We’ve all heard of the ‘touch it once’ rule – where smug associates with seemingly empty desks tell you they owe their serenity to never allowing paperwork to touch their desk more than once. Have you ever tried it for yourself and found yourself no better off, if not worse?

Likewise, if you told everyone in your office that they could have one wish, how many of them would opt for ‘a 30-hour day’, an ‘8 day week’, or some other such device to cram everything they need to get done into the time available?

So many of us have so much going on that the greatest source of stress for most of us is the sheer volume of tasks and information we feel we have to cram into each day. We all need more time every day, as we look at our bulging ‘to do’ lists and wonder how we’ll ever get to the bottom of them.

Well, firstly, we need to accept that, sometimes, it just isn’t going to get done – the day remains 1,440 minutes long, and it simply doesn’t add up. Then, instead of beating ourselves up over this absolute mathematical fact, we need to concentrate on setting realistic goals, prioritizing our tasks, and working on the most important stuff.

I could write a whole column on prioritizing your to-do list and barely scratch the surface, but that isn’t what this article is about. Instead, let's just concentrate on a simple tip that might give you a few extra minutes each day, or even each hour!

Have you ever heard of an ‘in-bin’?

Regardless of whether you’re in business or not, everyone has an in-bin. It can be your email inbox, incoming mail, work you’ve been assigned, or stuff dropped on your desk in what an associate of mine calls ‘workstation roulette’. What ever form in takes for you, we all have to process this stuff.

The problem is, if you take the ‘touch it once’ approach to your in-bin, then you could spend half your day handling random inputs that are neither urgent, nor even important. For that reason, I think that’s one ‘rule’ that was made to be broken. Make life easier for yourself and, instead, try changing that to…

Touch each item no more than twice!

Here’s an example. An email arrives in your inbox. You read it, and then have to decide what you’re going to do about it. If you follow the ‘one touch’ rule slavishly, then you are beholden to deal with it then and there, regardless of whether it requires you immediate attention. So, instead, determine how important and/or urgent it is, and get it off your desk – either in a file, folder, try, whatever works best for you. It needs to be somewhere out of your way, but not so out of the way that you can’t find it or forget about it. After you’ve filed and processed all these inputs appropriately, you can prioritize them and work on them in strict priority order.

The one exception to prove this rule is if the input will take you less than 2 minutes to handle, such as a quick email reply or a request to fax a document. Then, it will be more efficient to handle it there and then.

So, back with our in-bin items that we know will take us more than a couple of minutes to deal with – what do we do with them? Firstly, you have to ask ‘do I need this?’ If you don’t need it then trash it, otherwise it just clutters your life.

For any item that survives this cull, then you need to decide how important it is, what needs doing with it, and when by; and assign it an appropriate priority from there You an set up files for this both for hard-copy documents and for email.

When you fetch your mail, do you review it and then put it back in to the US Post Office mailbox? Of course not! So why do we insist on leaving reviewed email in our inboxes? Check it, if you don’t need it, trash it, if you do and it’s quick, respond and file or trash, if you need it and it may taken a while, file it in the appropriate place for later action. You could label email folders with titles such as ‘Action - Priority,’ ‘Action - Not Urgent,’ ‘Pending’, ‘Archive’, and ‘Reference’. You might also choose to create files for specific projects or customer groups you're working with. It's also a good idea to have your paper files mirror your electronic files for ease of use.

Another way to expand the time available is to stop leaving your email open on your desktop and checking it constantly. Barely a decade ago, all of us managed to do business without email at all and, even now, the US postal service only delivers once a day. Why let your email govern your waking life? Try only checking your email first thing in the morning, after lunch and at the end of the day. It’s your email account; you’re not its person!

The biggest challenge is in prioritizing these various inputs but, if you give yourself permission to touch each item twice before you start actually working on it, I honestly believe you will feel like you’ve given yourself the gift of a few precious extra minutes each day. What are you going to do with yours?

Author's Bio: 

Marsha Egan, CPCU, PCC is CEO of The Egan Group, Inc., a Reading, PA based professional coaching firm. She is a certified workplace productivity coach and professional speaker, specializing in leadership development and can be reached at marsha@marshaegan.com or visit http://www.InboxDetox.com.