Save Time with Task Bundling

Katherine Milkman, a behavioral economist at Wharton, coined the term ‘temptation bundling’.

It refers to bundling things you want to do with things you need to do, to help you build positive habits.

In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear recounted the story of Ronan Byrne, an electrical engineering student from Ireland.

Byrne enjoyed Netflix but didn’t exercise as much as he should. To engineer his way around this, he connected a stationary bike to his computer, and wrote a program that would allow Netflix to run only if he was cycling at a certain speed.

He was combining something he wanted to do — watch Netflix — with something he needed to do — exercise.

This is not only a great way to build habits, but a fantastic way to save time, and can extend to all sorts of activities.

Let’s say that my physiotherapist asked me to incorporate 30 minutes of mobility training into my day, three times a week. I could combine this with watching a documentary on YouTube, or even taking a call on speaker.

Want to hit your 10,000 steps? You could schedule a long walk into your day, or you could take a couple of your meetings (if you must have meetings) walking.

Want to learn more about astrophysics but between work and family, you don’t have the time? Why not listen to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s podcast while shopping for groceries or commuting?

Think multi-benefit, not mono-benefit

Certain types of tasks are rich in benefits — what I call multi-benefit.

Surfing offers the following benefits:

  • Cardiovascular fitness
  • Muscular strength
  • Time in the outdoors and nature
  • Emotional regulation and de-stressing
  • Socializing (if surfing with a friend or two)
  • Cold and saltwater therapy
  • Resilience building

If you weren’t deliberately bundling, you might instead obtain these benefits by investing time in each of the following tasks:

  • Cycling on a stationary bike at the gym (cardio)
  • Lifting weights at the gym (muscular strength)
  • Going for a hike (the outdoors)
  • Cooling off in a cryotherapy chamber(cold therapy)
  • Floating in a sensory deprivation tank (saltwater and emotional regulation)
  • Having dinner with friends (socializing)
  • Attending a philosophy class (resilience)

While you might surf for an hour, the above-mentioned tasks could take you half a day to complete. I’m not proposing you drop doing all of these things completely. Each have their own sub-benefits.

But by being more intentional about what you want to invest time into, and bundling, you will find yourself with a lot more free time on your hands. This is especially true when you replace a few mono-benefit activities with one multi-benefit activity like surfing.

Call to Action

  1. Make a list of what you want to invest time in and develop (your fitness, your friendships, your knowledge, etc)
  2. Make a list of your day-to-day mono-benefit tasks
  3. Drop the tasks that don’t serve #1
  4. Combine remaining mono-benefit tasks
  5. Where possible, replace several of these tasks with a single multi-benefit task

As with checking email, completing tasks generates a dopamine response and makes us feel good and productive, often at the expense of actual productivity or benefit.

Don’t focus on the number of tasks you’re getting done, but on the benefit accrued.

Steve Glaveski is the co-founder of Collective Campus, author of Employee to Entrepreneur and host of the Future Squared podcast. He’s a chronic autodidact, and he’s into everything from 80s metal and high-intensity workouts to attempting to surf and do standup comedy.