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Never handle a document twice!

We are not dealing with personal time management with this series of insights, except when it helps immensely to make a better manager of you and me.  All of us have time management tips and tricks to help us get through the day.  I have a mantra I try to live by, and it has helped me more than you know over the years.  “Never handle a paper twice” may be extended to include reading and acting upon emails, messages, and any written distraction. 

It is human nature to filter through the stack or inbox, looking for the important items. And that certainly has defensible merits.  But to find what is important, we usually have to at least scan a document or email, engaged for no less than a short moment and perhaps for the full reading of the document before moving on to look for important issues to resolve.

But there is good research to back up the statement that returning to a reading from a distraction causes the reader to lose up to 20% of his or her time in getting back to speed in mentally processing the document and its issues.  By trying my best to adhere to the “never twice” rule, I quickly delete most copy-all emails not addressed to me, and all junk, but handle each personally addressed email as it opens in the reading pane. 

[Email readers continue here…]  The exception is an email with an attachment that appears long and involved, such as an executive summary of a business plan.  Those get shuffled into a separate inbox for later review, without exception.  Using this policy, I get through my several hundred non-spam emails each day faster than I used to, and with more focus upon those with response required than if reading and returning to the issue at a later time, especially if not in the same sitting.  Exempt emails from your superior and those marked as urgent, both of which should be either directed to a special handling inbox or culled out from the rest immediately.

Wouldn’t you like to regain some percentage of your time with little or no effort?  Try this one.

  • Clarence

    A challenging choice for me is determining which emails to delete before opening. I’ve decided it is better to miss what might be an important email than than trigger future unwanted emails that might occur just by opening one. To bad, so sad; if I miss out on some life-changing bit of info. I don’t worry about it, Dave, because I have your periodic blog to keep me informed…smile.


  • This is a great system Dave, I’ve been trying to do something similar in my emails and just when I thought I was doing OK, I started with twitter which is even tougher since you now have to choose between many potentially beneficial tweets – I think I’m going to have to hire someone just to handle the twitter/Linkedin groups and FB accounts for business. It’s definitely THE challenge of our future.


  • Lee,
    This issue has been a controversial one for years. Those of us with too many to read and are sprayed with cc: requiring no action would like to get the gist of the email and just delete most – again since no action is required.

  • Great advice, but on .cc matters this is not realistic unless —

    A. You have an organization doing your work for you (on the .cc’s)

    B. You are not responsible for data and responses in the future (like a lawyer is)…

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