Why the Only-Touch-a-Piece-of-Paper-Once Rule Isn’t Working For You

Businessman Overwhelmed with PaperworkAre you familiar with the only touch/handle a piece of paper once rule? Many professional organizers and time management experts recommend it.  I don’t. Their thinking is that, you don’t get anywhere by shuffling papers from one pile to another. True enough. Their answer is to make a decision on one piece of paper at a time before moving on to the next piece. You may decide to read, act, file, delegate, or toss, but you MUST decide!

My problem is that this approach puts way too much pressure on an individual to make the perfect decision. This can be very discouraging for someone, who is challenged with making decisions, especially if there is a large stack of papers. The odds of abandoning this approach are quite good.

The key to making hard decisions is to soften them. So how do you do that?

1. Create Context.

Start by quickly sorting like with like. Bills with bills, periodicals with periodicals, statements with statements, etc.  Context drives decisions. When you can see have this year’s auto policy, it is a lot easier to toss last year’s policy.

2. Maintain Momentum.

Handling paper can and should be done quickly. You can even get help with the sort stage.  The only-touch-a-piece-of-paper-once approach is usually painfully slow and therefore discouraging. You should be able to fly through the sorting stage, then fly through the review-in-context stage, then fly through the action stage.

3. Prioritize.

By sorting all the paper at once, you can dig up the top priorities, which you may not get to if you are discouraged by only touching a paper one at a time. There will probably be some low priority pages that really have you stumped. The frustration increases, when you know you must have some more important files to get to, at the bottom of the pile. Instead, by sorting them quickly all at once and by creating a context of like with like, you will be much more confident that you are addressing your top priorities.

By handling your papers in stages, you are absolutely handling the same papers more than once, but that’s O.K.! What really matters is that you make progress. It is much easier to make progress with your papers, if you create a context of like with like, move quickly, and are confident that you are addressing your priorities. The only-touch-a-piece-of-paper-once approach does none of these things, so if it’s not working for you, that’s why.