Touch it onceInstead of re-evaluating a task yet again, saving too many articles to read later, or staring down an email for the fifth time, act the first time you encounter them and move on.

Touch it once. Act on it.

I’ve been trying this for the past few weeks with a marked improvement in productivity and peace of mind. It works with office functions, client communication, even putting away laundry, washing dishes and cleaning up a mess. The list is endless.

Let’s take a look at a few common culprits:

Inbox – When you get a new message, reply, delete, forward, or if project based, send to Evernote or your practice management system and move on to the next message.

Check your inbox only when you have time to act on the emails.

Bills – Just received a text or email notification that your phone, cable, or other bill is due? When you view the messages, take care of it right away or else you’ll end up looking at it four or five times or over the next few days or getting additional time-wasting notifications.

Trackers – I’m not one for tracking things like weight, calories, even finances, but it can be useful when trying to achieve a certain goal. I’ve checked out apps like LoseIt, MyFitnessPal and Toshl Finance. The only time these work for me is when I enter trackable items as they occur. If I scribble it on a piece of paper somewhere for later in the evening – at least two touches – I generally fail to record it and eventually quit entering and tracking.

Saving articles to read later – The articles saved to my Pocket read-it-later account is up to 98 and climbing. I’ve mass-deleted saved articles in the past and will probably never get to this new batch. Instead, quickly scan articles as you come across them, move to Evernote if saving for a blog post or presentation, or save to an Open Tabs folder to read at the end of the day. Delete – ruthlessly – if you can’t get to them.

The trick to limiting touches, I’ve discovered, is to create a process for handling each type of task and engineering work and home space to quickly handle situations as they occur.

For example, if you live in a small urban apartment – without a tool shed or a garage – then you need a toolbox to put away screwdrivers and other tools. The toolbox has to be accessible – not stuck under the table behind a stack of old books. (Trust me on this one.) Otherwise, tools will appear all around the apartment and every time you look at them, think about them, or chastise yourself for not putting them away, is a “touch.” Multiple touches expend energy and weigh you down without resolving the issue.

And don’t get me started on putting away laundry right away. It’s probably because you hate to fold. Check out this cool video. I tried it. It works!

To be sure, in the real world you will come across tasks that require a few touches. When this happens, challenge yourself to find a process that will limit touches to only one. The key is to be aware of the things that bog you down with multiple touches and try to create a habit – because that’s what it is, a habit, a good one – of touching them only once.

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