Why You Should Run Your Business the Way You Run Your Dishwasher
When I took the startup plunge, I began with a business partner. Anyone who has jumped into the deep end of the start-your-own-business pool knows how overwhelming and immersive it can be. There is no way around working all the time.
The two of us spent seven days a week burning through 10- to 12-hour days. Starting a business from scratch requires a plethora of skills and the continual completion of disparate activities. From conceiving the original idea, to vetting it for viability, to building it, to operating it, to figuring out how to grow and more, birthing a company can make you feel like you’re battling a hydra: Every time one task is completed, two more show up to take its place.
Heartbreakingly, I lost my business partner pretty early on to Stage IV colon cancer, and after the initial shock wore off, I decided to continue the quest solo. At first, I doubled down on my effort. In order to do this, I had to give up on everything else in my life. Occasionally, that included personal hygiene. I was able to sustain that level of effort for a while, but eventually my friends and family began interventions. It’s just not humanly possible to be two people at once. Something had to give. I needed a better way to manage my time.
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As I started digging around for productivity tools and methodologies to mitigate my need for a 48-hour day, I stumbled on the concept of batch processing. Yes, this usually refers to a machine processing a group of files or databases from start to completion, but I began to find studies that applied the batch processing concept to humans. While not machines, we can pretend to be one. Instead of haphazardly, or sequentially, attacking the long list involved in running a business, why not group together like activities, regardless of when they're due?
What is batch processing?
Think about your dishwasher. You would never consider washing one plate at a time. As a matter of fact, if you’re anything like me, you wait until it's chock-full before running it. You run a ‘batch’ of dishes. Why should we treat our business any other way?
Why should I batch process?
1. Set-up costs. It takes an investment to begin a set of tasks. Sometimes, it may even take you a few minutes to remember how that particular software or application works. Jeez, sometimes it takes me five minutes to remember my password. It makes sense that if you’ve begun a task, you should finish it. Better yet, finish a set of those tasks needed for a period of time (week, month, year). Touch it only once.
2. Switching costs. If you’re a solopreneur, your activities range from strategic thinking to mind-numbing QuickBook entries and everything in between. Quick and erratic changes in types of activities challenge your brain and negatively impact your productivity. It’s been proven that we need between 15 to 23 minutes to fully concentrate on one task after switching to it. To add insult to injury, quickly changing from one task to another can cost us about 40% of our productivity, because our brain still lingers on the previous task for a substantial amount of time.
3. Achieving flow. In our quest for the perfect work mindset, we must create an optimal state of consciousness, creating peak moments of total absorption where time disappears, the self vanishes and your performance peaks. The term flow is not particularly sexy, and can sound a bit hippie-ish, but it’s real science. Brain-imaging technologies allow us to apply metrics to what was once anecdotal. We now know that when in flow, one switches from frontal lobe brain activity (which consumes a lot of time and energy) to the back of the brain and reptilian mode (which is efficient, subconscious and fast).
4. Think big picture. To get the most productivity out of batching your work, think higher level. Take a step back and examine your long-term needs. For some, it may make sense to think weekly or even monthly. For me personally, it makes sense to upload as much of our monthly digital content as possible, in one sitting — usually, in front of some mindless TV show to keep me from drooling out of complete boredom. Schedule your blocks to suit your mood if you can. Then you don’t find yourself fighting your own mindset.
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The mess that is mine
I consider myself fairly disciplined, but I still have to take advantage of whatever mindset I find myself in, which can change on any given day or even within the day. Running an online platform, completely on my own, requires all of the following mindsets:
Companies generally hire separate individuals into each of those departments. But when you’re a solopreneur, you ARE all the departments. Being highly functional in such disparate disciplines begs for batch processing.
How to implement batch processing
As I already stated, I do better when I choose the activities that best suit the mood I’m in at the time. Through trial and error, I have discovered that my flow window lasts about two hours, so I break up my days into two-hour blocks.
As a morning person, I batch process all my writer, strategic, creative and analytical responsibilities for the morning. The afternoon is better suited for sales, collaboratorative and researcher duties. Honestly, it’s never a particularly good time for menial or accountant duties, so I shoehorn those in whenever I am feeling particularly disciplined.
Exceptions to every rule
Even though I set up two-hour blocks, my mindset often shifts before completion. I find that if I become bored or antsy, I need to stop the task. It is not unusual for me to intersperse shorter periods of exercise or chores away from the business to clear out the cache, so to speak — gain a new perspective and re-ignite my desire to continue the task. I don’t fight myself.
Batch processing is an incredible productivity tool, but it will only work if you can maintain the flow. After all, sometimes you do have to open the dishwasher mid-cycle to add that spoon you just used.