Personal Productivity 101

[This article is in the practical series Personal Productivity 101. “All hard work brings a profit.” Proverbs 14:23]

For some time now I’ve wanted to write a series on the topic of personal productivity. When I was in my early twenties I realized that when I learned about some method of working smart, of being organized, or of having discipline, it could be worth a gold mine if it helped my whole lifestyle. Oftentimes issues of organization and personal productivity are spiritual matters–of setting priorities that line up with God’s values.

So once every week or two I’d like to share something about personal productivity I’ve discovered because I think we’re all looking for ways not to be buried in the clutter of things that come our way–in our jobs, in our homes, or in our personal lives. It would be great if you added comments about these topics, letting all of us know what has worked for you.

So, to begin with, here is a method of personal productivity I first heard when I was still in school.


A friend told me this, and at the time I did not think of it as a time management or personal productivity principle, but it is. If you feel as though mail and memos and your own notes become a rising stack of unfinished business, you need to learn: “touch a piece of paper just once.” Literally, think of it that way. The thing is in your fingers, you don’t want it to touch your fingers again if at all possible–so you trash it, or you read it, or you file it, or you take action on it.

So, for instance, you pick up the mail for the day and you could set it on a table, glance through it once, move it later in the day to a desk to be put on top of the mail from yesterday, forget it for a day, when it gets buried under that day’s mail. Or you could take the stack and just work from the top (sorting is a waste of time), and toss, read, file, or take action. Do it standing if you can.

I worked with someone for years who read his mail at work at the staff mailboxes. He tossed junk mail out right there, read the memos right there, or right there he took a pen in hand and scrawled a response on the bottom of letters and put them right in the boxes of the fellow staff people he was responding to, or to his assistant who would then type a formal letter. He would go to the mailboxes once a day, and walk away with few if any items in his hand. For a while I wondered whether my memos were getting proper attention, but I learned over time that this person was more responsive and more faithful than anyone else I worked with. He didn’t let himself get buried, so he was able to be more responsive than anyone else.

Sometime down the road I want to write about David Allen’s system called Getting Things Done which I have used for years. But for today, do you have anything to suggest about the papers that come through our hands? Or do you have a question about personal productivity, time management, or organization you would like to see addressed?


10 thoughts on “Personal Productivity 101”

  1. I have always found that it helps to immediately take care of the simple tasks first and leave the large or more difficult items until later. This way, little things get immediate attention and do not get lost due to focusing on the larger more complex items. Also, there is a side benefit of accomplishment of getting something completed.

  2. Mel, Great article on time management. But I really have to wonder what this has to do with strengthening our walk with Christ or spreading His message or anything about Christianity. I realize that being good stewards of our time is part of honoring God, but I’m not seeing much of a connection. Could you help me out?

    1. I’m glad you asked, Paul. I’m going to write on a few such topics, once every week or two. We’ll see how the discussion unfolds. I see order and discipline as freeing us to concentrate on the things that matter to God, like people. But I think you already put your finger on it when you mentioned being good stewards of our time as a way of honoring God. I’d like to be supportive of people who feel as though they are spinning their wheels in life, living in chaos, and are frequently distracted.

  3. Amen! I’ve tried to do this for years and it has been a big help. This approach / discipline makes it hard for clutter to develop, which, in turn, keeps things moving forward anad prevents panic when faced with too much paperwork.
    Thanks for the reminder, Mel.

  4. this is good Mel, and something i need to work on. here are things i could use help with.

    how to touch once: when to delegate, defer, decide, delete

    how to manage multiple areas of responsibilities

    how to prioritize

    how to balance effective versus efficient

  5. Mel: This is a very good idea. Let me share another one I have found useful. I was a coordinator at Lambs Farm, a facility for developmentally handicaped adults in Illinois. I was in charge of over 50 staff and twelve group homes with 144 residents. It was the first time I had this kind of responsigility. I would go around with a clip board and visit a few minutes with the residents in each unit and the staff on duty. Many times they would have real concerns they would share with me. I would make notes and promise to get back to them with a solution. I soon realized I was walking away with, most of the time, with their problem. I soon changed my strategy. I would spend an extra few minutes with them asking them how they thought the problem should be solved. I might need to give some imput so there solution met the overall goal of the agency, but almost every time they came up with a better solution than I would have, and I walked away, without an additional problem, but with the problem on its way to being resolved. This strategy served me well in my pastoral ministry as well. Don Fletcher

  6. I’d like to respond to Paul’s comment. If the suggestion to touch a piece of paper just once is implemented, think of the time you will save, even if just minutes a day. Utilize the time saved to read to your family from the Bible, study the word of God privately or speak to someone about the Lord. It may just be a few minutes but, it may be the few minutes you need to make a difference in someone’s life or maybe even your own. Have a Blessed day!

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