone calls, chatting, social networks activity, etc… By grouping each of these tasks in a daily time set (or even every few days) you can save a lot of time.

Interruptions is the great enemy of batching. There is a psychological adaptation cost to resume a work that has been interrupted. It’s estimated that an average of 15 min—it can take up to 45—are required to regain full concentration.

In GTD, this batch processing technique is used in almost all stages, in one way or another:

  • In order to process the collected stuff, a certain concentration and a proper state of mind are needed. Therefore it’s recommended to process all the stuff at the same time—one item at a time—, with the required frequency. Processing things as they are collected is totally unproductive.
  • Exactly the same goes for organizing. You need to keep in mind your goals and current set of tasks to organize effectively. In the case of simple tasks, I organize them while I’m processing. For more complex tasks or projects, it’s necessary to set aside a specific amount of time.
  • It is also advisable to review all the tasks in a row. The weekly review is a clear example of batch processing. One time a week you set aside time to review and update all your current tasks.
  • The reason for doing together—again, one task at a time—the tasks that belong to the same context is to minimize setup times. For instance, if you have to go out and buy something, you should do all your pending errands at the same time.

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