It’s a crummy feeling.
You started the day with a fire under your butt and pep in your step. You were going to accomplish all the things.
But then that early site visit ran long, or a colleague pulled you into an unexpected meeting. You went looking for that one email, and ended up spending an hour bogged down in the inbox.
By the end of the day, you’ve been running hard, busy busy busy. But nothing is checked off the list and you don’t feel like you’ve made any progress.
This is a universal problem in our highly connected world. Every email, text message, Slack notification, or social media interaction is an interruption, drawing your attention away from the task at hand. And it can take an average of 23 minutes to regain focus.
Even worse — these constant interruptions lead to us working faster, in an attempt to catch up. And that creates more stress and frustration in our work.
So it’s not surprising that we get so little done. In fact, it’s amazing we get anything done at all.
In the hospitality industry, it can be even harder.
Event planners have to balance the groundwork for next month’s event with the urgent needs of tomorrow’s event and all its moving parts. They have to answer dozens of questions to secure new contracts, and they also need to manage the long-term growth of their event business.
Restaurant owners/general managers are trying to respond to email, run three or four active social media accounts, and find a new executive chef, all while managing staff and trying to keep the food and service up to standard. They’re constantly multitasking, and they may not even have a dedicated workspace in the restaurant. How are they supposed to work on new projects?
So how to fix it?
I firmly believe that all of us in the hospitality industry can benefit from task batching to reduce (not eliminate!) interruptions and help us to get more done.
What is task batching?
Task batching is the practice of grouping “like” tasks together to keep focus high for a set time period. If you’ve ever sat down for an hour to go through your email, that’s task batching.
Instead of a long to-do list of various tasks that you try to fit into the nooks and crannies of your day, task batching lets you organize those to-dos, staying focused on similar tasks for a longer time.
The goal is to avoid task switching — hopping from writing an ad for a new chef to checking your email to reading an article to posting an Instagram story to looking at the new menu…
Jumping around like this is how we stay busy all day, and complete nothing. Instead, we want to batch tasks into groups, giving each our full focus.
Some people even batch entire days. For example, Tuesday is my “marketing day,” where I write my blog posts, email newsletter, and plan social media for the week.
I found that without a dedicated day to get these tasks done, they were consistently being pushed off. By taking Tuesdays out of the equation for client work, I’m able to protect that time. (But in case of an emergency, it’s still there if I need it.)
How to start task batching
Effective task batching is a balance of project urgency, complexity, and time of day.
To start, take a look at your to-do list and start grouping “like” items together. Your categories will vary depending on what makes sense for you. Mine are:
- Client Work
If you were in event sales, you might have categories like:
- Cold calls
- Email follow ups
- Site visits
- Long-term projects
And a FOH restaurant manager might have:
- Staff reviews
- Long-term projects
Once you have your categories, you can start fitting category blocks into your day. But what goes when?
Generally, it’s best to save your hardest tasks for the times when you’re at your most alert. That may be first thing in the morning, or it could be near the end of the day. This “peak time” is the best for deep work that requires more concentration. Don’t waste it on emails or invoicing.
Another way to approach this is to prioritize your tasks, and reserve the first hour or two of your day for a “top three.” This will ensure that you get those most important tasks done, before your day has a chance to go off the rails. Often, we start the day by checking email, and it can be mid-afternoon before we really get into our workflow!
Some people set different blocks each day, depending on what they need to get done. They may only need an hour for staff reviews one day, and three hours another day.
Others keep their blocks uniform. For example, I have dedicated time periods for “Focus Work” between 10am and 1:30pm, and 2:30pm and 5:30pm every day. Most days, this is when I do client work. On Tuesdays, this is when I write my blog posts and email newsletter.
You may also want to schedule regular breaks. This can keep you from getting burnt out during the day. Some people love the Pomodoro technique — 25 minutes of focused work, followed by a five-minute break. Personally, I find 25 minutes too short. So when I use this method, I prefer to do 50-minute sessions, with a five- or ten-minute break.
Having a framework like this makes it easier to manage interruptions. If you’re 45 minutes into a 50-minute work session, and someone pops their head into your office with a question, how about saying, “Hey! I have a break in five minutes, can I come find you then?” Now, you can finish your thought before switching gears.
All of this depends on you having the ability to batch your tasks at all. People with an office space, like event planners, can make this work much more easily than restaurant managers, who are trying to run the floor while answering emails and placing orders.
So what can they do?
Don’t think about batching tasks in terms of hours. Think in terms of minutes.
“Ok, the lunch rush has died down. A few servers have been cut, so I probably have 20 minutes before I get approached for the first checkout. What can I do in 20 minutes of focused work?”
If you break your batches into 20 minute chunks, you’ll be able to knock them out throughout the day.
For longer tasks that can’t be completed in 20 minutes, break them up into their parts. If you’re placing bar orders, for example, maybe you can break up the task by distributor, and give each distributor their own 20-minute block.
What about meetings?
There is a place for meetings in a batched schedule. If you have the option, it can be so helpful to group your meetings as well as your tasks.
An event venue coordinator could try to batch site visits on one day per week, so that she can reserve the other days for focused work. If that’s not an option, maybe she could do site visits on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday afternoons.
There must always be flexibility, of course. If a potential client is only available during a time that you normally don’t take meetings, you have to make exceptions.
But grouping meetings has two benefits:
- It keeps meetings from taking up your entire week; and,
- It keeps meetings on a timeframe. If you have a meeting with your team, and a site visit right after, you have to keep your team meeting on track so you won’t be late for the client.
This has been a major shift for me, and I think it will help everyone. We’ve become so used to being always “on,” always reachable, that the idea of deliberately becoming unreachable feels uncomfortable.
But if you let yourself get sucked into the pings and buzzes of your phone, email, and messaging apps, you’ll never really get into the flow of your work.
Here’s how I address messages and notifications. I check messages (email, texts, Slack, and social media) three times per day.
- 9:30am – 10:00am
- 1:30pm – 2:00pm
- 5:30pm – 6:00pm
That’s it! Outside of those times, I put my phone in another room, close my email inbox, and mute notifications on my laptop.
Wow. What a difference. You probably don’t even realize how often you’re distracted by your phone and notifications. Try a day without them, and see how much more you accomplish.
If you work a job that requires quick responses, you may need to set up different times for messaging. How about a 15-minute message check at 9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm, and 5pm? Or a 5-minute check at the top of every hour?
I understand that if you’re a manager working on the floor, this may not be an option. You need to be reachable by employees and other managers. But if you have an “office day,” this can help you be more productive in those precious hours.
It will never be perfect.
There will never be a day with zero distractions. A phone call, surprise site visit, or leaky dishwasher will throw your time blocks out of whack.
The goal is to spend less time jumping from task to task, but not zero time.
Even working from home, I have to be flexible for client calls, quick errands, and taking the dog out.
But batching tasks means I get more items checked off my to do list than I used to, and I end (most) days feeling like I made progress.
Give it a try!