Increase Your Productivity With The Ivy-Lee Method

Photo by Andreas Klassen / Unsplash

Increase Your Productivity With The Ivy-Lee Method

Prioritize and eliminate insignificance from your daily schedule

Paul Knulst  in  Productivity Jun 28, 2022 7 min read

Do you know that, too? You have a lot planned for the day, and hey presto! – before you know it, your colleague is calling for lunch. You look at the clock in disbelief. How can several hours have passed without you making any significant progress? Okay...there was a "short" meeting...a few phone calls...emails...and the intern had a problem with his concept.

But still: there must be a way to use the time more sensibly? But how? Let's ask the expert Ivy Lee for his advice because his method promises a lot: More productivity, better results, and at the same time less stress with almost minimal effort.

Sounds tempting, after all, most of the tasks tend to be more rather than less. To-do lists take on absurd lengths and the overview was lost some time ago. Work is being done everywhere, only to realize with horror that nothing has really been accomplished, deadlines cannot be met and the quality of the work is also suffering. The Ivy Lee Productivity Method aims to solve this problem and help you to stop working or work longer and get the important things done.

Who Was Ivy Lee and What Did He Do?

First of all, do you know Charles M. Schwab? At the beginning of the 20th century, he was one of the richest men in the world and President of Bethlehem Steel, the second-largest steel company of the time. Known initially as the world's largest shipbuilder, the steel magnate and his company pioneered the skyscraper age.

Schwab generally had a reputation for doing everything to be successful and constantly striving for improvement. It is not without reason that Thomas Edison once said of him that he is constantly looking for an advantage over his competitors. It was probably this search that prompted Schwab to hire management consultant and productivity expert Ivy Lee in 1918. He was dissatisfied with his work and the performance of his teams and sought a solution.

His task for Ivy Lee was simple: Show me how I can do more in the same amount of time. He didn't hesitate for long, but replied confidently:

I need 15 minutes with you and the executives. You can then test my method and if it works, pay me what you think is reasonable after three months.

Three months later, the two meet again and Schwab presents Ivy Lee with a check for $25,000 - the equivalent of about $400,000 today. The steel entrepreneur later said that this was the best and most profitable lesson of his life.

The enthusiasm is also reflected in the pay, which was unimaginably high for the time and hardly seems to explain given the working hours - but for Schwab it was worth every dollar.

How The Ivy Lee Productivity Method Works

And what made Ivy Lee so convincing? With the price Charles M. Schwab's paid to show his satisfaction, one could think that it must be a complex technology that enables the tasks that arise to be processed more effectively or a complex concept with which the work processes are to be optimized.

Luckily, there is nothing complicated about the Ivy Lee Productivity Method. All you need is a pen, a sheet of paper, and a few minutes. So it's no wonder that the productivity expert needed just 15 minutes to explain the method.

The whole thing can be understood and learned in just six steps.

1. Write Down Six Tasks For The Next Day

What is coming up for you the next day, which projects are pending, and which tasks have to be completed? Take a blank piece of paper and write down the six most important tasks and challenges for the coming day.

2. Arrange These Tasks In Order Of Priority

Within the second step of the Ivy Lee Productivity Method, take a close look at your task list and assign a number to each task. This number will be the priority of the task. Then put the tasks in the appropriate order so that the most important task is numbered 1 at the top.

3. Complete The First Task On The List

The next working day according to the Ivy Lee method begins with the task that has the highest priority. And without distractions, no casually checking e-mails, and also no I'll do something else first.

Concentrate fully on the most important task until it is actually completed.

4. Check The Priorities Again

Before you tackle the second task, go back to the list and see if the priorities are still right. Maybe something new has been added that urgently needs to be done or a task is no longer that important. It is important to heck the priorities again to make sure they are correct and adjust the order if necessary.

5. Get To The Next Task

The priorities are still correct or have they been put in the right order? Then it's time for the second task. According to this method, you work your way through the entire day until the end of the day: complete a task, check priorities, and move on.

6. Make A New List In The Evening

When the work day comes to an end, complete the current task and prepare the same routine for the next day. That means: Make another list of the six most important tasks - including those that are left over from today's list and are still relevant.

Pros Of The Ivy Lee Productivity Method

There are numerous tips, advice, methods, and approaches that can be used to increase productivity. Work more effectively and better - a wish of many employees and of course also of supervisors.

But what makes the Ivy Lee method so special and literally worth $400,000?

