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Mail PileClients have often asked me about the OHIO (Only Handle it Once) rule while organizing their papers during my 18 years as a professional organizer. When they handle papers more than once, they believe they’re doing something wrong.

Thinking OHIO should always be applied is a mistake.

Maybe it’d be easier to follow if it went something like this: Only handle it once, moving it forward with each touch, to completion.

Example #1:

  • While sorting the mail, you see an invitation with RSVP to a block party for your neighborhood. Maybe your spouse wants to go but he’s at work. You put it on the counter. One touch.
  • Later, you pick it up to show him, then put it right back on the counter because you’re leaving to meet someone. Second touch.
  • Your son in college may want to see his neighborhood friends. You pick up the invitation, scan it and text him. You drop it in your Pending folder. Third touch.
  • After hearing from your son, you pick it up, RSVP, and recycle it. Fourth touch.

Each time the invitation was handled was appropriate.

Example #2 (same scenario but…)

  • You read the invitation while scanning the mail. You put the mail pile on the counter to deal with later. One touch.
  • While flipping through the growing mail pile a couple of days later, you notice the invitation and move it to the to-do pile on the counter. Second touch.
  • Later, you think maybe your spouse wants to go. You pick it up and put it on his desk. Third touch.
  • After work, he hands it back to you to RSVP. You put it back on the to-do pile. Fourth touch.
  • Your son may want to go. You pick it up to have the details ready, call him but get voicemail. It goes back on the to-do pile. Fifth touch.
  • He calls back and you pick it up to give him the info. He’ll think about it. The paper goes back on the to-do pile. Sixth touch.
  • He texts back. You pick up the invitation, RSVP, then recycle it. Seventh touch.

Example 3: (OHIO’s intent)

  • You get the invitation, stop for a moment to consider whether your husband and son would want to go, and text them the details. You put the invitation on the counter. One touch.
  • They both reply, you pick up the invitation, RSVP and recycle the paper. Second touch — and done.

The differences are pretty obvious. But we really don’t stop to think about how many times we handle papers — and how much time we waste — so maybe this will get you thinking.

The idea is to handle papers as few times as possible, not put them aside to deal with later except when necessary.

Here’s a favorite time-management and productivity recommendation from David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. His 2-Minute Rule states that if it takes less than two minutes, do it now. Brilliant!

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