Increase Your Productivity By Touching It Once

Increase Your Productivity By Touching It Once
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This post was previously published. It has been updated.

One of the underlying fundamentals of productivity is to only expend as much energy as necessary, but no more. Efficiency is one part of the productivity balance beam. Yet most of us break this principle many times every day in our actions. This article will show you how to increase your productivity by touching it once.

An Inefficient Strategy

Let’s say you have an email that arrives. You read the email, then decide you need to answer it. But then you notice there are other emails in your inbox, so you go on to read those. When you get back to the original email, you need to read it again to refresh your memory.

You’ve just doubled the amount of effort to complete the same task. And that’s a simple case.

Let’s look at something more complex. You fetch the mail from your mailbox, walking last your recycle bin on the way into your house. You put recycling from the mail into a pile on the kitchen table, and bills in another. You open the bills to look at them, then put them aside to take upstairs to your desk. You move the recycling pile to the counter so your family can eat dinner. After dinner you take the recycling to the bin. Then you head upstairs with the bills in hand, where you go through the bills again, putting them into a folder to be paid next week. Next week you pull them out and write the checks, but you don’t have stamps, so you put them on the kitchen table so you remember to take them to the post office. At the post office you buy stamps, stamp them and mail them.

How many times did you touch the bills? How about the recycling?

Touching It Once

Most of the time we fall into this trap because we are not consciously thinking about how often we are touching something. Yet added up over the course of a day, it can take up a large amount of time.

By consciously choosing to touch everything only once, we can eliminate wasted and unnecessary effort in many places.

The flow goes like this:

  1. Ask yourself if you are able right now to touch something once. You might not have the time to do something more than glance at at item. Or perhaps you do not have the supplies handy. If so, wait.
  2. Open the item. Read it through, paying attention to what is in front of you.
  3. Can you deal with this quickly? David Allen* says two minutes. I say up to five, to give yourself a little more time to be thoughtful. At this point, you need to decide how to handle it:
    • If it needs to be filed, do so.
    • If it needs a response, craft one.
  4. Does it need to go to someone else? Send it on immediately, with a quick note of what needs to be done and by when; also include if/when it needs to come back to you.
  5. Does it need more in-depth work? if so, enter it into your task tracking system immediately.

Working Through Our Examples Using Touch Once

Let’s take a bit more of a hands-on approach and look at our examples above.

For email processing, handle each one fully before moving onto the next. File, forward, flag or respond before moving onto the next email. If you are afraid of answering as someone else might have done so further down the reply chain, set your email to thread the conversation and treat the whole conversation as one item.

For the bill paying example: on your way into the house, as you pass the recycling bin, toss in anything that needs to go there. Don’t even bring it into the house. Have a folder near where you come in for the bills to go in, unopened. If you feel they cannot wait until the next time you sit at your desk, be prepared to pay them right then…and that means keeping a checkbook and sufficient stamps right there in the bill paying folder to deal with them.

It Takes Practice…

I’m not saying this is natural or easy to do in the beginning, and I am as guilty of it as the next person for multiple touches. But I am trying to reclaim the minutes lost to inefficiencies in my life so that I have more time for other stuff.

What about you? Do you touch things once? Or do you think it’s a bunch of hooey? Let me know by sharing below.

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  1. rafael

    Completely agree with article.
    To stay productive you need to work on single task/project for long periods, without multitasking. That way you get better results.
    During multitasking your efficiency significantly fall down. And quality of your work is much worse.

  2. David Bueford

    I also agree. The main problem is technology is moving so fast that its becoming inefficient. Each time you get used to one platform it changes. Then you must change your practice.

    Most things such as emails have a dual purpose not only information but as reminders. Then your reminders fill up clogging your new emails. So I guess your point of it takes practice is on target!

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