The joy of batching

The garden is winding down, so I need to can, freeze and otherwise preserve the harvest so it doesn’t go to waste. It’s a time-consuming task: a single batch of pickles takes a few hours, from slicing the cucumbers to processing the jars. Still, it’s a decent time investment since I like homemade pickles. It would not make sense to cook a jar each time I needed more instead of batching it all together once a year.

Batching is a great boost to productivity, be it to create software or to cook. You want to keep thinking about what you’re doing so you avoid cooking each proverbial jar of pickle separately. Does your day look like this?

  • Writing an email
  • Starting on feature #1
  • Writing an email
  • Writing an email
  • Going to a meeting
  • Starting on feature #2
  • Writing an email

It’s hard to avoid this completely when emergencies are rolling in and email and chats are clamoring for your attention. Still, you’ll lose a lot of time working like this even if you feel you’ve been productive all day. Having to switch gears to handle a task takes a bit of time for each, so it’s worth thinking about it.

When all the tools are in place and you’re in the thick of it, writing another validation, answering that last email or completing a feature properly doesn’t take much more of your time. What is expensive is getting started and finding everything you need to do your job. You should always keep in mind how you could group similar tasks together to minimize setup time instead of choosing tasks at random.

Batching can’t be applied to everything: you can’t make sandwiches for the whole year in a single weekend, or stay up to date with new technology by binge learning for a week and then quit learning for the rest of the year. The best way to use it is to complete well-defined tasks that you’ve mastered. If you’re likely to be side-tracked, for example by writing a huge, complicated email while you’re trying to clear your inbox, it may be best to finish that one later instead of breaking your momentum.

My most productive time is in the morning, which is when I can have a few hours to go though my backlog and kill many small, similar tasks without interruptions. I’m sure you have one of those periods too: you should protect it as much as you can because that’s when most of the work gets done.