The OHIO Method

The “OHIO” method is an easy way to be more efficient and productive in the way one handles records and information resources. In fact, it can help anyone to achieve more efficient workflow. 

OHIO stands for: Only Handle It Once. The premise of this method is that when paperwork lands on your desk, you only handle it once by immediately assigning it to its correct place instead of re-shuffling the paper back to your inbox. Here’s how to do this.

When paperwork lands on your desk (whether it’s a record you received from storage or it’s an incoming letter from a client), immediately scan the document and allocate it to one of the following four areas: 

  1. Filing – These are records that need to be integrated into your organization’s central filing system. Emptying the “Filing” folder should be on everyone’s daily “to do’ list. This ensures that recent information is integrated into the organization’s information resources and keeps information current for decision-making. 
  2. Reading – Take this file with you when you go to meetings where you can read contents while waiting for meetings to begin or during breaks, or when you leave for the commute home (what a great way to catch up on work while riding the bus or while traveling). The reading folder is a great way to avoid wasting time. 
  3. Routing – This is information that you don’t need, but it may be useful to someone else. If you’re in a large office that still uses routing slips, then use the routing slips to send the information to others and get it off your desk. If you want to receive the item later on, you can indicate this on the routing slip. 
  4. Action – This is your ‘to do’ list. Whether it’s something to sign, or requires major work, or just a simple response, place your action items in this file. Go through your Action file daily, systematically, so that nothing gets missed. 

You may not be surprised to learn that of all of our incoming mail (whether it’s paper or electronic), 80 percent of it can be immediately allocated to shredding or recycling. This leaves us with only 20 percent that needs to be allocated to the remaining four areas – that is, filing, reading, routing or action. 

What I do for my paperwork is that I have 4 file folders set up on my desk for the four areas. Then when paperwork comes in (usually once a day), I review the it and then immediately place it in one of the folders. Of course, if it’s a shredding or recycling item (and 80 percent of the items are shredding or recycling!), that immediately goes into the shredding or recycling bin. 

Then at the end of every day, I take about 10 minutes to empty those folders. 

I am often asked: “What about a miscellaneous file if the item doesn’t fit into any of those areas and you’re not sure if you should shred it?” To this I say avoid using miscellaneous or ‘general’ files. Instead, use a tickler file. A tickler file is a type of ‘bring forward’ system for which you could use an accordion-type of file pre-numbered from 1 to 31 for the days of the month. Here’s how the tickler file works. 

When you receive an item that looks to be miscellaneous or general, and you’ve checked with most of the office as to its value, but no one can advise you, place the item in the tickler folder on today’s date. For instance if today is March 14, then place the item in the number 14 slot of the tickler file. Then in one month’s time, if no one has asked for the item, you can either destroy it or move it ahead another month. You can do this for up to one year, after which time, if no one has found value for the item, you must destroy it. 

The OHIO method and the tickler system, when used together to manage your paperwork will help you become efficient and avoid the “pack rat syndrome.”