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How I took control of my to-do list by using this simple (but effective) productivity hack

The idea is to handle things once, and no more.

How I took control of my to-do list by using this simple (but effective) productivity hack
[Video: Coverr-Free-Footage/Pixabay]

I really, really, really want to live in OHIO.

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And in about five minutes, I bet you’ll want to join me.

OHIO is a magical land where emails rarely linger in your inbox, mail doesn’t pile up on that corner of your kitchen table, and you don’t have that nagging voice in your head that says don’t forget to text your friend about dinner on Saturday. OHIO is a land of efficiency, of feeling in control of your actions and having a clear head.

In OHIO, you Only Handle It Once.

Sounds great? Luckily, you don’t have to shove your all your worldly possessions in a U-Haul and drive to Dayton to get there.

OHIO is a productivity tactic that, when used correctly, can change your life.

In short, the goal is to only handle things once. Read an email? Respond right away. Grab your pile of junk mail? Go through and toss or keep things, right then and there. See a text requiring a response? Hit back your friend with a string of emojis.

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No delaying, no dithering, no overthinking.

The idea, which was outlined by an MIT efficiency expert in Extreme Productivity, a book seemingly made for my nightstand, can help you manage your workload. Because if you put off answering that email, you might believe you’re not thinking about it, but let’s be real: Knowing that you need to respond is always there, just bubbling under the surface. And putting it off can lead to a heavy load of guilt, which just makes it even harder to start.

That’s where OHIO can help. As Alicia Adamczyk writes for Lifehacker: “When you need to do something–from the mundane, like answering an email, to the more exciting, like writing your memoir–the best course of action is always to just do it. As soon as you think of the idea, as soon as the email lands in your inbox–just take care of it, then and there. Then it won’t be weighing on your mind.”

Research bears this out. Studies suggest that multitasking is actually less productive than completing one task at a time. One study at Stanford University also showed that heavy multitaskers who love juggling a million things at once are actually worse at completing tasks than those with a slow-and-steady consistent pace.

So when you feel like you’re conquering the world because you’re chugging coffee with one hand, answering texts with another, all while speed-walking into work? You might be doing more harm than good.

That’s why OHIO works so well. It’s not asking you to try a million things. It’s simply asking you to micro-focus. Do one task quickly. Pause. Quickly do another task. Repeat. And move on.

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How to OHIO on the Reg

So, because I am my own best personal guinea pig, I gave this tip a try–and OHIO really works.

When I get emails that I think warrant a long, thoughtful response, I will let them sit for what I think will be an hour. But three days later, they’re still staring at me. (All right, let’s be honest, sometimes it’s three months.)

But one day, I decided before doing the ol’ “click-and-let-it-sit,” I asked myself, “How long will this actually take to respond?” The answer was about two minutes. (You can write a lot in two minutes.) So I type up my reply—and moved on—it took me two minutes, and saved me 24 hours of guilt for putting it off.

Then, as text messages rolled in throughout the day, I responded right after I read them. Yes, I want to go on a run with you tomorrow a.m.! Yes, that’s a good musical—you should go see it! Yes, friend, you’re doing a great job prioritizing your life.

What I started to notice: Knocking out these little tasks made my to-do list load feel so much lighter. Putting off little tasks adds up—it’s like having 47 tabs open in your browser at all times. By the way, OHIO works for all those open tabs, too. If you open up a really great article—read it, then and there.

When You can’t OHIO right way

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Sometimes, of course, you won’t be able to finish everything ASAP.

When that happens, Bob Pozen, the author of Extreme Productivity, says to put a reminder on your calendar to respond to a specific request in the future. This way you’re giving yourself a deadline, and you don’t have to worry about when/where it’ll get done.

But do this sparingly! And only for tasks that you truly can’t OHIO. If you’re avoiding a task, try to identify the root cause. Are you nervous? Do you need more information? Do you need more advice? Dig down into it, and you’ll feel more prepared for tackling even the stickiest tasks.

And I can’t wait to hang out with you in the land of OHIO.


This piece originally appeared on Shine and is reprinted with permission. You can download the app here and join 2 million+ people who start their day with Shine’s morning pep talk. 

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