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How Batch Processing Made Me 10 Times More Productive

Today I want to share a technique that has increased my productivity levels incredibly.

stress.jpgimage by estherase

“How do you fit so much in?”

This is a question that I’m asked a lot.

Yesterday I kept track of the work that I did. It included:

  • Researched & Wrote 5 blog posts (2500 words) – Planned a future series – Edited 3 guest posts
  • Moderated 150 comments (Lara did the rest)
  • Read 300 emails – replied to and wrote 50 emails
  • Twittered 30+ times (including private messages) – Plurked 50+ times
  • Participated in a b5 training chat (1 hour)
  • Read (scanned) my RSS reader (600+ feeds)
  • Used StumbleUpon, FriendFeed, Digg and other social media sites
  • Took 4 Skype calls – IM’d around 8 others
  • Oversaw the upgrade of DPS forums
  • Did an email interview to promote the book – Arranged to do a radio interview later in the week

It was a reasonably busy day (on top of all that I did the normal dad/husband things as well as managing to go out for beer with a mate) – but not untypical at all. In fact last night I went to bed at 11pm – I often work for another hour or two.

So how do I get it all done day in day out?

The technique that I’ve been using more and more is what I call ‘batching’ or ‘batch processing‘.

It’s not a new concept by any means and I’m probably not using the terminology correctly – but it’s what I call it.

Batch Processing 101

In my understanding of the term ‘batch processing’ it was always used to describe systems (usually computerized ones) where data was collected together for a period of time before it was processed. Instead of doing every small ‘job’ as it arrived jobs were ‘queued’ or collected until the computer was ready to process them all at once. This meant that the computer could do these ‘batches’ of jobs all at once when it would otherwise be idle.

My First ‘Discovery’ of Batch Processing as a Blogger

My own ‘discovery’ of batch processing was quite intuitive. I’d not heard of the term until this last term but when I did I realized that I’d already been doing it to some level.

I’ve written numerous times before about how I apply the principle to writing blog posts.

batch-writing.jpgimage by Karsoe

I generally set aside Monday mornings (and usually Wednesdays also) for writing posts. I take my laptop – camp out in a cafe – spend most of the morning off-line (so there are no other distractions) and just write. My goal is to write at least 5 posts that I can then use later in the week. Quite often I’ll write as many as 10 posts in a 5-6 hour period.

Having these batches of posts in reserve means that during the week my time is freed up to engage in other blogging activities. Of course I supplement these batched posts with others during the week but having the bulk of my writing done in one go enables me to be more efficient. It also means that my posts quite often build on one another as one will spark another idea. If I get on a roll it’s amazing how much can be written in a short period of time.

This was my first taste of ‘batch processing’. As mentioned above – I started doing it intuitively (I think the first time I did it was when the internet went down at our house for a week and I had to go to the library to use the public computers to post for short periods of time).

My Messy Life

The problem was that while batching my post writing helped free up the rest of my week – that the rest of my week was a jumble of activities – I ran from one task to another and never seemed to get anything done. My life felt like a traffic jam with tasks coming from all directions.

traffic-jam.jpg

A typical day would see me checking email 30 times a day, moderating comments as they hit my inbox, being interrupted by IM throughout the day, reading RSS when I remembered to do it between using social media sites and writing extra blog posts. The result was that my inbox had over 10,000 unread emails, I never cleared my RSS Reader and that I would get to the end of most days feeling like a nervous wreck.

My mistake was feeling compelled to deal with things as they came to me.

This only worsened as my blogs became more successful and as I took on more commitments (writing a book, speaking engagements etc).

Batching Everything

Over the last six months I’ve taken batch processing to the next level and applied it to many aspects of my blogging.

I have discovered that most of the activities that I do in my work can be ‘batched’ in one way or another. I have discovered that many ‘urgent’ things can wait and in fact to make them ‘take a number’ and ‘get in line’ brings order to mess.

queues.jpgimage by BenJTsunami

Siphoning off time for bursts of focused activity around a certain task means that I’m less inclined to flip from one thing to another. It means that I finish tasks. It means that I free up more and more time for the things that are important to do – not just the things that seem urgent.

