How long is your “to do” list?
Does it feel as if it’s taking on a life of its own?20 things half-baked doesn’t equal 10. It’s zero. Far too often, I see lists of things that need to get done, yet most never get a check mark beside them. Maybe some things get crossed off, but others stay forever, even if they are too important to ignore. It wasn’t too long ago that I suffered from the same affliction. I’d run myself ragged trying to get through my list, only to find that I hadn’t achieved nearly as much I would have liked or I focused on the wrong things. What a perfect way to firmly plant myself behind the eight ball!
I’m not sure if this problem is a symptom of our moment in history, where we somehow convince ourselves that we can multi-task (despite all the evidence to the contrary) or place faith in the notion that technology will solve all of our ailments. (We’ll save that for a healthy debate in the pub.) What I do know is that I see it everywhere – at work, at home, at play – and we’re suffering for it. Our personal productivity falls, and our happiness goes with it.
So what’s the solution?
According to Steven R. Covey…
The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.
Have you heard of the classic Ivy Lee story? There are a number of different versions circulating around, but the gist of it goes something like this…
Back in the early 1900’s, Charles M. Schwab, the CEO of Bethlehem Steel, was looking for a way to improve not only his productivity and efficiency, but that of his management team as well. At the suggestion of John D. Rockefeller Sr. (who wouldn’t listen to him?), Schwab met with Ivy Lee, a well-known efficiency expert and his personal consultant. During their meeting, Lee made Schwab an offer that he couldn’t refuse.
Ivy Lee: “I can increase your people’s efficiency – and your sales – if you will allow me to spend 15 minutes with each of your executives.”
Charles Schwab: “How much will it cost me?”
Ivy Lee: “Nothing, unless it works. After three months, you can send me a check for whatever you feel it’s worth to you.”
Charles Schwab: “It’s a deal.”
The following day, Lee met with Bethlehem Steel’s top executives, spending only 10 minutes with each.
Ivy Lee: “I want you to promise me that for the next 90 days, before leaving your office at the end of the day, you will make a list of the six most important things you have to do the next day and number them in their order of importance.”
Astonished Executives: “That it?”
Ivy Lee: “That’s it. Scratch off each item after finishing it, and go on to the next one on your list. If something doesn’t get done, put it on the following day’s list.”
Each of Bethlehem Steel’s executives agreed to follow Lee’s instructions. Three months later, Schwab studied the results and was so pleased that he sent Lee a check for $35,000. At the time, the average worker in the United States was being paid $2 per day. In today’s money, Lee’s advice would be worth about $3.6 million!
Want to improve your productivity? Follow the Ivy Lee Formula:
- Get a clear idea of what you want to accomplish during the next week, month, in life, in business, with your family, etc. Use whatever framework is most important for you.
- Create a “to do” list of daily priorities – on your phone, a sticky note on your mirror in the bathroom, or however is best for you to keep it at the top of your mind.
- Write the six tasks that you must complete the following day to reach what you came up with in Step 1, and then number them in rank order.
- Starting with the first priority, get started on your list; don’t move on to another task until you’ve completed the items before it.
- At the end of each day, create another top six “to do” list.
- Wake up and repeat.