Time Management: The OHIO Method

by Ben Richardson
3rd March 2022    

As we discussed in yesterday’s List Making vs Prioritisation article, time management isn’t easy. However The OHIO Method can help you master it.

In fact, the reason that many of us struggle with it is that it goes against our natural tendency to avoid difficult decisions and hard things.

Today we’re going to look at focusing on just one thing at a time – which is a big theme in our time management courses. This is something that is getting ever more difficult.

The OHIO Method is the best way to get things done and manage your time effectively. The differences are most obvious when you are working on a larger, more difficult project that requires concentration but it applies just as much to small tasks. Effective multi-tasking is a myth.

When you are answering texts, writing emails and working on a project all at the same time it is cognitively demanding and you feel highly engaged and busy but you are actually just kidding yourself!

Studies show that you’re not producing your highest quality work and that you’re actually taking longer to produce it than if you dealt with each thing sequentially.

Interestingly, they show that there isn’t really such a thing as multi-tasking! What you are actually doing is repeatedly moving between tasks and single-tasking. However, by changing your focus repeatedly you kid yourself that you’re actually doing more than one thing at the same time.

Each time you change your focus it takes time and energy to pick up a new task. All you are actually doing is frittering your time and energy away by needlessly changing tasks repeatedly.

So – how do you train yourself to do the unnatural thing and focus on one thing at a time?

In this article, we’re going to look at The OHIO Method which you can use to help build your single-tasking muscle and make better use of your time.



The OHIO Method – Explained

OHIO is an Acronym that stands for Only Handle It Once.

The premise of this idea is that once you pick up a task or piece of work you can’t put it down until you’ve either completed it or taken it as far as you possibly can.

Obviously, if the task is large you need to set a sensible but demanding target for what it is possible to accomplish in one day.

This one is hard but, inevitably, that is what makes it such a good time management technique.

If you commit to it – and I recommend that you do – it means that you never pick up a task half-heartedly ‘just to have a look’.

Because you are committing to take the task to its conclusion when you pick it up, it forces you to think about the time you have available and what your priorities are BEFORE you start.

It also forces you to be decisive about something once you have picked it up.


The OHIO Method – Applied

The power of The OHIO Method usually comes with smaller administrative tasks especially. You have now committed yourself to not procrastinating on whatever task you have picked up (see this article for more on avoiding procrastination).

If you are going to do something you have to essentially be:

  1. Intentional about it
  2. Aggressively pushing it to a conclusion.

By forcing you to drive something to a conclusion it also frees up your mental space for other things. You no longer need to remember to come back to a half-finished task in the future.

We have all looked at an email or text and thought ‘Oh I just need to have a think about that I’m not sure I’ll come back to it tomorrow’ and then found it in our inbox two weeks later forgotten. We never quite get back to the email and it gets forgotten.

Usually, this is not because it truly needs more thought but because there is something uncomfortable about it that we’d rather avoid facing.

Next time you open your emails try it. Force yourself to fully deal with each email that you open.

You’ll probably find that in most cases the tricky ones you would have left will take a couple of minutes thought but that’s it. And by sending the reply you’ve now dealt with it and moved on.

If this sounds extreme or difficult to implement we’ll now look at a less strict form of OHIO which many people find works very well for making sure they learn to use their time efficiently.


Photo Credits: Maria and Aphiwat chuangchoem