I believe the hardest thing about productivity, being and staying productive, is finding a method that truly works for you. Something you can really stick to. It’s the same as with a diet: the more complicated the diet, the higher the chances of you failing at it. Productivity is a diet for good work and free time, for knowing what to do, when to do it, and doing it no matter what. If there’s no dramatic events happening in your life, sticking to your method of productivity at work is key.
Who was Ivy Lee?
One famous, or I’d say legendary, working productivity method belongs to Ivy Lee. It’s okay if you’re not familiar with this figure, as I’ve read his story and will quickly share it with you. Ivy Lee was a consultant, a man of trial and error, and the inventor of public relations, according to Wikipedia. He was a man of the creative world, a true pioneer in writing and advertising.
His method became popular after he was paid 400.000 in today’s dollars by a man named Charles M. Schwab, one of the richest people in the world in 1918. Schwab hired Lee to consult him and his team on productivity issues, asking him to “show me a way to get more things done”. What Ivy Lee taught the New York magnate still is today one of the best productivity methods ever invented.
The Ivy Method, a step-by-step guide
So what did Ivy Lee teach Charles M. Schwab on that special day? The Ivy Lee Method of productivity consists of coming up with a clear to-do list for the next day, written down in pen and paper the night before, prioritizing the most important 6 or so tasks for the following work schedule. As far as rules go, you’re not allowed to skip a task, and if you run out of time, you just move the remaining to-do’s for the next day.
Step 1: Write down the top 6 to-do’s for tomorrow
The first step in the Ivy Method for productivity is to sit down and write a list of the most important six tasks for tomorrow, the night before. It’s literally that simple, you just sit down, relax, and lay in pen and paper the most important to-do’s for the next day. These most important tasks can also be 4, or 5, or 7, but just don’t go overboard with them.
Step 2: Prioritize the tasks right according to importance
Next comes prioritization. What makes a task a high priority? If you need to ask, it means you’re not sure, hence the task should go down the list. If you know a certain task is important, and urgent, you will naturally place it at the top of your list. Start your list with the most important task of tomorrow, and then move to number 2, 3, and so on until the end of the list.
Step 3: Work on one task at the time, never skipping over one
When the next day comes, pull out your list in the morning and start working on your first task, and ONLY on that first, most important task. Done with that crucial first task? Good, you may now move to task number two, and then the third, and fourth. Tasks should never get mixed up, but worked upon one by one, in the order you’ve established the night before. No skipping!
Step 4: Unfinished tasks? Move them on tomorrow’s list
If your day’s work has ended, and there are still tasks on the to-do list, simply move them on the next day’s list. Establishing a daily time schedule for how long you’re going to work on your tasks is key here, to avoid burnout and procrastination. As soon as that time comes, stop, pull out the list, and simply move the remaining tasks for the next day. Don’t be a working addict. Tomorrow is also a viable, decent, and manly time for some more work.
Step 5: Repeat to make it stick
In order for this, or any other productivity methods to work, you need to keep working on it on a daily basis. Regardless if you believe a new habit sticks after 21, 30, or 60 days, just keep doing your nightly lists and daily executing of those tasks, and you’ll eventually get the hang of the method by nature. Repeat the process enough times until it just becomes part of your day.
A 100-year-old method that still works today
You’d think that, with all of these decision-making and planning apps and books of today, the Ivy Method for productivity will be history by now. The truth is, this method will live forever because of things like productivity apps, tips & tricks books about it, and so on. Why?
- Simplicity: Everything that’s not complicated to the point of becoming redundant works. Simple methods and ideas will continue to work for all categories of people, hence their popularity.
- Fast decision-making: Because you’re making a list and are obliged to put one item in front of the other, in terms of importance, right before bed, you learn fast decision-making. This helps with the overall method, as well as with you becoming a better doer, rather than thinker.
- Secured start: Done the night before, you’re already “producing” things when the morning comes around, so the most difficult part of it, the start, is sorted the night before.
- Individuality: Tasks work better when they’re worked on individually, not in a bunch. By strictly limiting the doer to work on one task at a time, it makes to-do’s individual, thus more clear.
Instead of a conclusion…
To quickly recap this entire method into one paragraph, start your days by doing the most important few things first. This is basically all of the productivity knowledge you’ll ever need. No need to read 10 books about it, or try 100 methods you’ll most likely fail at. This is why the Ivy Method is sublime: it lets you in on the secret to ultimate productivity, doing one task after the other without ever mixing them, without you having to “study” for even a minute about any miraculous processes or secret strategies on how to be productive.
It simply works, and will keep you productive as long as you’re willing to grab your pen and paper and, each night, draw your to-do list for the next day. Simple, but oh, so efficient!