One of the biggest questions that we get asked is “how do you guys do it?” What people are referring to is how we manage all of our responsibilities:
- We have a 2-year-old daughter
- Tom works a full-time time job
- We founded and manage a real estate investing company with 23 units (apartments)
- We founded and manage a wine and liquor store
- Tom contributes a weekly blog to the real estate investing website BiggerPockets
- We own a house and are married
- We now created and run this website
- And last but not least, Ariana pulls it all together to make it work
We admit, this is a lot of stuff and it does get crazy at times. We use a lot of techniques to manage, but the underlying strategy that helps with just about every aspects of our productivity is the concept of batching.
What is Batching?
At the most basic level, batching is grouping one or more activities together, then completing them all at once.
To get a little geeky, I first learned about batching when I became a software developer. One of the basic decisions when processing information was would the data be processed one by one or in a group. To determine which approach to use, we needed to look at how soon the information needed to be processed. If the information was needed right away, then we would process one by one as the data came in. If the information was not needed right away, then we would wait until we had several pieces of information, then process them all at once.
What’s the Point of Batching?
You may be asking “what is the point of grouping things together instead of just doing them as them come on?” The answer comes from how productive we can be. We as humans are very bad at multitasking. There are some instances where we can do more than 1 thing at once, but they are typically things that do not involve your brain. In this transcript from Scientific American from 2009, it explains how we can not actually multitask, our brain just works faster in some cases, but it is still processing things one at a time. If you want to get even more geeky, Joel Spolsky has written a great article describing the impact how computers multitask called Human Task Switches Considered Harmful.
So if we can’t truly multitask and we can only focus on one thing at a time, is there any impact to trying to multitask? Absolutely, and the results are not good.
The hidden problem with multitasking is the result of something called context switching. Context switching is when your brain is focused on one thing, then switches to a different activity, then switches back to the original. It takes time to switch between these tasks, and it takes time to get back to a productive point. This means that each task will take longer than if you completed 1 at a time.
I’ll use an example from writing this blog post to illustrate this point. On average, it takes me 30-45 minutes to create a new article. Today I am not working in the office but instead on the laptop in our living room while I watch Elena. As with most two-year old children, she is all over the place. One second she is watching Mickey Mouse, the next she is doing a puzzle and a few minutes later she is “reading” a book to herself. This is fine as she does not have anything that she has to get done. But that is not the case for me. I wrote the first paragraph, then she came over and pulled me away because she wanted a snack. Once her hunger issue was taken care of, I got back to writing. But I did not remember what I was going to write next because I was pulled away. So I had to reread the last paragraph and think of where I was going with that thought. Once I get back into my frame of mind, I was off to the races again and onto the next paragraph. That’s when she came and grabbed my hand because she had the sudden urge to brush her teeth. Once her mouth was clean, I got back to writing, but again I had to reread and remember where I was going. You can probably see how this adds a lot of extra time to each article that I write and would really add a lot of time if this was how I wrote every article. Thankfully, it is not how I write every article.
How do We Use Batching?
There has to be a better way. Yes, there is.
Most of the time we utilize batching for our activities. Below are some of our examples.
There are many things that come in to our list of things to do during the week. Most of these items are not critical, such as the following:
- All business mail, including any bills that do not offer a paperless option
- Getting through any non-critical email received throughout the week
- Reading/reviewing any articles that we tagged for later reading during the week
We have a queue setup in GQueues (our task management system, see above) for the items to take care of once a week on Sunday. We also have a wall mounted file folder for any mail or paperwork that we need to review on Sunday. This allows me to process this information once instead of on a daily basis.
As previously mentioned, we decided that we would publish a new blog article each day. This would be very hectic to try to write each day to have a blog ready for the next day. In order to ensure that we did in fact publish a new article each day and did not rush it, we batch our article writing together. We try to do most of it on Sunday, but other times we will just block time away to focus just on writing articles. This is to avoid the situation that I described above with getting pulled away. This allows us to spend less time writing articles and to have a list of articles written ahead of time. In a future post, we will discuss how we automate and schedule much of the work around actually posting the new blog articles.
Many people let email become a disruption and check email constantly. I took some advice from The 4 Hour Workweek [Book, Review] and decided to batch my email. The image below shows the difference in time that I have gained from only checking email twice a day instead of constantly. As a result, I do much less context switching and get a lot more done.
Social Media Posting
Pat Flynn has strategy called “Be Everywhere“. One of the important aspects of creating content is to make sure it gets out to the world. A great way to do this is to share it on social media. One important aspect of social media is to be active. This can be very difficult to do as we are all so busy that we cannot be on social media 24/7. And this is where I will share an insider secret… we are not on social media 24/7, even though it may appear that way.
We use a fantastic app called Buffer, and it is one of our favorite tools. Buffer allows you to add multiple social media accounts. Then when you share content, you can select which accounts to share it to. But the real secret is with being able to schedule content. We put aside time each week to schedule our social media postings. Below is a look at our Twitter account in Buffer. As you can see we have several tweets scheduled. Some are from our website, some are links to great content from others.
Now we don’t automate all of our social media, but we do leverage Buffer to schedule a lot of content posting for us to we can constantly be active on social media. We do go on and live tweet/chat with people as well. We also respond to everyone who communicates with us on any social media platform or who shares our content. Buffer just allows us to still be active on social media without needing to live on social media.
I hope this all makes sense to you. From years of working in the corporate world, I was always told that being able to multitask was a good trait. Over the last several years I have really challenged that notion, and instead worked to create an environment in which I do not need to multitask. The effects of this have profound in both work and personal lives, as I am more effective and spend much less time doing the activities that previously consumed a lot of my time.
Do you utilize batching at all? We would love to hear some other examples of batching and the benefits that you have experienced.