The productivity method that Charles Schwab paid over $400,000 for (in inflation adjusted dollars) and takes less than 15 minutes to learn.
Have you ever realized that you have too much to do and not enough time to do it…?
So you hastily write a to-do list to organize your thoughts and to start getting things done.
Then when things are less hectic you forget about lists and go back to just managing, as best as you can.
Well, there are much better SYSTEMS than using a list to help your life function.
One of my favorite list systems is THE IVY LEE METHOD.
I first learned a variation of this system from Jon Goodman, founder of the Personal Trainer Development Center (the PTDC) and the Online Trainer Academy, but since then I have seen many others recommend the system including Chet Holmes and James Clear.
Research done by Clear points to this system being developed by a Productivity Consultant named Ivy Lee, who provided the system to the President of Bethlehem Steel, Charles M. Schwab (not to be confused with Charles R. Schwab founder of the Charles Schwab Corporation) in 1918.
The legend goes…
Schwab, in an effort to increase the efficiency of his team and discover better ways to get things done, arranges a meeting with Ivy Lee.
When Lee came into his office he asked the consultant, “Show me a way to get things done.”
Lee responded, “Give me 15 minutes with each of your executives.”
Schwab then inquired: “How much will this cost me?”
Lee responded: “Nothing, unless it works. After 3 months you can send me a check for whatever it is worth.”
Lee spent 15 minutes with each executive and after 3 months Schwab sent him a check for $25,000.(1)
$25,000 in 1918 is equivalent to $415,948.16 in 2019 dollars.(2)
What did they learn in 15 minutes which was so valuable???
They learned a system for making a To-Do List.
Here is that system:
Very, very simple. Very, very effective.
But not easy to stick to.
First, I want to address the number SIX. It is not magic; when I first learned this system from Jon, he put the limit at 3. He also said to make the list at night right before bed.
The exact number isn’t important, it could be ONE. (If one is your goal, however, I would recommend the Do or Die List, which you can read about HERE).
But it is important that it is a low number. When I coach people I usually use Jon Goodman’s recommendation, THREE.
The reason: because it feels good to accomplish everything. Three is a number that can get done most days, whereas with six you will have to roll things over more often.
Getting three things done everyday is three more than most people, and is a HUGE success.
I don’t coach to failure, I coach to SUCCESS.
But you should pick a number that works for you. The limit is 6.
Can you do more than 6? Of course, but now you aren’t using the Ivy Lee method. Because Ivy Lee put the limit at 6.
BUT if you are brave (or stupid) enough for more shoot me an email (David@magenfitness.com) to let me know how it goes!
Why this SYSTEM so useful
Write down 6 things you need to do. Put them in order of importance. Very SIMPLE. You can do this in a few minutes at the end of your day (or work day).
You are not always going to get everything done. So make the first thing the most important so it is the most likely to get done. Your PRIORITIES dictate the order in which you act.
You need to FOCUS on a task, until it’s completed. If you keep jumping around from task to task you might find at the end of your day NOT A SINGLE THING GOT DONE. This is the trap many of us fall into and why we feel like we are stuck and not moving forward.
This system involves PLANNING ahead. You don’t start the day and figure out what you need to do, you did that the day before. Getting started is often the hardest part of any task. If all you have to do is look at a list and start the first thing, you have made getting started much easier.
There are some things that I have found to be very important when using this system, and instead of repeating my trials and errors, here is what I would recommend.
While writing an article is a great task, it isn’t clear. When you open your word processor you will have to figure out what the article is on. This can send you down a rabbit hole of “research.”
You didn’t finish the task of PLANNING, which will make it hard to FOCUS.
Instead, be specific such as “Write an article about the Ivy Lee Method.”(Check!)
Writing a novel is a great task. But it won’t get done tomorrow.
When you have a larger project like writing a book, creating a business, finding a new job, etc., it is important that you break it down into manageable CHUNKS.
To illustrate: “Write for 1 hour on my book” or “Brainstorm ideas for a business to start” or “Send 5 job resumes” are all doable in the scope of 1 day.
The next chunk (or action step) can go on your list for tomorrow.
Remember to make these tasks appropriate to your situation.
For example, if you are a professional writer maybe you will spend 4 hours a day writing. If you are unemployed and looking for a job maybe you will send 100 resumes.
It can be useful when you are creating chunks to keep a “Projects” list independent of your to-do list. That way when the time goes to create your list for tomorrow, you can refer to that list to review the projects you are working on and can figure out what chunk to tackle tomorrow.
You can’t put the world on hold until your list for the day is finished. Emergencies will pop up.
When they do you have to handle them.
But as soon as things are under control, you need to return to your list.
It takes some discipline and some practice but this is doable. If so many emergencies are popping up that you can’t even get one thing done on your list you need to reevaluate what is an emergency. Once you start making forward progress there should be FEWER emergencies.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
If you are only able to consistently do 2, 3, 4, or 5 things from your list, start making shorter lists.
The accomplished feeling you get at the end of the day of finishing the list will help keep you motivated and moving forward.
One of the key parts of the legend is that Mr. Lee told them to do this at the end of their work day. We can infer that the list was ONLY for their jobs.
But there is no reason you couldn’t make a list of mixed personal and work tasks. Or you could make two separate lists. Three and three max would be my suggestion for this, but everyone’s life is different and you have to find what works for you.
What we want to avoid is any aspect of your life completely falling apart. Maybe that means 5 work tasks and 1 personal or maybe it means 5 personal and 1 work.
This is important because to really see the benefit of a system you have to keep using it for an extended period of time. If you are getting tons done on your career goals but haven’t gotten laundry done or gone grocery shopping something will have to give. When it does, you are likely to fall back into the old habit of managing instead of advancing.
So be sure to evaluate your list(s) periodically to ensure you stay on the “advancing” track. Your list(s) should reflect where you are in your life right now. There is a shifting balance that will change over time as you accomplish more and more. Stay mindful of what you want to accomplish in all realms of your life and plan your list accordingly so you keep the right balance.
Either a notebook or a digital file works great to make tracking happen. Personally, I am a fan of a Google doc, since you can always just add today’s date and start your new list at the top, and the past lists will keep moving down to the next page and the next page.
The exception to this is when you make it part of your bedtime ritual. Then I recommend a notebook, since pulling up a digital file at night tends to lead people to distractions (e.g. let me just check my email or Facebook one more time) that detract from the going-to-sleep process.
Some people claim that writing down your tasks before bed allows your subconscious mind to work on solutions to your tasks while you sleep. While I can’t prove or disprove this, it is an example of “nothing to lose, everything to gain” by trying it.
Unless of course you can’t find a way to get your list created before bed. Then schedule a time earlier (such as the end of your work day) that works for you.
The Ivy Lee method is an excellent system for creating a daily to-do list. You can make your first list today and get started with it tomorrow with no major changes to your lifestyle.
It is an excellent option to help you get things done and move you forward in both your personal and professional life.