The story of Ivy Lee and the advice he gave to Charles Schwab is well known in the business and self-development world but, even if you know the story backwards, it is still worth studying again and again.
It is also worth putting Ivy’s Lee’s advice into practise on a daily basis. Like many people, I heard the story and tried out the advice a few times. It worked well but then I lapsed back into my usual ways. So I was glad when I came across a retelling of the story recently by Jason Bates.
What is this world famous story?
About a hundred years ago, Charles Schwab was in charge of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation in the USA. Things were not going that smoothly so he asked Ivy Lee, an efficiency expert, for advice for himself and his managers to help them be more productive.
Lee told him that he would increase his company’s sales and the efficiency of his management team if he could talk to each man for about 15 minutes.
Charles Schwab asked: “How much will it cost me?”
Ivy Lee replied: “Nothing, unless it works. After three months, you can send me a check for whatever you feel it’s worth to you.”
He spent ten minutes with each executive and told them to follow the instructions below:
1. In the evening, they should write down the six most important tasks to be done next day and arrange them in order of importance.
2. Next day they should start the first task and finish it before starting anything else.
3. After finishing the first task, they should start the second most important task. They should finish it and then start the third and so on.
4. After their day’s work they should spend five minutes making a list for the next day. Unfinished tasks could be put on the new list.
5. They should do this for the next ninety days and check the results.
This system encourages you to focus on your most important tasks. You will then become effective i.e. you will get your key tasks done and dusted. A merely efficient person may get lots of tasks done but they may well not be the tasks that move their life forward. Effectiveness is all about doing the most important tasks even if you leave minor tasks undone.
Ivy Lee’s plan worked well with the executives of Bethlehem Steel. Charles Schwab was so pleased with the results that he paid Lee $25,000 a huge sum in the early twentieth century.
However, nothing is perfect. Many of us, like myself, hate doing what is important first thing in the day because what is important may well be difficult and even unpleasant. What do we do? Stay in bed?
We could warm up with one or two of our favourite tasks like reading our emails or checking out what’s on TV and then launch into Ivy Lee’s six important tasks. There is a risk of becoming distracted and never getting around to the magnificent six tasks but this modified plan might work and I give it to you for free!
On the other hand, the benefits of following the Ivy Lee plan are quickly evident and they produce a feeling of satisfaction almost immediately. Get your difficult task out of the way first thing and you will feel at once that you have achieved something valuable and in reality you will have done exactly that.
You will feel successful and energized and ready to launch into task number two. Good results will soon start to appear and nothing can motivate like good results especially if they improve your cash flow or relationships with other people. You will begin to feel so powerful that you may even enjoy the challenge of the difficult and unpleasant tasks.
It would help to stick a list of your top six tasks in a prominent place. This will make you feel guilty if you are not focusing on your key tasks. You can then either feel depressed or take corrective action and start work on the most important tasks.
Try making a list of six tasks for the next few days and see how things go.