This can hardly be pinned down to a single point, but what is certain is that the method brings a whole range of advantages that speak in favor of trying out Ivy Lee's suggestion at least once to find out whether your own work benefits from it:

The Ivy Lee Productivity Method Forces Single Task Work

Multitasking is a complex, frequently discussed topic… If you try to do everything at the same time, you usually end up doing less and the results are worse. The Ivy Lee Productivity Method focuses on one task at a time. This means that every project gets the full attention it needs to perform at its best and really make progress. With this focus, problems can be identified and solved early on, instead of spending hours tinkering with them.

The Ivy Lee Productivity Method Enforces Priorities

Achieving a lot is useless if the energy is invested in the wrong places. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens very often. It is plowed and toiled, only to realize afterward that the really important things are still unfinished.

A major advantage of the Ivy Lee method is the targeted and repeated prioritization. This is how the tasks are processed that really have to be tackled and completed.

The Ivy Lee Productivity Method Boosts Efficiency

Distractions and multitasking in particular often lead to a lot of work being done but little achieved. A little here, a little there and the day is over without anything really having happened.

Ivy Lee teaches how to use the time at work efficiently. This does not mean that no breaks are taken - quite the opposite. However, these should best be placed between the individual tasks and not prevent them from completing them.

The Ivy Lee Productivity Method Helps With Organization

The tasks and folders that still need to be looked through are now piling up on the desk, the boss brings something new every hour and you no longer know where your head is at. Organization? There is none.

With the Ivy Lee method, you automatically keep track of things and make organizing tasks a habit. By dealing with the upcoming challenges not only every evening but also between the to-dos, you always know what comes next.

The Ivy Lee Productivity Method Brings Motivation

How can fun at work arise or be maintained if the constant stress is only rewarded with the fact that the boss is dissatisfied and you yourself have doubts about your performance? Seeing you actually accomplish something, on the other hand, is a boost to motivation.

The feeling of ticking off the top priority is particularly motivating – and ideally several times a day. This gives confirmation that you are on the right track and have really achieved something that contributes to your personal and company success.

The Ivy Lee Productivity Method: So Simple And Yet So Good

One of the most frequently asked questions about the Ivy Lee Productivity Method is: It's so simple, how is it supposed to work?

True to the motto: If it's not complicated, it can't be really good either. After all, countless scientists are dealing with this topic and each one gives a different piece of advice that should solve all productivity problems.

Ironically, the simple Ivy Lee method should do particularly well? Yes, exactly that. And for good reasons:

The Ivy Lee Productivity Method Is Easy To Use

The simplicity is perhaps the strongest reason that the Ivy Lee method works. It's practical. Anyone can use them and, most importantly, maintain them without having to force themselves into strenuous or time-consuming procedures.

The Ivy Lee Productivity Method Creates Clarity

Many methods want to explain how you can complete many or, if possible, all tasks satisfactorily in a certain amount of time. The Ivy Lee Productivity Method method is different. It's not about doing everything on the list, it's about understanding what's really important and needs to be done.

The Ivy Lee Productivity Method Makes It Easy To Get Started On A Daily Basis

A major obstacle to the productivity of many employees is the start of the day. First, make coffee, read e-mails, set up at the desk, and see what needs to be done. It usually takes some time before things really get going. Thanks to the Ivy Lee method, however, you already know the evening before what the next day will be like - so you can start right away.

Conclusion

This method looks almost too simple to qualify as a specific productivity method. It just orders all tasks by priority in the evening so that you know what to do first in the morning. But this simplicity in particular makes the Ivy Lee Method so attractive and applicable to everyone. And Charles M. Schwab pays voluntarily $25.000 (the equivalent of about $400,000 today) to Ivy Lee for this simple advice.

My personal advice to you: Try it!

It would be the best way to find out if it is right for you. Try it for a week or two and if you do not see any results in your productivity you can still try another method. Luckily, the Ivy Lee Productivity Method is unbelievably simple so you don't waste time "learning" it.

An Ivy-Lee Productivity Checklist for daily work
An Ivy-Lee Productivity Checklist for daily work

If you enjoyed reading this article consider commenting your valuable thoughts in the comments section. I would love to hear your feedback about the Ivy-Lee Method. Furthermore, share this article with your coworkers and friends to increase their productivity too.

Feel free to connect with me on Medium, LinkedIn, Twitter, and GitHub.


🙌 Support this content

If you like this content, please consider supporting me. You can share it on social media or buy me a coffee! Any support helps!

See the contribute page for all (free or paid) ways to say thank you!

Thanks! 🥰

By Paul Knulst

I'm a husband, dad, lifelong learner, tech lover, and Senior Engineer working as a Tech Lead. I write about projects and challenges in IT.