If you've ever watched a five-year-old child enter an extremely cold body of water—you’ll agree it's a very predictable scenario. First, the toes touch the water and everything above the ankles tense. Then the calves and the knees begrudgingly submerge. When the water finally reaches the tummy, it’s clear the child’s entire torso is stretching upward, trying to declare independence from the rest of the body. Then, at last, there is surrender. The whole body is IN and that kid is having the best time.
For those of us who aren’t naturally disciplined or are wired to resist structure, some business-improvement techniques are, at first, just as unwelcome as that cold water.
Upon receiving instructions that rein us in, we dip our first toe in and our entire being screams to go in the opposite direction.
This resistance hit me when I was first taught the classic time-management rule called OHIO: Only Handle It Once. This logical mantra says that everything you handle at work—every piece of paper, every email, every bill, and every task—is best dealt with only once, ideally the first time you encounter it.
My initial attempts at OHIO fell between hard and impossible. My clients reportedly felt the same. We related better to other states such as DELAWARE (Deceptively Easy Little Acronyms Won’t Address Real Experience) or IOWA (Inbox Overload Wins Always). I almost rejected the OHIO principle entirely—until I learned how to enter the water slowly.
I found if I started with small, prescribed periods of time and turned OHIO on and off like a switch, it actually made me screamingly productive during the time I used it. The finite nature of the commitment short-circuited my opposition and sense of overwhelm. Then, slowly, I used it more and more.
Here’s how you can make friends with this technique:
- Select the target of your OHIO time—your inbox or a physical stack of scribbled notes.
- Put aside distractions, turn off notifications, and silence your phone so you can give the process your full attention.
- Set a timer for 15, 20, or 30 minutes during which time you will religiously adhere to the concept of Only Handle It Once.
- Begin at the top of your physical or digital stack and handle the first thing you see. Do whatever you need to do to process and dispose of the task before you, no matter how long it takes. Respond, calendar, delegate, forward, or delete. If the required action needs additional research or discussion, schedule the time and set up a reminder. Then move to the next item.
Getting stalled emails and issues off your plate frees up your mental ‘white space’ for better thinking, creativity, problem-solving, and connection-making.
This gradual process allows you to cultivate the discipline and focus needed for OHIO time (or any other skills you want to practice) without the unrealistic goal of conducting your entire day in this manner from day one. As you come in and out of OHIO time in this contained way, you may soon even find yourself craving it. Over time you will get stronger and stronger at the new practice, and eventually you’ll just run off the dock and dive right in.
Check out this video on necole and how you can build a daily learning habit