The Coffey Blog

Have a Great Workday! Tame your to-do list by touching it once

Posted on: Monday, February 22, 2016

Sherilee Coffey, Director of Creative Operations

It's all the rage in blogs and books: how to get more done in less time. Who doesn't want to be more efficient in all aspects of their life, especially the workplace?

Having worked with healthcare marketers for the better part of two decades, I am well-aware of the challenges you face.

Touching tasks once

As a productivity enthusiast, I've looked at many different methods for mastering my to-do list, from Getting Things Done® to the Pomodoro Technique.

I can't place where I first heard about the touch-it-once technique, but it instantly appealed to me. Reallyno more stacks of paper at my desk, waiting to be dealt with? Assess a task, deal with it and move on? A dream scenario. After a few weeks of dabbling in touching things less (if not always just once), I decided to commit for a full day.

The basics of touch it once are pretty simple:

1. Assess incoming tasks, whether by email, in person or over the phone.

2. Ask yourself: Can you get it done in 5 minutes? If so, do it. Now.

3. If you think the task will take you longer than 5 minutes to complete, ask yourself if you're the best person to do it. If not, delegate it—this might be easier said than done, but that's what the method dictates. If it should be your responsibility, add to your list.


Download the touch-it-once chart.

Pretty simple, in theory.

Where I struggled: multitasking. One tenet of the touch-it-once method is to focus solely on one thing at a time. I've had decent success with pushing multiple projects forward simultaneously, so devoting myself to one project at a time felt, while not like actual slacking, somewhat unproductive. I felt as if I wasn't making the best of my multitasking skill set.

What I found, though, by the end of the day—and have continued to appreciate in the days since—is that multitasking may seem productive, but digging in and completing tasks with the touch-it-once method pays off in powerful results. On a multitasking day, I would have moved a number of items slightly forward and had to return to them later. Using the touch-it-once approach, I was able to mark items as complete and not have to return to them.

More ideas for a productive workday

My touch-it-once day was enlightening, if not a resounding success. Paying attention to this philosophy in a targeted way really helped me to accomplish a number of items that had been percolating to the bottom of my to-do list. Also, it allowed me to move many recent to-do list additions straight off by assessing them as easy enough to solve in 5 minutes and getting them done.

What this method doesn't immediately address are those tasks that take longer than 5 minutes and aren't able to be assigned to someone else. The theory holds that you should have saved time by touching other items only once, and that time can now be devoted to these larger projects. I have found this to be only somewhat true.

My approach to the day actually begins the night before, when I look at my calendar and assess the next day's meetings and spots in the day where I might be able to tackle some of my larger projects. If I can block time out for projects, I will. I've done this night-before method for many years and find it's essential to starting the next day with a full picture of what I need to do. The revision to my process nowwith the touch-it-once approachis that, while I still divide my time between the scheduled appointments and on-the-fly needs and requests, I use the touch-it-once method so that they don't stack up on me.

While I fully expect to adjust and amend over time, I am quite happy with this most recent experiment and feel poised for continued productivity success.

Looking for help?

Need a hand with the "delegate" items on your list? The Coffey team is here to help. Learn more about our healthcare marketing expertise and contact us if we can be of assistance.

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