It is 1918 and Charles M. Schwab is one of the wealthiest men on the planet.
He is the President of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, the largest shipbuilder and the second-largest steel producer in America.
Thomas Edison (the revered inventor) once referred to Schwab as a “master hustler”. He constantly was looking for ways to improve and grow.
One day, in his endeavour to eke out even more productivity from his workers, he arranged a meeting with the top productivity consultant of the time, Ivy Lee, and asked him how his team could become more efficient.
Lee was successful in his own right and is widely remembered as a pioneer in the field of public relations. As the story goes, Schwab ushered Lee into his office and said, “Show me a way to get more things done.”
“Give me 15 minutes with each of your executives,” Lee replied.
“How much will it cost me,” Schwab asked.
“Nothing,” Lee said. “Unless it works. After three months, you can send me a check for whatever you feel it’s worth to you.”
What is the Ivy Lee Method
In the 15 minutes with each of Schwab’s executives, Lee explained his daily routine for achieving peak productivity:
Step 1: At the end of each workday, write down the six tasks you want to achieve tomorrow. Do not write more than six things.
Step 2: Prioritise the six tasks in order of importance.
Step 3: The next morning, focus solely on task number 1. Work on that until it is finished, then move on to task number 2.
Step 4: Continue this process through each task.
Step 5: If at the end of the day, if you have any tasks leftover, these will help form your six tasks for tomorrow.
Step 6: Repeat this process every work day.
“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”Mark Twain
Sounds simple right? Well it is – and it works.
The Ivy Lee Method of prioritizing your to-do list seems ridiculously simple. How could something this simple work so well and be worth so much?
Why it Actually Works
It works for a number of reasons that ultimately boil down to human psychology:
1. It eliminates wasted on-the-spot planning time. If you don’t plan out your tasks the night before it means you are planning out your day on the spot. And with a finite amount of time and focus available to you during the day it means that ultimately a portion of your day is wasted.
We also know that once your day has begun things can ‘get away’ from you. You’re in reactive mode: answering calls and emails – making it far more difficult to plan, think and strategize optimally.
2. It’s extremely simple. In my opinion and experience, technology tends to convolute the issues and actually cause more friction when planning. What makes this so great and actually usable is that it is as simple as 15 minutes, you and a pen and paper.
3. It forces you to focus on one task at a time. We all love multi-tasking. Unfortunately, current culture makes us associate ‘busyness’ and ‘being ‘busy all the time’ with being better. This is a myth and in fact generally not true. Focus, above all else, results in being better. It becomes blatantly apparent when you think about it: you can’t become great at something if you are dividing your time and resources between a myriad of different tasks. Mastery requires focus.
4. It forces you to become clear on your priorities. Similar to Buffet’s 25/5 rule – the method forces you to focus your time and attention only on the tasks that are absolutely necessary for that day while you ignore everything else until that particular task is complete.
The meat and potatoes? Do your most important to-do item first, only then move on.