The biggest time suck and how to avoid it

I have a bad habit.

It’s something I think affects most small business owners at some point in our lives and in the past I’ve identified it, taken responsibility for eliminating it from my life, but somehow it can surface again – BIG TIME. It’s not watching The Kardashians (which I’m a-OK to admit to, #trashtvheals) or spending too long in an Instagram black hole.  

It’s double handling.  

A.K.A. The Ultimate Time Suck  

Yep, double handling is that horrid state of looking at a text message or email then just…well…leaving it. It's like going to brush your teeth, putting the toothpaste on the brush and then just leaving the bathroom, toothbrush in hand. You’re constantly reminded you have to finish something off — something that most of the time would take five minutes or less, and yet…you don’t.  

One Touch, One Decision. 

One of the best books I’ve read on this subject is Work Smarter, Live Better by Cyril Peupion and one of the best lessons from this, was the idea of “one touch, one decision”. This basically means if you touch it (i.e. open the email, read the text) you make a decision there and then what will happen next. You can either decide to respond if you think it’ll take you five minutes or less, or you can close it and come back to reply at a specified Responding-To-Emails/Texts time (i.e, between 10-11am or 4-5pm daily).  

Now, I’m sure Cyril wasn’t the first to think of this and there are countless thought leaders who promote the idea of batching your time and only checking email for one hour at the start of the day and one hour at the end. But in reality, this isn’t always possible, especially when last-minute jobs pop up or sick children interrupt your schedule.

So, how do you avoid double handling? I’m not the guru on this (the student is still learning), but here’s six things that have helped me with my bad habit:  

1. Switch to Airplane Mode

When I have to get something done and have a short timeframe to work to, I’ll switch my phone to Airplane Mode so I simply cannot be contacted. I’ll let my husband know in case there’s some major emergency (oh, Fiona, ever the optimist!) but otherwise I’ll just switch off and go.  

2. Just Do It

I’ve identified one of the reasons I double handle texts/emails is that I think I need to wait until I have quiet time to reply, but the truth is what I would write later isn’t going to differ significantly to what I can write, right now (and hey, when do I ever really get quiet time?). If it’s going to take less than two minutes (five adds up, Cyril), I aim to respond there and then.  

3. Type It Once

As my consulting business has grown, I find I’m getting asked many of the same questions from potential clients. Now, ideally these should form part of your FAQ section on your website, but, if not, take some time to start a document in Evernote that you can use to copy and paste when people contact you with the same questions such as:

  • “What days do you work?”

  • “How much do you charge?”

  • “How do you work with new clients?”

As so many of my clients vary in their needs, I will write back specifically to each person, but having overall info on hand makes the process of responding quicker. (This tactic is also super useful when you’re about to launch a new product or collection and may help with your Response Register for community management.)  

4. Boomerang for Gmail

All of my email accounts are set up using G Suite (I highly recommend it for small businesses for your @company email accounts through gmail, plus a host of other features). Boomerang is an add-on to Gmail that allows me to schedule emails, so instead of hitting ‘send’ as soon as it’s written I can schedule it to send at a later date or time. This may be useful when I’m responding to a client on a Saturday but I want them to receive the email first thing Monday morning to help them start their workweek off with a bang.  

5. Messages on Laptop

At first this may seem as if it increases double handling, but bear with me. I know myself and if I’m constantly picking up my phone, I’ll end up checking a variety of apps, browsing social media and being distracted by all the little red circles alerting me to messages in email, Messenger, LinkedIn…etc.

For the times when I don’t need to completely switch off from the world (see #1 above), I’ll utilise Messages for Mac on my laptop/desktop. I can quickly answer any urgent texts without leaving the document I’m working on. It’s also useful for checking links or large documents people send you via text.  

6. SMS Scheduler

This one may be controversial, but it really reduces my double handling. This free tool allows you to schedule text messages. At the start of the year I’ll use it to input birthday texts to friends and family so I don’t miss key dates. It also allows me to schedule a text when I think of it (even if that's at 11pm or 3am), rather than wait, then forget to text someone.  

Ultimately, YOU need to decide what works best for your small business and your lifestyle. I hope this gives you hope that double handling can be managed and, ultimately, overcome.


Fiona Killackey