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15 minutes to productivity: the Ivy Lee Method

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Ivy Lee by Harris & Ewing [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s easy to find oneself caught beneath the weight of a seemingly endless to-do list or wading through an inbox without end. Busy meeting professionals are always looking for ways to optimize their time and get it all done without collapsing, and one of the oldest productivity methods – requiring no more than 15 minutes of time per day – is making a comeback in a big way.

The back story: “Give me 15 minutes”

James Clear’s post on his blog tells the story perfectly, but here’s a quick re-cap. About 100 years ago, Charles M. Schwab contacted productivity consultant Ivy Lee demanding a method to get more done. Requesting 15 minutes with each of Schwab’s executives, Lee presented his method of daily task ranking and in the process improved productivity for the Bethlehem Steel Corporation to such a degree that his approach to keeping ahead of the curve when it comes to workloads has remained successful a century later.

The Ivy Lee Method

There’s just five easy steps:

  1. At the end of each day, write down the six most important tasks on your plate tomorrow. Even if there’s more, focus simply on the most important six.
  2. Review that list and rank those tasks in order of true importance. Whatever’s most pressing to get done because target number one.
  3. When work begins the next morning, focus all your energy on the number one ranked task until it’s completed. Then, and only then, move on down the list.
  4. Complete as much of the list as you can the same way, by focusing only on the task in front of you. Any unfinished tasks go back on the following day’s list, once again ranked in order of importance.
  5. Repeat this method every day you have tasks to complete and viola, you’ll soon see an upswing in productivity.

By forcing you to face priorities head-on and complete one task at a time, the Ivy Lee Method takes the all-familiar to-do list and approaches it in a new, more action-focused way. There’s no complicated system to learn or special tools required, and the proof has always been in the pudding. Now’s the perfect time to look at your tasks tomorrow and start down the road to improved productivity thanks to Ivy Lee.

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