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Improve your Productivity with OHIO and "Only Handle It Once"

Updated: May 5, 2023

An image of a work desk with a large computer monitor and the words, Do More, visible on the screen.

Everyone wants to be more productive, efficient, and in control of their life. Earlier this month we talked about utilizing leisure to improve health, happiness, and effectiveness. Today, our focus is on strategies designed to help you get more done and waste less time to effect positive changes in your job and life.

Most of us have felt at some time or another that we simply need more hours in the day.

There always seems to be too many things to get done or to follow up on and a seemingly endless to-do list. Not only can this make it hard to utilize some of the leisure suggestions from our last article, it can increase stress which can in turn, decrease happiness and productivity. But in truth, we tend to have more time nowadays than ever before… so why do we feel so busy? Enter OHIO. Not the state, but rather the productivity habit of Only Handle It Once. By leveraging this mindset, you can free up time you didn’t know you had, get more done, and reduce your stress at work and in your daily life.

What is OHIO?

According to Shine,

OHIO is a productivity tactic that focuses on dealing with things promptly and only once.

The article gives some simple examples: Respond right away when you read an email, go through your mail when you pick it up and so on. Basically, when you have an item on your to-do list, or something comes up, you only handle it once, as soon as possible and manage it completely so that you don’t have to go back to the same item more than once. This is great for a number of reasons. Not only is the task finished, you never need to put more thought or effort into remembering or tracking it, taking up processing space in your brain, or spending time, rather wasting time, looking at it again and again.

How to implement OHIO.

The best thing about the OHIO principle is that it is simple. The basic idea is to simply complete things as they come up so you don’t have to worry about them after the first go-round. This is easy enough to implement in daily life: if you usually check your email in the morning, that’s a perfect time to handle immediate replies, for example. But what if you can’t simply respond or finalize a task at that second?

Keeping with the OHIO principle, you instead make a decision in the moment which is: when will I handle this?

Then you can set a reminder, and free your mind of it again. When the preordained time does come, manage the task at that time following the OHIO method and once again, you are being more productive and efficient as well as increasing positive outcomes at work.

Other applications for OHIO.

Successful Time Management for Dummies suggests another great use of OHIO: handling documents before they build up. Collecting paperwork is easy to do but it can be more of a burden than an asset when it comes time to access the information. This book suggests applying another take on the OHIO method to paperwork and it’s related to effective time management and following the five Ds: whether to dump, delegate, detour, do it, or depot it.

Ask yourself: do I need this?

If you don’t need to act on the piece of paperwork right away, if it doesn’t contain information you need now or may potentially ever need, and if you don’t perceive it having value to you or others in the foreseeable future, get rid of it. And if there is an action required by the document, do it as soon as possible or set a timeline to complete it, per OHIO.

Clearly, the OHIO method has incredible potential to improve productivity and workflow. Start small, take one work task that is currently overwhelming you and apply this strategy. You will undoubtedly see the benefits that the OHIO methodology can deliver. As the great philosopher Lao Tzu said, “Do the difficulty things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”


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