Lessons From a 103 Year Old Productivity Technique

by Madeline Frank

Have you ever caught yourself engaging in productivity envy? Some people accomplish so much, yet it seems like no matter how hard you work, your task list keeps expanding and you don’t feel like you’ve made significant progress.

While there are many “productivity tools” and hacks that promise instant efficiency at lightning speed; all you need is one sheet of paper.

Charles M. Schwab, was president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, the largest shipbuilder, the second-largest steel producer in America, and one of the richest men in the world.

Schwab was continuously seeking new ways to improve the efficiency of his company and keep an edge over his competition.

Ivy Lee, a well-known consultant in productivity and management, successful businessman, and a pioneer in public relations arranged for a meeting with Schwab. (As retold by Charles “Tremendous” Jones in his book “Leadership Is For You”, pp. 42-44. (1968)

Schwab said, “Show us a way to get more things done, I’ll be glad to listen to you. And, if it works, I’ll pay you whatever you ask within reason.”

Lee responded, “If that is what you want, I will show you a method that will increase your personal management efficiency, and that of anyone else who applies it, by at least fifty percent.”

This bold promise intrigued the business mogul.

Lee “handed Schwab a blank piece of paper and said, “Write down the most important things you have to do tomorrow.”

Schwab took about five minutes to do this.

Lee then asked Schwab to number them in the order of their true importance. (This took a little more time for Schwab.)

Lee then shared the last step of this simple system, “The first thing tomorrow morning, start working on item Number 1, and stay with it until it is completed. Then take item Number 2 the same way. Then Number 3, and so on.”

“You will have completed the most important projects before getting to the less important ones. If you can’t finish all that you planned for tomorrow with this system, there’s no other way you would have finished. And without this system you probably would have taken much longer to complete what you set out to do, without taking care of things in the order of their real value to you and your company.”

Lee then encouraged Schwab to do this every working day. After he had convinced himself of the value of this system, have his men try it.

He closed the meeting by saying, “try it as long as you like, and then send me your check for whatever you think the idea is worth.”

Charles Schwab and his executive team at Bethlehem Steel used Ivy Lee’s Method for productivity with great success. Three months later, Schwab sent a check for $25,000 to Ivy Lee. ($25,000 in 1918 is equal to $475,318 in 2021.)

Schwab stated that this lesson was the most profitable one he learned in his business career. It was later said that this was the plan largely responsible for turning a little steel company into one of the largest producers in the world.”

Ivy Lee’s 4 step method 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 taskWork 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.

Repeat this process every working day.

Many businesses over the last 103 years have used Ivy Lee’s system for peak productivity with great success. It’s all about focusing on “managing priorities well”.

I promise you, this will cure your case of productivity envy!

Let me know how it works for you!

About the author

Madeline Frank, Ph.D., is an Amazon.com Best Selling Author, speaker, business owner, teacher, concert artist, and parent. She helps businesses and organizations “Tune Up their Business”. Her observations show you the blue prints necessary to improve and keep your business successful. Her latest book “Leadership On A Shoestring Budget” is available everywhere books are sold. If you need a virtual speaker contact Madeline at: [email protected]

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