Experimenting with Task Batching for Flow and Calm

Right now, I’m thinking about batching my time, meaning to lump similar tasks or activities together in time blocks throughout the day. Aside from the practical productivity hack, I’m sure that my desire is to have more control over how and when I use my energy. I consider the energy you possess integral to who you are; it’s instrumental in how you feel, perceive, and interact with the world around you. It can often feel like there’s fierce competition in the world for your time and attention, and if you let it, this can have a direct impact on your energy levels and wellness.

I’ve come to notice that I use different types and amounts of energy on the various projects, activities, and even the people that I interact with on a day-to-day basis. This brings me to wonder: by batching like-tasks together can I develop a sympathetic energy dial, enabling me to ‘dial-in’ optimum energy when I need it, and restore and recharge my energy efficiently? I think about this in the context of helping myself and others develop the ability to optimize our energy and the harmony and great vibe that can take place when this is dialed in.

In previous posts I’ve shared my daily time tracking habit which I’ve used to align spending time on the things that result in a high quality of life for me. I believe this is an important step in becoming intentional about how you spend the 24 hours a day that we all have, and it has a direct connection to energy levels. Here’s a snapshot of my time tracking experiment turned habit:

Belief: The greatest equalizer is time. How you use it demonstrates what you truly value in this life.

Challenge: How long would it take to create 30 perfect days?

Experiment: Track time every day for one year, be very intentional about dedicating time to what matters most, curious if buckets of time will correlate with an overall higher emotional state of being. Since February 2019, every day I have tracked:

    •         Brief description of the day
    •         Hours spent in Flow, Active, and Relationships
    •         Overall emotional rating (five levels: -2, -1, 0, +1, +2)

At the end of the first year of the time tracking experiment, I sorted the data to see what I could learn. One of the learnings was that the highest rated emotional days had an average of two hours in the Active category, which can be defined as an activity that elevates my heart rate such as hiking, walking, yoga, or weightlifting. With this knowledge I created a meta habit of scheduling and maintaining a minimum of two hours of physical activity most days. I do this with the understanding that physical activity is a primary ingredient to me feeling my best, i.e., creative, present, compassionate, patient, focused, disciplined, loving and joyful.

Next, I’m challenging myself to achieve four Flow hours per day, defined as uninterrupted time spent in deep concentration, learning, or so fully immersed in something that I lose all track of time (the irony is not lost on me that I’m tracking time with the goal of losing all track of time for extended periods). One of the techniques I am toying with to accomplish the 4-FlowDaily is task batching, as mentioned earlier. I’m approaching this experiment with two angles in mind: 

  1. Will periods of deep work (generated by Flow) lead to a greater sense of fulfillment, and therefore more purpose and meaning in my work?
  2. Can I become better at using the right kind of energy at the right time, and will this result in a nervous system default mode of a parasympathetic state more often than not?

With equanimity and presence as my core values, another motivation for task batching is to reduce ‘attention residue’ in my life. The term ‘attention residue’ was coined by Sophie Leroy, associate professor of management at the University of Washington, and this quote from the BBC article How to reduce ‘attention residue’ in your life provides a simple explanation: 

“If you have attention residue, you are basically operating with part of your cognitive resources being busy, and that can have a wide range of impacts – you might not be as efficient in your work, you might not be as good a listener, you may get overwhelmed more easily, you might make errors, or struggle with decisions and your ability to process information.” – Sophie Leroy

Working in a corporate job, especially since the work from home orders due to the pandemic, typical days for most people are packed with back-to-back meetings conducted online via Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or other platforms. The transition between these online meetings is a fraction of the time as it was when working in the office where you had the opportunity to meet in physical spaces, or grab coffee or lunch, and the shift between these occasions provided a mental reset. Regardless of whether you are working remote, in the office, or a hybrid situation, going from one meeting to the next, transitioning between tasks, or switching gears to deal with a high priority request, are all a part of life working in organizations.

In the paper titled Why is it so hard to do my work, Sophie Leroy explains that research studying the effect of Multitasking – trying to accomplish multiple tasks simultaneously – on performance, the problem the research identifies with this work strategy is when you switch from one task to another your attention doesn’t immediately follow. This causes attention residue – being stuck thinking about the original task – and your attention can remain divided for a while, meaning that you are not fully present and focused on either task, or conversation.

I’m a believer that I control my schedule, it does not control me, therefore my theory is this: If I apply a daily task batching discipline I can attain a 4-FlowDaily and develop the skills to optimize and maximize my energy. This will allow me to be fully present, maintain a calm nervous system, and be better able to serve others.

I’ll put this to the test for 30 days and report back on my findings. Stay tuned!

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