I am a chronic procrastinator. I once came across a meme on Instagram that made me laugh out loud and preach "so true, so true" to myself. It said, "I either respond to your text the second I see it or never." I have long struggled with this extreme, of either doing something immediately or never (or if not never, an absurd amount of time later), and it has led to a lot of unnecessary time wasted, guilt, and ineffective life management. Then I came across the most amazing life trick that shattered my world and way of being with its simplicity and brilliance. It just makes so much sense and has totally changed the way I operate, for the better. Keep scrolling to see what it is!
Perusing some of my social media channels one day, I came across a quote from The Chalkboard Mag's editorial director, Suzanne Hall, in which she said her work process and productivity motto was this: Touch it once. I didn't even have to read the interview it came from to understand instantly what it meant—it spoke to me so deeply and resonated so much. Just touch it once.
Take, for example, an email you open, mindlessly read, and then ignore. Instead of handling it right then, you put yourself in a position to forget about it, then remember it by chance, go back to it, reopen it, re-read it, and likely re-avoid it until an awkward amount of time has passed and you're now having to draft an apology to the sender. It's an insane, ineffective, time-wasting process created by not handling it right then. No matter what it is—just touch it once. Not twice, not three times—as soon as you look at something, do what it requires in order to not have to touch it twice. So let's get into some examples:
Someone sends you an invitation to an event. She suggests a date that's pretty far out. You read it, close your email, and get back to catching up on your Facebook feed or reading a different email. Nope. As soon as you open that email invite, touching it once means that right then and there, you handle it. Open up your calendar and look at the date: Do you have anything on it yet? No? Cool, create a calendar invite marking the invite, respond to the person, and RSVP. Then you're done. You touched it once, and it's over.
Someone at work emails you asking for photos you have. He doesn't need them until tomorrow, so you mindlessly click out of the email. Nope. You already read the request, so complete the loop right then, or you'll already have wasted time by the time you go back to it.
It only applies to each individual time you touch something—so even if there's a back-and-forth email chain, each time you open up a new response signifies a new case of touching it once. Open the latest email in the thread, read it, and resolve it. Does the new email require a response from you? Respond right then. Does it require a follow-up to-do item like creating a calendar invite? Do it then. Does it require asking someone a question before you can respond? Send the question you need to ask. As soon as you get the answer, update the chain. Don't set yourself up to forget about it. Don't just read something, then habitually get back to life. Because by the time you go back to it, you'll very often have complicated things for yourself. If you don't do something instantly, you leave it up to chance to remember (or someone to follow up and, through no fault of their own, make you feel like a jerk for having to be reminded), and you might accidentally miss an opportunity, screw up the date of something, and regret not taking the necessary steps when the topic was fresh on your brain.
Though responding to email and text messages and organizing your calendar are easy places to begin implementing and practicing "touch it once," it's really a system to apply to everything you do in life—not just correspondence management. You're in a meeting, and your boss assigns you a task. Write it down, then do it as soon as the meeting is over (if possible) to minimize "touching it" (the task at hand) a second time. You're out with a friend who says her cousin doesn't know anyone in Boston, and asks if you could connect her to your friend who lives there. Do it right then: Text your Bostonian friend and pass along the cousin's number. Otherwise, it's just too easy for things to not get done. When the mail comes, go through it right then. Otherwise, it piles up.
Like anything, "touching it once" takes practice and discipline. When I first had the mind-blowing realization that it was the life motto I'd been waiting for—so simple and so sensical; it's just logical to touch something once—I wrote it down on a piece of paper (pictured above) and slapped it onto my computer monitor. I was determined to remember to touch every email just once and not repeatedly find myself going back to things because I didn't just do them the first time I opened them. Yet minutes after I wrote the Post-It note, I found myself reading dozens of emails without handling them. I was habitually back to my old system of "read, back to inbox, read," barely realizing it. It was an ingrained habit. By clicking out of one email to read another, I was already not handling it once. But I just corrected myself each time I remembered, and it's amazing how empowering it is to just get 'er done. Everything was faster, more timely, and more efficient. The more you implement touching it once, the more amazing it feels to do things when you first come across them, instead of circling back to them at another point.
And it does get easier the more you practice. In fact, right before I began writing this story, an email came through asking me to sign a waiver for a hot yoga class I am attending tomorrow. I almost clicked out of it, but then I remembered "touch it once," clicked the link to sign the waiver right then and there, and signed it. Seconds later it was done, and I felt so much better. The alternative likely would have been me forgetting about it—until tomorrow. When maybe it's a few minutes before class and I'm the jerk who didn't sign the waiver and I have to be reminded to do it (how crappy does that feel?), and then I'm rushing to print it out because the link isn't working, and I'm running late to the yoga class, and why didn't I just sign the damned waiver when I first got the email? Exactly.
In a nutshell, it's such a simple, easy trick to remind yourself to practice. And what I love about it is how manageable and attainable it is. It doesn't require some complicated overhaul of your life and personality. It's just a little overhead check to be more efficient. You can tailor it to your life and fit it into your day in a way that works for you. It's just the simple, overarching mentality of touching something once. Once you've touched it, don't back away and make it harder for yourself down the line. Just get 'er done, for an easier, more streamlined and organized life.
I later looked up Hall's interview, and she said this:
"A phrase I refer to often is ‘just touch it once’ — if I read an email, I respond — provide interview questions, request assets, whatever the need may be, right away. If I schedule a meeting, I make notes for that meeting right there and then. It clears up a lot of mental clutter for me and I can move on without simply elongating my to-do list as the day goes on."
And to that I say amen! Do you have a productivity trick you swear by? Share it in the comments, and let me know how you do on "touching it once"!