Word Count

Writers Talk About Writing

How Dave Can Teach You the Value of Batching

There's a funny ad on TV right now about a guy named Dave. A red-headed man with a beard, he wanders into his office and greets a large number of other bearded red-headed guys also named Dave. Someone named Dave is fixing the photocopier while a mail delivery person, also named Dave, arrives with a package for, you guessed it, Dave.

Perhaps the ad writer was too smart for his or her britches because I no longer remember the product or service the ad was intended to promote. But I can recall enough to tell you that I am also Dave.

The point of the ad was Dave worked for a small business where he had to do everything for himself. Writing reports? Tick. Organizing mailings? Check. Repairing the photocopy machine? You bet.

I also dust the bookshelves in my office and make my own tea. About the only thing I don't do is my accounting — but I still round up all the receipts and put them in chronological order for the bookkeeper.

I even enjoy many of these non-writing tasks because they give me a clear diversion from work that requires the creative part of my brain.

So how do I stop this work from taking over my entire day? I batch it.

I hope this doesn't sound too bossy, but I think all writers should batch their non-writing work as well. Let me give you a concrete example.

Sending out copies of my book, 8½ Steps to Writing Better, Faster, I label and seal the envelopes myself. Not the kind of task I pictured myself doing at the age of 50+, but there you have it. Originally, I'd intended to give this job to a fulfillment house. (These are companies that take care of mailing products to buyers.) But I heard you need to sell at least a dozen books a week for this to make financial sense. Occasionally, I hit that total but, because I wrote my book to have a long tail I usually sell just slightly fewer than that.

But here's the important part of the story: Statistics show that whenever you interrupt your work to do something else (answer the phone, look at a report, talk to coworker) you will be diverted for AT LEAST 15 minutes and perhaps much longer. For this reason, even though I am delighted whenever I sell a book, I never abandon my writing to process an order.

Here's how I handle it: Once a month or so I prepackage about 30 books by placing each in its own bubble envelope and adding my return address label and "printed matter only" stickers. It takes me about 10 minutes to do this. I've already used email magic (filters) to divert orders directly to a special file set up so I don't see them and become distracted. Then, first thing every morning, I check my orders from the previous day and print out an address label for each, sticking them to one of the already packaged books. This takes me less than a minute.

Ah, the beauty of batching.

So how can you use batching if you don't have a book to process? Here are some suggestions that will work for just about any writer:

  • Check your email only at certain predetermined times of the day. (At the very least you should turn off the function that makes a noise when email arrives. I choose to pick up my email manually.)
  • Set a time for checking Facebook and/or Twitter. Don't do this more than once or twice a day. And close down the program when you're done so you aren't tempted to "peek."  (Using a scheduler like Twuffer once a day allows you to schedule your tweets.)
  • Try turning off your phone. When I'm really serious about writing something, I not only turn it off I also cover it in a cardboard sleeve so I can't see the call display or the message light. (Alternatively, if you're expecting one important call, use call display to screen your calls and answer only the important one.)

Batching is partly about doing similar things at once, to save time, but it also short-circuits the human tendency to procrastinate the "hard" creative work of writing with easier, more mindless tasks.

Hey, after writing this column I did a Google search for the Dave ad. It was for Staples. Have a look if you like!


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A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.

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Comments from our users:

Monday February 13th 2012, 2:55 AM
Comment by: Sante J. Achille (L Aquila Italy)
Hi Daphne,
I'm really not a writer although I have found myself doing more and more web content creation or "adjusting" and you are 100% correct - interruptions are devastating from a productive point of view. Just a few weeks ago I decided to shut down Email that was making the usual noises every 5 minute ... I'm over with that. Unfortunately there is still SKYPE around and people use it too much to ping each other but I am setting that to DO NOT DISTURB this morning after reading your refreshing article - Thanks!
Monday February 13th 2012, 10:07 AM
Comment by: Daphne Gray-Grant (Vancouver Canada)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
I frequently go to a coffee shop when I have a serious project I need to get done. It helps that I have a Neo Alphasmart -- a word processor with no internet or email. It's PERFECT for interrupted writing. You can read about it here: http://www.visualthesaurus.com/cm/wc/2949/ Hope this helps!

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