Legend has it that a PR consultant by the name of Ivy Lee did something more than a 100 years ago that continues to be major productivity boost for people from all walks of life. He created a seemingly very simple method of work planning that delivered massive productivity boosts to workers across industries. It’s said that Ivy Lee met Charles Schwab, the CEO of Bethlehem Steel, and asked for a chance to deliver his course to the company’s employees, aimed at helping them become more productive. His fees? Whatever Charles Schwab found the services worth (that’s the kind of confidence Ivy Lee had in his methods). 3 months later, Bethlehem Steel’s employees were 20% more productive, and Ivy Lee collected $25,000 (add a 100 years’ of inflation to understand net present value of the amount).
You might come across different versions of the legend, but what most people agree on is that the Ivy Lee method works like a charm, even today. So, what exactly does this method prescribe? What has made it a reliable work management method for more than a century now? Let’s tell you more.
The Ivy Lee Method: How Does it Work?
Here’s the Ivy Lee method presented for you:
- At the end of the day, identify six tasks that you’d need to complete tomorrow. Of course, you would have a lot more tasks than six, but that’s the number you’ve got to limit it to.
- Now, review each of the six tasks, and rank them in order of their importance. Ask yourself – what’s the one task you just can’t leave undone for tomorrow? That becomes #1. Repeat the question if you have to, in order to prioritize the tasks.
- On the next day, start with your #1 ranked task first up. Don’t do anything alongside; just focus on completing that task. Only once you have completed it can you move on to the next task. There will definitely be interruptions; it’s okay to manage them, as long as you focus on returning to the task and ensuring it’s completed.
- Once the first task is completed, move on to the next one, and so on. There will be days when you will not be able to complete all 6 tasks; it’s okay to transfer the unfinished tasks to next day’s list. Similarly, when you’re done earlier than soon, give yourself a pat on the back.
- Keep using this method as long as you have a number of tasks to complete as part of your work routine.
Now, it’s bound to sound over-simplified to anybody. But the Ivy Lee method has been subjected to a lot of scientific analyses, and it’s been deemed well aligned with the core behavioral tendencies of humans, and is hence successful in actually bringing in significant productivity improvements. To help you get a better perspective, here are the key aspects of the Ivy Lee method that can often be shrouded by its simplicity.
6 things to do: A major cause of productivity dips is chewing off more than you can bit. By putting a tab on the number of tasks you’d complete in a day, you are committing yourself to handling a manageable workload.
Work life balance: An explicit part of the Ivy Lee method is to not ponder over work when you leave your workplace. You can’t control your subconscious mind’s thoughts, but your conscious mind must not fixate on issues from work. Go for dinner with friends, enjoy some music, read to your kids – once you’re back home.
The end of work concept: Ivy Lee method provides for an end of work concept, which helps you complete all work related planning before you end the day. Not only does this help you plan on what’s important to be done, but also gives you more control and clarity of thought when you begin work the subsequent day.
Motivation to Meet Daily Goals: This method comes with a daily reward – that’s time off for yourself after work. To really extract pleasure from the after-work engagements, you’d be inherently motivated to complete your daily goals.
Simplicity: Look for productivity improvement methods, and you will come across hundreds of articles, ebooks, videos, guides and even free tools. The common denominator in all of these – complexity. The impact – you are naturally inclined to tweak the method, or abandon it very soon after adoption. The Ivy Lee method is, on the other hand, so simple that you can understand and implement it within 10 minutes.
How does Ivy Lee method Bring Unprecedented Effectiveness in Your Work?
That’s a great question, particularly in the context of all the doubts cast on such simplified productivity improvement and self-help methods on grounds such as:
- it ignores the complexity of the modern man’s workday
- it doesn’t provide for the technological advancements that help humans manage work
- it doesn’t value multi-tasking, a much sought after skill
However, it’s often forgotten that the Ivy Lee method gained popularity at the beginning of the 20th century, and has continued to deliver great results for the subsequent 100+ years. Here’s how this method helps you do work with maximum effectiveness.
Shielding Against Complexity: Emergency meetings, unplanned workload increases, connectivity problems – you get the idea; our workdays are rife with complexities. The Ivy Lee Method steps in, bringing in a much needed shield of simplicity to drive human behavior towards productive ends in spite of all the complexity around. This method is about ignoring noise, acting on emergencies only when you need to, and getting back to your priority list as soon and as often as possible.
Helps You Make Tough Decisions: Now, there’s nothing magical about the number 6. It could as well as have been 7, or 5. However, the importance of a fixed number is the limit it imposes on you, and the subtle manner in which it forces you to take tough decisions about which tasks deserve your attention first. It’s amazing how getting the top most important tasks out of the way gives you a sense of being in total control of your work. Remember, if you commit to nothing, you’ll be distracted by everything. Ivy Lee method doesn’t let you fall in that trap.
Helps Overcome Starting Up Inertia: Ever felt like skipping your workout? The biggest cause – you find it too difficult to start. Once you start, going through the workout is much easier than you’d imagine. Most people are not able to achieve their full potential because of the starting up inertia that keeps them off tasks. With the Ivy Lee method by your side, there won’t be any such scenario. Getting started, often, is the only effort you need to make to set things in motion. Ivy Lee method ensures that you never let tasks pile up because you just didn’t feel inclined to start.
Leveraging the Power of Single Tasking: Multi-tasking can help you in situations; that’s hardly anything to doubt. However, for most of the work you will do in your life, it’s your ability to focus that will help you bring in unmatched quality in your deliverables. Look at world class leaders, sport people, artists, and educators – they all have unflinching focus on their work. You can’t do great work when your attention is divided over ten different tasks, and that’s what Ivy Lee method helps you avoid. Its 6 task lists help you do things one by one, ensuring you create high quality results, as opposed to something that barely makes it through.
Tweaking the Ivy Lee Method to Make it Work For You
Still convinced that the method is too simplistic to be implemented in its prescribed shape? Well, there is at least some scope for you to tweak it. For instance, you could change the number of tasks on the list, if that’s necessary. Also, you might want to leave space for meetings and phone calls you’d need to schedule and participate in, even though they might not be in the order of priorities you set.
Then, there are several areas of work where the number of tasks to be performed in a day is a lot more than others. In these cases, the Ivy Lee method prescribes creating multiple lists, advisably for the different times of the day (pre-lunch, between lunch and tea, post tea).
We strongly recommend that you adopt the Ivy Lee method as it comes and give it a fair trial for at least 3 months. If you are still convinced that you’d get better results by bringing in some tweaks, do it.
There you have it – the renowned Ivy Lee method explained and explored for you. The biggest asset of this method is its simplicity. You’d have to agree, you can implement this method right now, and can expect to see great results within a few weeks, if not sooner.