The Ivy Lee Method

Earlier this week, I shared tips on how to stay focused while working from home over the next few weeks until life goes back to normal. (Thanks to the little sister for giving amazing tips as well!) We touched a bit on time management (tip #11) and I wanted to expand a bit more on what I shared regarding this subject because it’s something I am constantly trying to improve, and figured maybe someone else is on the same boat.

Before hell broke loose, I was thriving on my routine. I had it nailed down (after several months of trying). I had no issues waking up at 5 a.m., no problem going to the gym, eating a healthy breakfast, etc., etc. The only issue I had was mastering the Power List recommended by Andy Frisella. It just didn’t work for me…and maybe I wasn’t applying it correctly. The Power List is simply listing five critical tasks and getting them done no matter what. If you don’t finish your tasks, you consider the day a loss (and you must write a L next to the day). If you complete the tasks, the day is considered a win (and you must write a W next to the day). Does that make sense? Well, I would list my critical five, and often times, other tasks would come up or would be assigned. Debating on whether I should swap my critical five tasks for the ones I would actually complete was draining me. And it didn’t my boost my morale when I would see a bunch of L’s on my daily planner when I clearly knew I was being productive, not just playing busy. I eventually found myself not following the guidance from Andy. I would get two or three things completed and move the rest of the uncompleted tasks to the next day. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I would complete all of my tasks and it was awesome! Other times, I would list ten tasks and you’re not “supposed” to do that either. I was all over the place with this method.

I started listening to The Skinny Confidential podcast earlier this year, and on one of the episodes I heard the host, Lauryn Evarts, talk about the Ivy Lee Method. I was intrigued to learn more about it because it sounded very similar to what I was doing.

Here’s the back story about the Ivy Lee Method (Source: James Clear)

By 1918, Charles M. Schwab was one of the richest men in the world.

Schwab was the president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, the largest shipbuilder and the second-largest steel producer in America at the time. The famous inventor Thomas Edison once referred to Schwab as the “master hustler.” He was constantly seeking an edge over the competition.

One day in 1918, in his quest to increase the efficiency of his team and discover better ways to get things done, Schwab arranged a meeting with a highly-respected productivity consultant named Ivy Lee.

Lee was a successful businessman in his own right and is widely remembered as a pioneer in the field of public relations. As the story goes, Schwab brought 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.”

The Ivy Lee Method

During his 15 minutes with each executive, Ivy Lee explained his simple daily routine for achieving peak productivity:

  1. At the end of each work day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
  2. Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
  3. When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
  4. Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
  5. Repeat this process every working day.

The strategy sounded simple, but Schwab and his executive team at Bethlehem Steel gave it a try. After three months, Schwab was so delighted with the progress his company had made that he called Lee into his office and wrote him a check for $25,000.

A $25,000 check written in 1918 is the equivalent of a $400,000 check in 2015.

Sounds very doable, right? If you are already writing down what needs to get done for the day, this method should be easy to adapt and apply.

This method ties in very well with other tips we suggested on staying focused (click here for the blog post.) For example, tip #5 suggests to commit working for a specified amount of time. The amount of time is obviously up to you, I can work nonstop for at least one hour but perhaps another person has an attention span of 30 minutes. We are all different. Besides, some of you may be parents and have children at home. The point is, set that time aside to get the important things done. I think Mayra had a very good point on tip #11 – she suggested prioritizing a mix of high-brain and low-brain tasks to avoid depleting your energy and exhausting the brain. I am definitely considering this tip when it comes to strategizing my day moving forward.

In order for the Ivy Lee Method to work, I think it’s worth pointing out a few things:

  • Differentiate what’s critical and what’s not
  • Learn to prioritize
  • Stop with the multi-tasking
  • Organize thoughts the night before and WRITE down tasks for the following day
  • Set aside the distractions (aka your phone)
  • Be consistent

Today is the FIRST day I try the Ivy Lee Method. I will continue applying this method for the next several weeks and then update this blog post with my findings.

I know there’s a lot happening in the world. So many distractions (speaking of, I just received an emergency alert regarding Covid-19 on my work phone) to swerve. But we can only put one foot in front of the other, and give it our best. We owe it to ourselves, to each other, to our families, friends, colleagues, etc. Let’s get through this…together.







One thought on “The Ivy Lee Method

Leave a Reply