On Batch Processing and the Creative Process

We all have way too much to do and not enough time to do it. It’s not about “putting in the hours.” It’s about maximizing how much you get out of those hours. We don’t have the luxury of boredom, because there is always more to do. One popular strategy for boosting your productivity is called batch processing, but it might not work for everyone. In particular, it may prove especially ineffective for creatives.

Organizing Your Day Effectively

The concept of batch processing is actually really straightforward and makes a lot of logical sense. The idea is that you gather together a group of related tasks and do them all in succession. In other words, you do them in batches. Instead of taking care of your email in five-minute spurts several times a day, you dedicate one hour of your workday to nothing but email.

After taking a break, you might spend the next two hours processing photos for client A. After lunch, you might come back to work on some writing for client B. Rather than jump from one task to the other, you gather all the similar tasks together so your brain is already in a certain mindset. This is the strategy that Chase Jarvis uses every day.

The rationale is that it busts the myth of multitasking. Each time you switch your attention, you waste a few precious minutes to shift your mindset. Each time you pull your eyes away from the article you’re writing so that you can watch a YouTube video or reply to an email that just came in, it’ll take you a few moments before you can get your focus back on that article. This makes logical sense. Those little moments add up.

Muses Are Unpredictable Creatures

The problem is that the creative process doesn’t always agree with this strategy. You can’t control when inspiration hits. You have no say in when the muse comes to visit. And sometimes, going too far into a deep dive can actually impair your creativity.

Let me provide you with an example from my own professional life. I have blog posts to write here, which vary in subject matter but largely adhere to the same “voice.” I have product photos I need to take and edit for one client. I have article specs I need to submit for another client, mostly related to using online widgets to calculate specific things. And I have a feature article I need to write for another client about some of the best restaurants in town.

If we were to stick to the strategy of batch processing, I’d complete each individual task before moving on to the next project. That’s the logical solution.

And while I will do that sometimes, more often I’ll hop into a different project or work for a different client about every hour or so. It mixes things up, which makes work more enjoyable. It also allows certain ideas to simmer on the back burner while I work on something else. This way, when I return, it’s easier to achieve a sense of flow, because I’ve already been thinking about the subject matter subconsciously for the last hour or two.

The Flawed Human Experience

If I had a career where I always followed the same preset procedure, batch processing would make more sense. Think of it like how a computer works. You don’t want to be opening and closing programs over and over again. It makes more sense to do everything in Word and close it before opening up PhotoShop. This is the best use of resources.

But I’m human. And I flawed. And what works best isn’t always the most logical solution. I yearn for variety. Indeed, it’s one of the better perks of freelancing. In an effort to improve my effectiveness as a writer, I sometimes have to sacrifice some efficiency. I think that’s better for everyone involved.