Different activities need to be ‘batched’ at different intervals. Some are weekly (like my Monday morning writing sessions), others are every other day (like reading the bulk of my RSS feeds), others are daily (checking vanity feeds) and others I do for short sharp bursts multiple times a day (reading my A-list of of RSS feeds for breaking news, checking email).

Some of the tasks that I Batch Process

By no means are my processes perfect. I’m still a fairly impulsive guy so don’t have a set routine that I follow every day. I’m also fairly flexible and shift things around a lot – but here’s a list of some of the activities that I batch process and a short description of how I do each one:

Writing Posts – I’ve already described my weekly rhythm for this (Mondays and Wednesday mornings) but I also set aside other shorter times to write on a daily basis. This usually happens late morning on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and in these times I aim to write a shorter post for the day (often more news related).

Email – I’ve written previously about how I overhauled my inbox using Gmail but batching my use of email has helped me even more than the systems I put in place to filter my inbox. I generally do a very quick scan of my inbox first thing in the morning to look for anything genuinely urgent – but then do most of my processing mid morning and then in the evenings. Of course I scan it a few other times a day in case there are urgent emails (or if I’m expecting something) but attempt to get it right down to 0 every day (I don’t always succeed).

RSS Reading – I have two rhythms of reading RSS. I check my A-list folder in Google reader numerous times a day (my A-list contains just a handful of blogs that often break news in my niches). The rest of my RSS reading happens in less frequent batches. I do try to do it every day in one ‘batch’ but quite often I’ll only get through half of it and so ill do the 2nd half the next day. I tend to do this in 30-60 minute batches.

Twitter/Plurk/FriendFeed – These social messaging sites can be a time sucker if you let them so I tend to only allow myself to do them in 5-10 minute batches. On an average day I probably have 4-5 such ‘batches’. The reason that I do this numerous times a day is that it helps me to connect with different groups of people in different time zones.

Social Bookmarking – other time sucking services including Digg, StumbleUpon (especially) etc – I tend to do these for short sharp bursts – usually at the end of the day.

Editing Posts – At DPS I have a great team of bloggers who write weekly posts for me. They have taken a lot of the load off considerably when it comes to writing posts – but I still edit them (formatting pages, checking spelling and grammar, layout etc). I tend to do this in the evenings – but lately have tried to do 2-3 days worth at a time. So I allow incoming posts to queue up and then process/edit them in a sitting.

Instant Messaging – my old habit was to leave IM clients on all day every day and to respond to people messaging me as the messages came in. As a result I was constantly being interrupted. These days I have stopped using most IM clients and focus upon Skype and Gmail chat but don’t leave them on at all times. And when I do have them on I don’t always respond to IM’s straight away (I turn the sound off). Instead I let a few IM chat requests come in at a time and then respond to then all at once every hour or so.

Comment Moderation – I now filter all of the comment moderation emails that come in to an email folder dedicated to capturing them so that they never hit my inbox. I then moderate them periodically in batches throughout the day. The frequency between moderation batches changes depending upon what else I’m doing but also what is happening on the blog. For example if I’ve done a reader question post where I get lots of answers I moderate more regularly to keep the conversation flowing.

Book Writing – while I was writing the book I found it very difficult to fit it in to what was already a full day. As a result to get my part done I put aside extended periods of time just for writing. This included a few mornings at cafes but also one weekend away where I booked myself into a bed and breakfast down the coast and did nothing but write for the whole weekend.

focus.jpgimage by margolove

The list could go on

There are very few (if any) tasks associated with my work that I don’t batch process (or at least attempt to). As I’ve mentioned above – my system isn’t perfect – I still have days when I’m less disciplined and return to old messy habits – but in general I find that batching my day into different activities means I’m being more focused and as a result more productive. As a result I tend to fit a lot more in than I used to and am able to achieve more.

A Word About Personality Types

Perhaps batching works best for me because of my personality type – I know some would resist it because they work best when they’re able to be very impulsive and have freedom to jump from one thing to another.

I used to think that I was this way – I thought I could be more creative if I approached each day like a ‘choose your own adventure’ book and flitted from one thing to another as my impulses led me. However I found that this kind of approach only worked for me when I didn’t have as many things to do.

