There’s no one-size-fits-all time management tip that can solve everyone’s task-overload problems. But there are definitely several proven methods that when done consistently can make a huge impact on one’s to-do list.
I talk a ton on this blog and in my videos about the Pomodoro Technique and the Power Hour, which are two of my favorite clock-based time management hacks. But another effective tip for getting more done in less time is grouping tasks together. This technique works for getting schoolwork done faster, as well as other life tasks that demand our time.
Grouping tasks together is a simple concept, but don’t let its simplicity fool you!
Grouping tasks: The basics
1. Write down everything you need to get done. Your list can be a combination of school tasks and non-school tasks.
2. Be sure to break down all larger tasks into their sub-components. For example, break down “study for chemistry exam” into 1) gather all study materials 2) block out time 3) study.
3. Once you break down your list as much as possible, look closely and identify all similar tasks. Tasks are similar if they require the same materials, take place in the same location, or require the same type of effort or thinking. For example, if you have to send an email to your teacher and also have to do research online for your history paper, those are similar tasks because they both require the use of a computer. If you have to make flashcards for Spanish and also for health class, then those are also similar tasks. A third example would be if you have to return something at the library and also pick up shampoo at CVS — these are similar tasks because they are both errands.
4. Pick a group of tasks and bang them out.
The reason that grouping tasks is an awesome time management tip is because doing so reduces transition time. A Psychology Today article reports that every time we stop and start a task, we lose about 40% of time in the transition. An article by the American Psychological Association reports a series of studies in 2001 during which adolescents were asked to switch between tasks such as problem solving and geometry. The results showed that “for all tasks, the participants lost time when they had to switch from one task to another. As tasks got more complex, participants lost more time.” Clearly, the evidence suggests that it’s not effective to multitask or to rapidly switch between unrelated tasks.
The take-away is that by grouping similar tasks and subtasks together, you’ll minimize your transition time, will reduce the mental energy it takes to switch gears between unrelated tasks, and will simply get more done in less time.