Using a 100-Year Old Method to Boost Productivity

Learning from the Past

I recently learned about a method for increasing productivity that’s actually been around for over a century. It’s called the Ivy Lee Method. Here’s a story on when Charles M. Schwab (Yes, THAT guy) utilized this method for himself and his senior management:

“In the early 1900s, Charles M. Schwab, President of Bethlehem Steel Corporationa steel and shipping companywanted to increase the efficiency of his management team. Oil business magnate, John D. Rockefeller Sr. suggested that Schwab meet with Ivy Leea highly respected productivity expert and pioneer in the field of public relations.

At the start of their meeting, Charles Schwab asked Ivy Lee for help to improve the productivity of his company. “Give me 15 minutes with each of your executives,” Lee replied.

Schwab asked, “What will it cost me?”

“Nothing,” Lee said. “Unless it works. After three months, you can send me a check for whatever you feel it’s worth to you. Fair enough?”

Here’s what happened next.

During the meeting, Lee first began by asking Schwab to outline his vision for the company to which Schwab responded promptly. After this, Lee spent 15 minutes with each of the executives of the struggling Bethlehem steel company.

After the three-month trial, Charles Schwab met with Ivy Lee to review the results. The efficiency and sales of Bethlehem Steel had improved so much that Schwab wrote Lee a check of $25,000 (the equivalent of over $600,000 check in 2018) and later noted that the Ivy Lee method was the most profitable advice he had ever received.

Within a couple of years, Bethlehem Steel company became America’s second-largest steel producer and largest shipbuilder.

Charles M. Schwab himself amassed a personal net worth over $200 million (about $5 billion in today’s dollars) as a result of this success.”

So what is the Ivy Lee Method?

  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 task. Work 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.
  5. Repeat this process every working day.

Trying this out, it has worked wonderfully in my daily life. Give this a try for a few months and see how it improves your focus and productivity.

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