Get Hours Back with the One-Touch Rule

Photo by: Alejandro Luengo

How many times do you read an email before you answer it? (Answer truthfully—no one’s looking.)

If you’re thinking, “Why are you asking?”, then let me tell you a little story and see if it resonates:

You sit down at your desk in the morning with your coffee and open your laptop. You open up your email. You click on a message, read it, and decide that you don’t want to respond right now. You mark it as unread. Then an hour later, you open it again, reread it, and decide you are still not ready to respond. Now it’s nearing the end of the day, and you open it yet again, read it for a third time, and finally shoot off a response.

Are you nodding your head? Does that sound a bit familiar?

Now why does this matter? After all, you answered the email on the same day. That fits within your SLA. So you’re good, right?

Here’s why it matters, and why it’s not good: This was one email. It could have taken 2 minutes of your time if you had only touched it once. Instead, you read it three times, and it was in the back of your head all day long, sitting in your subconscious and pulling from your focus. 

The “one-touch” rule is a method for combatting the aforementioned scenario and giving you back hours in your day. 

(Yes, I said “hours”.) 

Because here’s the thing: I bet you don’t do that with just one email a day. In reality, most people are handling the majority of their email this way.

The one-touch rule is amazing not only for time-management, but for stress and anxiety as well. It helps you quickly handle each incoming message and move forward, instead of letting it fester in your brain.

So, what is the one-touch rule, and how do we put it into action?:

The theory:

For all incoming items, you commit to only touching them once. Specifically, this applies to emails, texts, Slack messages, voicemails, and even paper mail—anything that’s coming at you into your virtual or physical inbox. 

If you don’t have time to fully respond to messages, don’t even read them until you do have time. You’ll only be distracted and thinking about it, yet unable to take action.

The practice:

When you get an incoming message (email, text, Slack message, voicemail, etc.) there are really only three straight-forward actions available to you. So, simply choose the one that applies to the message and act accordingly:

  1. Archive/tag/file — For informational message that you don’t need to respond to.
  2. Respond — If you can respond (with the information you have in your brain or at your fingertips), just do it.
  3. Add to your task list — If the message is relaying a project or task you need to do or you just don’t have the info required to answer it yet, add to your task list. Then, prioritize it realistically and respond to let the sender know when they should expect a full reply (or completion).

As soon as you implement the “one-touch” rule, you’ll start seeing results—leaving you with more time and less stress.

Alexis Haselberger

Alexis Haselberger is a time-management and productivity coach who spent the first 15+ years of her career managing operations and HR at several early-stage start-ups, where there was always way more to do than people to do it. But she also believes that work-life balance is essential for everyone, even though the definition may be different for everyone. As a result, she began to develop and implement productivity systems in the companies she worked for, and in her life, to ensure that goals were met, balls were not dropped, and that, most importantly, she and those around me stayed sane. Via 1:1 coaching, group coaching, and workshops, Alexis helps people to do more, and stress less.

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