The Ivy Lee Method: The Simple Daily Practice for Peak Productivity

In 1918, Charles M. Schwab, the president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, the largest shipbuilder and the second-largest steel producer in America at the time, had granted an interview to an efficiency expert named Ivy Lee.

Lee was telling Schwab how he could help him do a better job of managing the company, when the president broke in to say something to the effect that he wasn’t at present managing as well as he knew how.

He went on to tell Ivy Lee that what was needed wasn’t more knowing, but a lot more doing. He said, “We know what we should be doing. Now if you can show us a better way of getting it done, I’ll listen to you and pay you anything within reason you ask.”

Well, Lee then said that he could give him something in 20 minutes that would increase his efficiency by at least 50 percent.

He then handed the executive a blank sheet of paper and said, “Write down on this paper the six most important things you have to do tomorrow.”

Well, the executive thought about it and did as requested. It took him about three or four minutes.

Then Lee said, “Now number those items in the order of their importance to you or to the company.

Well, that took another three or four minutes, and then Lee said, “Now put the paper in your pocket. And the first thing tomorrow morning take it out and look at item number one.

Don’t look at the others, just number one, and start working on it. And if you can, stay with it until it’s completed. Then take item number two the same way, then number three, and so on, till you have to quit for the day.

Don’t worry if you’ve only finished one or two; the others can wait. If you can’t finish them all by this method, you could not have finished them with any other method. And without some system, you’d probably take ten times as long to finish them and might not even have them in the order of their importance."

“Do this every working day,” Lee went on. “After you’ve convinced yourself of the value of this system, have your people try it. Try it as long as you like. And then send me your check for whatever you think the idea is worth.”

The entire interview hadn’t taken more than a half-hour. In a few weeks, the story has it that the company president sent Ivy Lee a check for $25,000 with a letter saying the lesson was the most profitable from a money standpoint he’d ever learned in his life.

It was later said that in five years, this was the plan that was largely responsible for turning what was then a little-known steel company into one of the biggest independent steel producers in the world.

One idea, the idea of taking things one at a time in their proper order; of staying with one task until it’s successfully completed before going on to the next one.

Simple? Yes. But profoundly effective.

* A $25,000 check written in 1918 adjusted to inflation, is the equivalent of a $449,861 check in 2018.

To give credit where it’s due, the story outlined above comes from a wonderful audio program called Lead the Field, by Earl Nightingale. You can also check out this great post from James Clear which shares a similar version.

the ivy lee method

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Why Don’t You Try "The Ivy Lee Method" in Your Own Life?

Tonight, before going to bed:

  • Write down the six most important things you have to do.
  • Then number them in the order of their importance.
  • And tomorrow morning, go to work on number one. Stay with it till it’s successfully completed, then move on to number two, and so on.

Our effectiveness as individuals depends on our ability to focus single-mindedly on ONE task at a time and of staying with it till it’s 100% complete.

Mark this words:

Resist the temptation to clear up small things first. Focus on one high-value task at a time and don’t go to the next one before you’ve got the first one completed 100%.

When you’ve finished with all six, repeat the 3-step process described above. You’ll be astonished and delighted at the order it brings into your life and at the rate of speed with which you’ll be able to accomplish your goals.

Many people mistake activity for productivity; movement for achievement. But just because you’re busy doing a lot of things doesn’t mean you’re being productive. It just means that you’re busy.

Being busy is not the same as being productive. When it comes to productivity, results is the name of the game.

That’s why you need to write down only the most important things to do.

These “things” need to be goal-oriented activities. They don’t refer to “doing the laundry,” or “going to the grocery store.” Goal-oriented activities are tasks that move you ahead steadily toward your goal. That’s a very important distinction.

Doing successfully a lot of unnecessary things can be considered a waste of time. Make sure that the tasks you take the time to do efficiently are important tasks - tasks that help you advance in the direction of your goals.

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Your Days Are Your Life in Minutes

You don’t need to worry about tomorrow or the next day or what’s going to happen at the end of the month. Take it one day at a time, and handle successfully the tasks for that day to the best of your ability.

Remember that it’s less about ONE brave act, a big leap or a huge commitment you make on a Sunday morning.

It’s more about what you do every single day. It’s about the accumulated effect of those small things you do on a consistent basis.

Thinking about the future is good, but make sure you don’t paralyze yourself with overthinking.

Take the seemingly insignificant steps today that will make your life better in the future. Because in the end, your minutes make up your life. And successful minutes turn into successful days, which in turn build a successful life.

Your minutes make up your life. And successful minutes turn into successful days, which in turn build a successful life.

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Daniel Cerescu

I'm Daniel Cerescu, and I'm the guy behind this blog. Even though most of the material on this website is free, I aim to make this free content better than anyone else’s paid stuff. My mission is to inspire and empower those who refuse to settle for anything less than an extraordinary life to live with passion, lead with purpose, and make their mark on the world.