By Justin Gasparovic
Almost everyone struggles with getting things done, but just as many people have trouble with the part that comes before—coming up with a plan for what they need to get done.
A well-formed action plan for where to focus your attention is the antidote to disorganization and chaos. When you have a to-do list outlining what you need to accomplish on a given day, the level of anxiety you feel surrounding your workload decreases.
Plenty of us create to-do lists and still struggle with making time for the high-priority tasks we know we need to get done. However, it’s not enough to have a to-do list. We also need a structured plan emphasizing quality over quantity, and the best way to accomplish this is by implementing the Ivy Lee Method. This productivity method has been the backbone of my daily routine for a couple of years and has drastically improved my ability to focus on my most meaningful tasks. It’s insanely simple to implement!
Let’s break down the Ivy Lee Method and explain how you can leverage it to maximize your productivity.
The Ivy Lee Method Origins
In 1918, Charles Schwab was the president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, which at the time was the second-largest producer of steel in America. One day, he arranged a meeting with a well-respected productivity expert named Ivy Lee to help him increase his team’s efficiency. After the meeting, Schwab agreed to give Lee 15 minutes with each of his executives.
When Schwab asked Lee what his fee was, he said it would be free but only if it worked. In addition, Lee said that after three months, Schwab could pay him for the value he felt it was worth.
After three months, Schwab was so pleased with the results that he wrote Lee a check for $25,000 ($420,000 in today’s money).
The Ivy Lee Method Explained
Keeping things simple is the golden rule of productivity, and this is precisely why the Ivy Lee Method works so well. It doesn’t require you to create an elaborate color coding system or schedule your day down to the minute like Elon Musk. The Ivy Lee Method is about cutting through the noise and getting important stuff done. Nothing more, nothing less.
Here’s how it works:
- At the end of each day, write down six things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Be sure it’s not more than six tasks.
- Once you’ve written down six tasks, rank them in order of importance.
- Start the next day by focusing on your most important task until it’s completed.
- Follow the same structure for the rest of your list.
- At the end of your day, move any unfinished tasks to the next day’s list of six.
- Repeat this process daily.
Why The Ivy Lee Method Works
Simple right? Writing down six tasks and ranking them takes me 3-4 minutes each night. That means I’ll rarely skip it because it fits so well into my daily life.
You also have to prioritize your tasks. If your to-do list starts to resemble a grocery list, you will find it hard to distinguish between what’s important and what isn’t. Ranking tasks by order of importance helps you prioritize your day around the tasks that move the needle towards your deepest goals.
Lastly, you are mastering the art of single-tasking. One of the biggest reasons why we struggle with productivity is that we jump from task to task without taking anything to completion. It’s impossible to become a highly productive person when you operate this way. By dedicating all your focus to one task before moving on to the next, you’ll start to train your brain to focus on one thing for an extended time.
We often think that the secret to productivity lies in a book we haven’t read or a system we haven’t bought yet. There’s value in consuming information, but there comes a point where information does more harm than good. We simply have to use what we know and take action.
The Ivy Lee Method is one of the most effective productivity hacks. It helps you prioritize your most important tasks and trains your brain to focus on one thing at a time. And if you can learn to do these two things, you’ll have a giant leg up on 95% of people striving for the things you want.
Give this method a shot and see how it works for you! I hope it has the same impact on you that it’s had on me.
James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones (New York, NY: Avery, 2018)
About the Author
My name is Justin Gasparovic, and I’m a personal development blogger with a passion for providing actionable advice that helps people become the best version of themselves. The Enemy Of Average is where I share my best tips for improving productivity, building better habits, and living a more fulfilling life.