I'm thinking about when we should do things in small bits during the day/week, and when we should "save them up" to process as a batch. Following are some thoughts.
- Email: Email management is the canonical "batch is best" time management example. We need to differentiate processing (emptying), monitoring (triage), and checking (read, don't act, and leave in inbox - waste). I suggest using monitoring for incremental (but don't go nuts), and processing for batch (use the minimum # times that you can get away with, given your job).
- Custom workflows: Switching my financial workflow (incremental processing of receipts weekly, reconciling as a batch for monthly statements) was a big productivity improvement for me. Details under "Balancing your checking account" in Custom Workflows For Knowledge Workers. Are there repeated processes in your work that can be split up into separate incremental and batch portions?
- Projects: Incremental! Trying to do a task that's too large is demoralizing, and leads to procrastination. That said, there are times when you're in the zone, and you should consider changing your plan and staying with it until productivity drops. Most of the time incremental is best - "making simultaneous progress on multiple projects" is how I put it. Even 10 minutes can help.
- Around the house: A lot of incremental opportunities, such as putting things away when done with them. Batches include washing laundry and doing dishes after a meal. Related: Waitress as Organizational Guru, via Collection Habit Infection, Routines, And The Value Of Creating Space.
- Writing: A specialization of project execution, I'd vote strongly for incremental: In general, steady, small steps work much better than binging. My academic clients in particular are susceptible to the latter ("I'll get this done this summer/on sabbatical.")
- Blogging: A specialization of Writing, I made this shift a while ago, and it's really helpful. As Chris says in How to Blog Almost Every Day, "Find 20-40 minutes in every day to sit still and type." I enter items into my idea capture system throughout the day, and have ~20 of them pulled out into draft HTML files at any one time. I add to these during the day as thoughts on the topics come come to me, or if I get the urge to do some image surfing.
Can we abstract some heuristics? To get you thinking: Use incremental when the job is large, or when breaking into small steps has a big payoff for the final project. Use batch when many items of the same type can be done more efficiently together. For example, when set-up and take-down are significant percentages of the job.
I'm curious: What's your thinking around incremental vs. batch? Any examples? What Do's and Don'ts can we come up with?