The OHIO Rule: Only Handle It Once; Easier Said Than Done.

How many emails do you open every day that you choose not to respond to, saying to yourself, “I’ll get to that later”?  How many papers, magazines, memos come across your desk that you put in a pile to read later? Worse yet, how many conversations do you have with peers, direct reports and customers where you dance in circles rather than address the point at hand?

We are guilty of all or some of these actions, as it’s undeniable that we’re inundated with too many messages, too much to do, and possess an imaginary back burner that conveniently expands to size.

So when I came across the new book Extreme Productivity I was intrigued.  With the word Extreme in the title, you know the author is not messing around.  The author, Robert Pozen, is a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, senior fellow at Brookings Institution and former chairman of MFS Investment Management and Fidelity Investments. Oh, and he’s written six books.  He manages his time by going to less meetings, not sweating the small stuff, sleeping at least seven hours a night, and sticking to the OHIO rule: Only Handle it Once.  The OHIO Rule is decades old, and gets better with age.

If you are able to apply the OHIO Rule in a typical day, you will most likely open up hours in your workday.  Imagine how much roomier that convenient but annoying back burner will be. I’ve read statistics that say people read the same email anywhere from twice to five times. Apply the OHIO Rule, and there’s an action taken on that email right away.  There are exceptions to this rule and naysayers of the OHIO Rule – some might rightly argue that it’s worth reading something once and coming back to it later for a more measured response. Sure, that applies sometimes – but not most of the time.

To add to the OHIO Rule, the 4T’s, compliments of mommy site Momeo, are a nice companion for those seeking to be productive, and possibly extremely productive:

Tackle It – do something now with that email/memo etc

Task It – schedule a specific time on your calendar to handle it

Toss It – self-explanatory

Transfer It – forward it and delegate it to a more suitable team member

There’s a reason why Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign resonates across generations. It speaks to our desire to succeed but our inclination to procrastinate.  While all eyes are on Ohio the state on Election Day, OHIO the rule should be a handy reminder to just do it.

What do you think? Are you a believer in OHIO?

– Diane Schwartz

On Twitter: @dianeschwartz




  • Elaine Neiss

    This is an awesome rule – just never knew it as the OHIO rule. Learned it way back when in my former life at AT&T. That being said, I did however look at this email a number of times before I actually acted on it. Oh well, a work in progress. Thanks for Sharing.

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    I can’t understand the first reply, but I totally agree with the last four comments. So true!