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In the 19th and 20th century, there lived a North American publicity and public relations expert called Ivy Ledbetter Lee. In 1912, he was considered one of the first public relations people to reach an executive position. Afterward, he proceeded to found his own public relations office and is considered to be one of the major influencers of modern-day public relations.

What does this have to do with productivity? Well, precisely 100 years ago, this man was also responsible for creating a method to get more things done. It worked so well, that nowadays it is called the Ivy Lee method.

It all happened when Charles Schwab, one of the richest men in the world at the time, arranged a meeting with Ivy Lee, who was already well known as a public relations manager. He wanted Lee to come up with a way to increase his company’s productivity.

In return, Lee only asked for 15 minutes with each of Schwab’s employees. He said that after three months, if the method worked, Schwab could write him a check for whatever he thought it was worth. Schwab ended up writing him a check for $25.000, which roughly equates to $400.000 nowadays. The numbers speak for themselves.

So, what did Ivy Lee tell each of Charles Schwab’s employees? It was a 5-step process that went something like this:

  1. At the end of your workday, write down six, and only six, essential things that you need to get done tomorrow.
  2. Rank those six tasks according to their importance.
  3. At the start of your workday, focus only on the first task and forget about all the rest, until task 1 is completed. Then do the same for task 2, and so on.
  4. If there are any unfinished tasks at the end of the day, they go on the list for the next day.
  5. Every working day, repeat this process.

One of the advantages of this method is that it is really simple, and simple methods often work well. As an example, we have the Pomodoro technique, which is widely popular nowadays. Like the Pomodoro technique, the Ivy Lee method also favors single-tasking instead of multi-tasking. The latter, as we know, can be a productivity killer.

You may be questioning step 1 because you feel you have much more than 6 tasks to complete every day. But this is actually the key to the entire process. Limiting the list to 6 items forces you to choose only the most critical tasks. You can always focus on other things later if you complete those 6 tasks on time.