Ultimate Secret to Productivity – Habit and Task Batching (Step 11 of 12)

I wish I knew earlier in my career that habit batching is the ultimate secret to being able to create more time in your day. This time can then be used for things that really matter to you such as exercise, hobbies, or working on your Most Important Tasks. 

When I started implementing a productivity system as a medical student, I just focused on organizing my workspaces (physical, digital, email) and integrating a task management system (Steps 1-10). I was simply trying to get as much done with the amount of time I had. 

By doing just those basic things, my productivity increased dramatically. However, I had no specific order or way I was organizing my tasks to most effectively complete them. 

I started to realize that some tasks required much more “productivity energy,” while others required much less “productive energy.” I think of “productive energy” as the mental and physical energy required to be at your peak productivity level. 

Tasks that require the most amount of productive energy were my Most Important Tasks (MITs) and tasks that required less productive energy were my Shallow Tasks. I started batching tasks based on the amount of productive energy required. 

So how does Habit Batching increase productivity? Habit batching allows you to essentially batch tasks that require lower levels of productive energy (Shallow Tasks) into short intervals throughout your day. This reduces the time needed to constantly perform shallow tasks and allows you to efficiently perform tasks that require higher levels of productive energy (Most Important Tasks) with minimal distractions.

This post will show you how to maximize time in your day by creating a process to habit batch your shallow tasks and maximize your time for MITs. 

Define Your Essential and Nonessential Shallow Tasks 

Shallow tasks are tasks that will provide marginal benefit to you when completed. They are usually quick tasks that require minimal productive energy. Because they take so little energy and are easy to perform, most individuals will spend the majority of their day performing these shallow tasks. 

In Cal Newport’s book Deep Work, he promotes the concept of mainly performing deep work by taking out as many shallow tasks from our lives as possible. 

However, I found that some shallow tasks are a necessary part of our lives and being able to efficiently process them daily, enables you to perform more of your MITs. 

The first step to efficiently process shallow tasks is to just define all the shallow tasks that occupy your daily life and then separate them into Essential versus Nonessential shallow tasks. 

Essential Shallow Tasks are tasks that require a small amount of productive energy but need to be performed on a daily basis to keep up to date for your work or personal life. If these tasks are not performed now, they will eventually need to be performed at some point in time. 

Examples of some Essential Shallow Tasks

  • Process Emails
  • Sort Office
  • Sort Computer
  • Procesing Physical Mail
  • Checking Calendar
  • 5-minute journal (this is an important task but does not take up deep focus like a Most Important Task would for me)

Nonessential Shallow Tasks are tasks that also require little productive energy but contribute little to no value to your personal or professional life. A good rule of thumb is if you feel guilty after doing a shallow task for a significant amount of time, it’s probably a nonessential shallow task. 

Sample list of Nonessential Shallow Tasks:

  • YouTube Binge-Watching
  • Watching TV
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Reading Random News articles
  • Reading Random Blogs
  • Texting

Get Rid of as Many Nonessential Shallow Tasks as Possible

If people kept track off all of the nonessential shallow tasks, they performed a day, they would be surprised how much time they spend doing this. 

How often are you checking emails, text, Facebook, etc. on your phone? Surprisingly the average person spends 2.5 hours a day on social media. If we are awake 16 hours a day, that means we spend about 15% of our conscious lives on social media! 

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I know many people who say they don’t have enough time to exercise, spend time with loved ones, or go through these 12 Productivity Steps. But what if they had an extra 2.5 hours a day? Could they make time to do those things then?

The simple act of cutting out as many nonessential shallow tasks as you possibly can, or at least limiting them to only once a day will create a considerable amount of time in your life. Try it out!

Organize Shallow Tasks by the Time of Day

Once you have defined all of your shallow tasks. Now you will organize them by the time of day that most suites that task. 

Personally, I batch Shallow Tasks in the early morning (right when I wake up) and early afternoon (right after lunch). Below is a sample list of what I will do each morning and afternoon. 

Morning Shallow Tasks (30 minutes)

  • Check Calendar for the day
  • Write in my 5-minute journal
  • Read news and blogs
  • Check my Boomerang Folder

Afternoon Shallow Tasks (90 minutes)

  • Get mail
  • Sort Office
  • Inbox Zero
  • Sort Computer
  • Check Social Media

I recommend using a habit and task tracking app to keep track of your morning, afternoon and evening routines. Personally I use one called Habity.

Complete Batched Shallow Tasks Once a Day

The key to how batching shallow tasks gives you more time during the day is that you perform these functions only ONCE a day. This way you do not waste time constantly performing these shallow tasks throughout the day.

By batching shallow tasks to only once a day, the total amount of time you are using to perform shallow tasks is usually only about 1-2 hours a day.

However, during the time you have decided to batch your shallow tasks, you must be focused and committed to completing all of those batched shallow tasks. Even though the amount of productive energy required to complete these tasks is low, you will still need to complete them efficiently. 

Schedule your Most Important Tasks

So, if you did the steps above you will have 1) gotten rid of any nonessential shallow tasks from your life 2) batched all shallow tasks by time of day 3) perform your shallow tasks only once a day. 

You actually have much more time in your day than you may think if you can properly organize and complete your shallow tasks by batching. This allows you to go exercise or complete a Most Important Task (for 90 – 120 minutes) in between your Shallow Tasks in the morning and evenings without any distractions from Shallow Tasks. 

I hope you will now find “Gaps” to fill throughout your day where you can exercise, do hobbies, or perform deep work to complete your most important tasks. Go ahead and schedule them in!

Accommodating for Various Schedules

Everyone has a different schedule and the steps above can be adjusted to your specific work schedule. I would recommend batching a set of shallow tasks right when you wake up and another set right after your lunch or dinner when the productive energy is usually on the lower side. 

If you are working, you can still complete your morning batch of shallow tasks when you wake up. Then try to carve out about an hour during your day to complete your afternoon shallow tasks. 

If you have a full work day it may be hard to complete an MIT. I believe, if you do not have a gap of at least 60 minutes you should not try to complete a Most Important Task since it usually takes at least 20 minutes to reach a maximum productive state to complete an MIT. Instead, I would make it a priority to complete your shallow tasks for the day, so they don’t build up. If you still feel like working on an MIT, I would actually just create a brief outline, or some other small action for the MIT that will help you complete it for the next day. It should be an action that does not require a high amount of productive energy though.

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Wealthy Doc
4 years ago

Thanks for sharing.
I consider journaling and meditating “deep” work because of the solitude and importance in my life.
Is that not right?

Zen Productivity
4 years ago
Reply to  Wealthy Doc

Thanks so much for the Wealthy Doc! Always appreciate your wisdom. Yes absolutely journal is considered a very important task in my life. However, for myself, I don’t consider it a “Most Important Tasks.” MITs I define are things that require you to be in a productive flow state for 90minute to 120 minutes to produce something at an extremely high level, such as writing a blog post, writing a journal article, etc. For me, my journaling is a gratitude journal that I do for only 5 minutes a day right when I wake up and then again right before I go to sleep.

However, if for you or others, who spend a significant amount of time journaling this may very well be your Most Important Task where you spend a significant amount of time in the deep flow state. I edited my post above to reflect your comment. Once again thank you for all you bring to our community.


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Dr. McFrugal
4 years ago

These are all great tips. I especially like batching shallow tasks to once a day. I only check email twice a day now and that has freed up a considerable amount of time for me.

Zen Productivity
4 years ago
Reply to  Dr. McFrugal

Thanks DMF. Yes the process of checking things only once or twice a day is key! Appreciate the support!


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