I’m betting that most of you have heard of the “OHIO” system for handling paper, email, and other tasks. Many advocate the “Only Handle It Once” system, particularly for paper piles. I’ve been asked multiple times at presentations about my opinion on the subject, and does it really work? My answer is yes. Aaaaand…no. It depends upon what you’re using it for.
I think the OHIO system for most of the paper, emails, tasks, and stuff in our spaces works beautifully to keep our minds and spaces clutter-free. But there are certainly many things that we come across in our work and personal lives that cannot be dealt with immediately, in one single action. There will be paperwork, emails, tasks and projects that need more time, more thought, and more energy than what one is able to do in the moment that it arises. When those things enter our time and our space, it’s important to have a system in place to deal with it so that it doesn’t become overwhelming, or misplaced, or forgotten entirely. Paperwork and emails that need more than just a quick action or response should have a specific place to live (and that place is NOT in a pile on your desk!) When something comes across your desk that needs more than just a speedy resolution, it’s important to make a note on your to-do list or calendar and assign it a specific time in the future when you will deal with it. Then make sure it has a folder, (digital or paper,) paper tray, or desktop file box in which to live so you can easily find it again when you need it.
I believe the beauty of the OHIO system lies in its ability to keep your physical spaces clear and clutter free. Perhaps you can’t deal with that email right now. Maybe your new insurance policy needs a more thoughtful perusal before you pay the premium. But taking just a few moments to put the physical items in your living and work spaces back in their homes after you’ve used them is the optimal way to employ the OHIO system.
When you walk in the door at the end of the day, where do the mail, coat, hat, keys, sundry items from the store that you’ve picked up on the way home, etc. go? Do they just get dumped on a chair and the kitchen counter? How about laundry? Does it sit in a pile on the laundry room floor? Does paperwork tend to pile up on the dining room table? Do food items and dirty dishes get left out on the counter? What happens to the scotch tape, wrapping paper and scissors after you’ve wrapped a gift? This is where the “Only Handle It Once” system shines! If you take just a few extra moments to put things away in their designated homes when you walk in the door to your home or office, or right after you’ve completed a task or chore, your spaces will remain organized and clutter-free. (Note that actually DESIGNATING a home for everything in your space needs to happen first before you can utilize OHIO effectively!) To quote Gretchen Rubin, “it’s far easier to keep up than to catch up…” (https://gretchenrubin.com/2019/06/habits-to-create-and-maintain-outer-order.) Establishing the habit of “only handling things once” when it comes to maintaining order in your spaces will save you so much more time and effort than allowing clutter just to accumulate and then struggling through a periodic, massive clean-up effort. It’s not about creating perfect, pretty, immaculate spaces. When you do “keep up,” you’ll find that you will save yourself time, hassle, and money when you can find what you need when you need it. Isn’t that what being organized is all about?