When life gets busy I need systems and structure to keep on track. In fact putting boundaries in place around different activities allows me to be quite impulsive and creative in those times rather than getting stressed because of all the ‘urgent’ things that I need to do distracting me.

What about You?

Do you batch process tasks in your blogging (intuitively or strategically)? What would you add to my list of tasks? What ‘urgent’ things take up your time that might not be that important (candidates for batch processing)?

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About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. I just read about blocking time in Michael Gerber’s book E-myth Mastery and decided it would be my next good habit formed. Right after that, Dan Kennedy suggested it in his time management book and now at problogger.

    I have to admit that I have not succeeded in sticking to my blocks everyday so far but am getting better. And I can tell it’s making a big difference in my results.

  2. Christian says:

    This post was incredible – and feel it will definately help me with my work schedule, in helping to free up more time for the important aspects of life. Great post!

  3. Great post! The key in switching to batch processing is that there is going to be a learning curve to switching from the “one task at a time” routine. I agree that this is the best way to stay focussed and manage time in the best possible manner.

  4. In First Things First by Covey he talks about “urgency addiction.” One of the single best ways to improve our efficiency, he says, is to break the addiction to thinking whatever is new is important. Sounds like this batch processing is a way of implementing that.

  5. Parth says:

    Wow! This was an amazing post! Goes right back to the whole idea of the 4-hour workweek and ROWE. Do what’s important, get rid of all distractions, and focus.

  6. Mr. Javo says:

    I agree with you Darren, everything works better if you organize your schedule to do all those activities which blogging requires. I also order my activities by priority, but sometimes I’m too busy with the university and I need to skip some of them, like social networking which take you a significant time.

  7. When I was in real estate, my coach had me line out a schedule for a week and define what a “perfect day” looks like.

    It helps determine how much time you actually have and what can be accomplished. When I am consistent about sticking to my schedule and realistic about the time it takes to do tasks, I frequently “find” time when something goes a little more quickly than expected.

    It’s a great feeling to have rather than always trying to play catch-up.

    Your ideal schedule break down also depends on your personality type. Some people like to switch between multiple tasks.

    I like to do it until it’s done, which can be a problem for those “overwhelming A’s.” I have to force myself to break down a big project into more realistic chunks.

  8. Phreaked says:

    I feel like I try to batch process but then sometimes work against it b/c I want to feel like I have my choose my own adventure book.

    A bad example would be the fact that I used to try to cook large portions of food and save the leftovers so I could eat quicker (I live by myself so it’s not as if I keep a lot in the fridge anyhow). BUT I would hardly ever eat the leftovers because I didn’t like knowing exactly what I was going to eat for the next two days. And thus they would spoil.

    At the same time I wrote three blogs yesterday and posted them all. And two days from now I’ll probably be beating myself up for not posting more today, although I could have just posted one a day instead. That impulsiveness in me, dies hard.

  9. This post was SO incredibly helpful, as was your organizing the gmail filters post. I could relate to so much of what you said – especially about being naturally impulsive and thinking I worked best that way, until it all got to be too much.

    I’m by no means in your league, but with a blog design business and four blogs of my own, plus writing for another, I find that I spend the majority of my day on the computer, flitting from one activity to the next.

    Thanks for this helpful advice, and also for providing me with a great topic to blog about! I’ll be posting my own version of how I got to be more efficient later this week, referencing your posts, of course!

  10. I stumbled across this site from a Digged post and have read many helpful articles. This one is definitely near the top.
    I’m only a blogger in my spare time and an overworked journalist the rest of the time so I find it difficult to post every day (sorry, I know). A little batch processing-type structure could be a big help for me.
    ep

  11. p74 says:

    Isn’t this just what people used to call concentrating on one thing at a time? Something I am not very good at admittedly. I guess the computer metaphor works for some people as a way of getting their heads around what’s involved. A friend of mine who turns her email off until lunchtime finds she gets loads done that way.

  12. Reginald says:
  13. Silla says:

    I have the same problem – too much to do and too little time to do it in, and then I go and get distracted too!

    I have 1440 unread emails (not all recent of course) because I don’t always have time to read them immediately, and then I forget about them. And I have over 2500 unread feed posts in my feed reader! Plus I’m trying to start my new blogs and write posts, improve, and earn money from the one that’s already up and running, and I just don’t have enough time!

