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Skyrocket your productivity with the 'touch it once' rule

Ruth Umoh

When work is coming at you from all directions, it's easy to push even the simplest tasks aside. You may find yourself repeatedly looking at the same paperwork or email and promising to get to it later.

However, this form of procrastination can really tank your ability to get things done, says productivity expert Nicole Bandes.

"We take so much time doing something and then redoing something because we didn't really do it fully the first time," she tells CNBC Make It .

One simple solution is to follow the "touch it once" rule. The general idea is that as soon as you touch something, whether it's piece of mail or a project that needs to be filed, you immediately act on it. This could be fully completing the task at once or determining the next actionable steps to move it along.

Following this strategy not only saves you time but also declutters your mental space. Bandes explains that as projects pile up, it creates a sense of "unfinished business."

These yet-to-be-completed assignments niggle at your mind, she says, which inhibits your ability to fully process whatever you're working on in the moment.

She gives this hypothetical scenario: Your boss drops off a report that she wants you to review and then send to a colleague.

You'll likely pick up the report and think, "I've got to read this and deliver it to my co-worker."

However, you're busy and don't have time to fully go through the report, let alone walk it over to your colleague. So, you put it down and promise to get to it later. But while you're working on other things, says Bandes, your mind is constantly thinking, "Ok, I've got to do that."

Lunch comes around and you pick up the report. Since you're still busy, you put it down and again promise to get to it later.

Although it seems like you're wasting just a few seconds, these small bits of time quickly add up, says Bandes. "Plus the brain power that it takes for you to process that information on an ongoing basis is draining."

By the time you finally look over the report, you've already touched it three or four times before actually making an attempt to do something with the document, she says.


A more efficient process in this storyline would be to immediately decide your next steps.

You could designate a time to focus on the report or quickly review the document and place it on a visible part of your desk to drop it off the next time you step away, suggests Bandes.

Regardless of which route you take, "that decision needs to be made on what's the next action and it needs to be moved in that step and in that direction in some way," says the productivity expert.

The same goes for emails. If you're short on time, try prioritizing incoming messages by dragging and dropping them into marked folders or set up calendar reminders to review or respond to a piece of correspondence, she advises.

To determine whether a task requires immediate completion or just concrete steps to push it along, Bandes recommends adhering to this rule of thumb: If it takes less than five minutes, do it right away. If it takes more than five minutes, instantly decide how you can move the project forward.

Following the touch it once principle ultimately comes down to discipline, explains Bandes. But once you establish this time-saving habit, she says, "it becomes a no-brainer."

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