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Productivity & Organizing Myth #4 – Only Handle it Once

Productivity & Organizing Myth #4 – Only Handle it Once
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    The forth in a series of 10 myths to help you see clearly past the myths to get things done!

    Myth: You should handle papers and view emails only once.
    Reality: You should handle papers and view emails an efficient number of times. In some cases an assistant should handle them for you and you should never view them.

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    Only Handle It Once (o.h.i.o.) applies to junk mail which should go straight in the trash. Beyond that, you should consciously evaluate the right number of times to view emails and handle a document. In society’s affection for acronyms this little phrase has staying power but it misleads followers! The idea behind o.h.i.o is efficiency but can lead to wasted time.

    Let’s look at an example ~ an email regarding the ‘Rebuilding Project’. Subject: Rebuilding Project action items. In this email is a list of three action items intended for you. If you are to handle this email only once, you will stop reading your mail, evaluate the recommended actions, and then take the viable steps.
    Such attention to one email has derailed you from handling all your email and redirected you to doing work on the Rebuilding Project. If you do handle the Rebuilding Project email immediately, you might miss some important instruction, information or request from your boss or someone else on the Project. Perhaps your attendance at a 2:00 meeting regarding the Project is required and because you spend so much time handling this one email, you don’t even see the invite for the meeting.

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    The efficient management of this email would be to move it to a folder called ‘Rebuilding Project”. An all-star productivity system would use email filters or rules to have all email regarding the Rebuilding Project (RP) automatically moved to the RP folder so that you can look at the entire collection of related email when you turn to the Project.

    A couple of tips:

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    • The active folders should be on your screen without scrolling down your list of folders.
    • Precede the active folders with a symbol (such as a * ) to have them sort at the top of a list.
    • Folders in Outlook with unread messages will be bold – so you will know when new email has arrived.
    • In Outlook 2003 there will be a copy of the unread email in your Unread Mail Folder so you’re sure to see it provided you review this folder.

    Efficient handling of email is best mirrored in paper mail. When any useful paper comes in regarding the Rebuilding Project, slide it in your paper folder called Rebuilding Project. Use the same name on the computer as you do on a file folder so that you don’t have to remember and use both names and so that other people can use your system and help you out.

    Now, when it’s time to work on the Rebuilding Project you simply open your computer folder called Rebuilding Project and your paper folder called Rebuilding Project and get to work assimilating and taking actions. At this point you’re on your second handling of the paper and because it’s in context you’re likely to use it effectively. This will give you access to the background and supporting documentation for your next step to be effective. You won’t have to spend time searching and find emails to see if you’ve got the latest information in front of you. Related papers and emails will all be together and at your disposal.

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    Now, extend the method illuminated above to your paper mail and the clutter on your counter. (Move them to group them, then use them).

    Previous Myths:

    Susan Sabo is an intrepid traveler who has organized her life to be out of the country for months at a time. Antarctica is the only unvisited continent (so far). She’s the author at www.productivitycafe.com, consults with professionals on the personal productivity and present productivity techniques & tips to groups.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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