    I must really set up some filters in my email program, clean up my desktop, and set a schedule for everything. I work best when everything has a set time, and that has just not been happening lately.

    So thanks for the tips! :)

  14. I LOVE this post! As a mom of a 15-mo-old who works full-time at home, I really need to spend more focused (i.e. condensed) time on blogging activities. I will definitely try some of these ideas.

  15. Mike Gillis says:

    Hi Darren,

    Great article on becoming more productive. I just posted a related article on how to get more done in your online business and have added a link to your article.

  16. ron says:

    In the early days of the big computers we used data cards. Each card had data or commands and the bunch of cards would all be submitted to the computer thru a card reader into the system. This was called “Batch Processing”.

  17. Air Pistols says:

    What a great read Darren. My time is spent wasted on doing the most mundane things most days, I wish I could just keep on track and actually stick to a program of batch processing.

  18. This post was very helpful. I have several blogs that I work on as well as homeschooling, ministry and other stuff. When I took a break in Dec I wrote batches of posts and had them scheduled and the blogs went on while I was away from them. So I’ve done it before but I need to make it a routine. Thanks for this and for heartofwisdom for tweeting about it.

  19. Kapil says:

    Great post. I figured out that I was intended to do this from long time, but my impulse, as that of yours, stopped me, but now you reminded me. Thank you.

  20. You’re showing your age calling this post batch processing – at least if you’re thinking of the same batch processing I am. :-)

    Thanks for sharing with us how you manage all the details involved in being a problogger. I wonder how many realize how much knowledge is involved and how many different tasks there are to get done?

    Recently I’ve been focusing on commenting in other blogs. Since I subscribe to comments for each post my inbox is overflowing. I’d love to have an application that automatically deletes them when I visit that blog post again.

  21. Tari says:

    What a great posting. I think ‘batch processing’ will be the in-thing
    as it will help us who have less time to devote to our sites.

  22. This is something which will cover very handy for blogger. I surely need to try this and see how I can be more organised and save time too.

  23. cheriebombe says:

    Nice post. I’m one of the ‘impulsive types’ you mention.

    I’ve struggled with time management, but I’ve recently developed an unorthodox way of dealing with it. Thought it might be interesting to share how I deal with it:

    I’m most productive attending to what I want, when I want, but sometimes it all gets a bit much and I can’t turn the anxiety off long enough to figure out what to do next.

    Solution?

    1. To-do lists. Very important.
    Sometimes if I’m really bogged down I’ll need to write an all-encompassing one to begin with.
    I find that once everything’s down on paper, it’s as if I’m allowed to relax because I don’t have to bother keeping all those reminders in my head any more.

    Once that’s done and I’m a little more chilled out, it’s time to refine it into a short-term list – comprising only things I’m realistically likely to do in the next day or two. (Need to be honest with yourself for this one)

    2. Each item on the list gets jotted down in great big black marker on a small piece of paper (single words will do).

    3. Each bit of paper gets blu-tacked evenly around my home office.

    4. I swivel out into the middle of the room, clear space around myself, close my eyes and swivel til I don’t know where I’m facing (and can’t fix the results).

    The first note I see when I open my eyes is what I fixate on until I feel I’ve progressed significantly with it and it’s time to get back into the middle of the room and take another spin.

    (NB. Not so good to do straight after lunch)

    Yeah, ok, I’ve been called weird before. But I’m more productive than I’ve ever been and it feels great, so there :P

  24. Norm says:

    This is a wonderful post. It solidified something I heard some time ago. That is, that it is indeed better to work in sections of time doing one thing at a time. I’m hearing it again. I gather I am learning something here. Batch processing is very cool especially the technique of doing a whole week of posts at one sitting and off line.
    Thanks

  25. Michelle says:

    Darren, awesome post. Interestingly, I just sort of discovered batching myself this week. I run a food/cooking blog and am always scurrying getting things cooked/baked with reasonable frequency. Last week I decided to put together monthly calendars (with flexibility, of course) for blogging topics, and this week began doing all of my in-kitchen work in one day (Monday) then spending the next day writing and processing photos. SO much better!! I am looking forward to implementing the rest of your ideas regarding email, IM, RSS, etc.