The Simple “To Do List”

To Do List

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Ever wonder what would happen to your day if you actually sat down and wrote out what the most important things you need to do for the day were? I have been using the Top 6 technique almost my entire adult life, and it has worked wonders for me.

By 1918, Charles M. Schwab was one of the richest men in the world.

Schwab was the president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, the largest shipbuilder and the second-largest steel producer in America at the time. The famous inventor Thomas Edison once referred to Schwab as the “master hustler.” He was constantly seeking an edge over the competition.

One day in 1918, in his quest to increase the efficiency of his team and discover better ways to get things done, Schwab arranged a meeting with a highly-respected productivity consultant named Ivy Lee.

Lee was a successful businessman in his own right and is widely remembered as a pioneer in the field of public relations. As the story goes, Schwab brought Lee into his office and said, “Show me a way to get more things done.”

“Give me 15 minutes with each of your executives,” Lee replied.

“How much will it cost me,” Schwab asked.

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

The Ivy Lee Method – The To Do List

During his 15 minutes with each executive, Lee explained his simple method for achieving peak productivity, The To Do List:

  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.

The strategy sounded simple, but Schwab and his executive team at Bethlehem Steel gave it a try. After three months, Schwab was so delighted with the progress his company had made that he called Lee into his office and wrote him a check for $25,000.

A $25,000 check written in 1918 is the equivalent of a $400,000 check in 2015.

The Ivy Lee Method of prioritizing your To Do List seems stupidly simple. How could something this simple be worth so much?

What makes it so effective?

It’s simple enough to actually work. The primary critique of methods like this one is that they are too basic. They don’t account for all of the complexities and nuances of life. What happens if an emergency pops up? What about using the latest technology to our fullest advantage? In my experience, complexity is often a weakness because it makes it harder to get back on track. Yes, emergencies and unexpected distractions will arise. Ignore them as much as possible, deal with them when you must, and get back to your prioritized to-do list as soon as possible. Use simple rules to guide complex behaviors.

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