The Only Handle It Once principle, otherwise known as OHIO, is a useful model that will help you improve your productivity. The idea behind it is that once you start working on a specific task, you work on it completely from beginning to end. That is, once you touch an activity, you do everything related to it until you finish.
This approach is especially useful for shorter tasks, like a quick email or phone call. Instead of letting it take up space in your inbox or to-do list, you take a few minutes to take care of it. The task doesn’t even ever have to make it to your to-do list. Of course, it is not always possible to do everything at the moment. If you cannot work on the incoming task immediately, set a reminder at that moment to work on it in the future.
The OHIO principle is also helpful for grouping related tasks that you do recurrently, i.e., daily, weekly, or monthly, and completing them in one sitting. You will save time because you will only work on the tasks during one set time instead of piecemeal at different points of the day or week. Once you stop working on the group of activities, you don’t touch them until you are scheduled to work on them again.
How to Work with OHIO
During our day, we waste time as we pick up a task, handle an interruption, pick it up again, multitask on a different task, such as a phone call, and then return to the original activity. Many of us, myself included, at some point, have believed ourselves to be great multitaskers. However, multitasking is not effective.
The problem is that we cannot work on several parallel tasks at the same time, as our brain works sequentially. In other words, if we are dealing with several activities simultaneously, what we are doing is working a little bit on one, then stopping, thinking about the next one, pausing, and engaging with the third. As you can see, this manner of operating is not productive. We waste a great deal of time as we stop and start and stop again.
It is much better to select one task and work on it from beginning to end or an acceptable milestone. As you are working, avoid distractions or interruptions in the middle. Then, once you are done, you can start with the next activity and do the same.
As you are going through your day, you are bound to come across all kinds of tasks. Some are short and take just a couple of minutes, while others require more thought and time. When you find something that you need to do or respond to, ask yourself how long it will take you to work on it. If it is only a few minutes, it takes less time to do it immediately rather than put it down, set it up as a task, and pick it up later. The mental space that short email is taking up is not worth it. It is much simpler to respond quickly.
Some tasks will take longer, and you may not have enough time, or it may not be efficient for you to work on that activity immediately. In this case, try to do what you can at that moment, which may include setting up a reminder to work on it at a scheduled time along with all the important details you will need later.
Another way to weave the OHIO principle into your schedule is by appointing times during the week to work on tasks you work on frequently. During these designated times, you work on all related items so that you do not waste time starting and stopping them. This process has the added benefit of knowing that you are doing the work as often as you need to do it and will not miss an important review.
For instance, if you review company reports weekly, and if you’re following the OHIO principle, you can choose to view all the reports during the same time every week. Once you start to work on these reports, do everything related to the review, such as clearing up any questions or fixing any problems you find. To help your review, you can organize all the reports, so you open them all in one sitting and go through each one. You can even set up the list of reports by category, so if you are reviewing sales reports, you are looking at everything related to new leads first, then your existing pipeline, and then closings.
The OHIO principle does not mean that you will always be in a reactive mode, working on anything you receive when you receive it, and not setting your schedule. It is simply an additional tool that you can use to make your day more productive so that you spend less time jumping from one task to another. You do not have to respond to every email as you receive it. If you get emails all day long, you can set up times when you check your inbox in the day, and respond at that designated time, for instance.
Following the OHIO principle will make your schedule more organized. It will help you ensure you are working on everything you need to do from beginning to end and only at set times. The concept will also give you a better idea of how long it takes to complete your daily and weekly tasks. Finally, the most important benefit of all is that you will spend less time and precious productive energy going from one activity to the next before the first one is complete.