I’ve spent time cringing at promoting this to most people! If we take the idea literally – when you grab the mail, you will spend time attending to each bill and making separate trips to the filing cabinet or shredder each day as you deal with each piece of mail. Doing a web search on those terms several hits talk about the myth of Only Handle It Once (O.H.I.O) while others talk about how helpful and important it is. Yet all of these articles, whether “debunking a myth” or using the system, really boil down to the same thing – it’s really about your level of efficiency.
It requires that you don’t try to apply this literally to every situation. There are times to handle something only one – junk mail and spam e-mails are good examples. Is there really any reason to have this cluttering up your space and not getting it into the trash (physical or electronic) quickly? It does also rely on your definition of junk and spam – for example, if you are in the market for a new credit card, those offers might be worth examining.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are plenty of things you aren’t going to handle only once, at least in the literal sense. If we think about “handle” more loosely, as in moving the item to a temporary “home” until it is time to attend to it, you can eliminate any worries it could cause by knowing you will complete later. You are handling it once – in that you are moving it along in your system.
Therefore the key piece here is to have some systems that work for you, where you’ll put the things in the meantime. It needs to be the same place each time and not cluttered with unrelated items. This means that you can create different areas for phone calls, bills, scheduling (parties, social events, etc.) and focus on each one independently of the others, or if it works for you, keeping this all together. Regardless of how you choose to set it up, you need to use it and make time to deal with those items.
If you are able to make a specific home for things and when the time is right, focus on them, you are still handling it only once since your brain is not continuing to “handle” it between when you got it and the time when you need to deal with it. Sometimes this is where things break down for people; they don’t have working systems. This is a different issue, as it isn’t handled only once.
This applies to e-mails as well, if you deal with it promptly, you will not keep re-reading them over and save yourself time. In truth, it applies to many things. If your dishwasher is not actually getting your dishes clean the first time through, you have to handle them repeatedly – hence why some people will almost wash the dishes before putting them in. If we can streamline the laundry and get it put away, we’re not handling our clothes over and over again.
The truth is that even I still struggle some with thinking about this phrase as not literal – when I hear it, when I talk about it – I still cringe inside. I’m afraid people cannot take it more figuratively – and from much of what I’ve seen and heard, when people talk about it, they use it literally. Yet, if we can shift our thinking about the term handling to being about moving things along in the process, we’ll become more efficient. As well as we’re simplifying things in our lives.