The last two years have become a time of unprecedented actions, in which we as humans have taken an active, and sometimes passive, part. It should be noted that the constantly changing and unpredictable environment has had a significant impact on our efficiency. Especially in the early weeks of the pandemic, it was very difficult to plan our work day.
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Nevertheless, we felt that some people in our environment are faster, smarter, and more confident in their actions, even though each of us has the same common element - time, which we have at our disposal every day. After all, we have 24 hours available to us every day, and how we use them depends solely on us. However, we often struggle with a sense of wasted day, which is still extremely frustrating for many people. You probably have experienced it often, haven't you?
Let's go back to 1918, when Charles Schwab, the head of Bethlehem Steel Corporation (the second largest steel producing company in the United States at that time), decided to hire a consultant to improve productivity in his company. That consultant was Ivy Lee - a forty-year-old advertising specialist and pioneer in Public Relations. Charles Schwab wanted to increase the productivity of his employees, so he asked Ivy Lee for help. Lee agreed, emphasizing that he needed a 15-minute conversation with each employee. However, he did not specify his fee, but mentioned that if Schwab noticed results, he would send him a sum of money that he considered appropriate. Three months later, Lee received a check for $25,000, which is equivalent to $400,000 today. So, what did Ivy Lee convey to the employees? What is his method based on?
Each employee of the company received instructions from him based on a few simple steps, here they are:
- The last task before leaving the workplace is to create a task list for the next day. Remember, it's important to do it before leaving your workplace!
- From the created task list, choose a maximum of 6 most important tasks that need to be done first.
- Rewrite them on a separate card, arranging each task according to your own priority (with the most important at the top).
- Start your work the next day with the first task on your list. Do not move on to the next task until you finish the previous one.
- If there are still unfinished tasks on the list at the end of the day, move them to the top of the list for the next day and add new tasks to make the list again contain a maximum of 6 items.
- Repeat this process every day.
And now it's worth considering why it works. One could say that the method is downright simple. So why did it turn out to be so effective for Charles and his company? There are at least a few reasons, here they are:
- You focus your attention on one thing — You don't jump between tasks and you don't do two things at once. You work on one specific problem until it's solved.
- You know what you're facing from the previous day — When you sit down to work after a good night's sleep, you don't have to wonder what to do. Your to-do list is ready and you can start your actions right away.
- You harness the power of paper — With years of experience as a producer, I believe that a piece of paper works much better than any task management application. What you put on it, you have to do, the task won't disappear on its own like it can with a single delete key on the computer.
- You set priorities — You tackle the most important tasks first. Even if you don't manage to do everything on a given day, you will at least complete one or two priorities.
- You limit the number of tasks for the day — Ivy Lee introduced a limit of 6 tasks here, but the most important thing is to set your own clear limit to avoid the overwhelm and overload effect. The size of a task varies in every industry. For one person, it may be 5 tasks during a work day, while another may be able to do 20. Only we know our daily rhythm, so let's fill it up to 70%.
Despite being over 100 years old, this method still proves effective in creative work. However, like any method, it also has its drawbacks. In this case, the most significant one is the lack of ability to plan actions with a long-term perspective towards quarterly, annual, or multi-year goals. As you may have noticed, this method focuses more on immediate action with current resources at hand. It's important to be aware of this characteristic if you're looking for a way to effectively implement long-term actions.
So, who is this method for, really? The Ivy Lee method is perfect for those who are just starting to work on their productivity - that's why I chose it for the first episode of my podcast as well. It's an ideal starting point for you. Just spend 15 minutes each day before leaving work, and within a week, you'll notice a change in your work efficiency. This simple method doesn't require much preparation or investment of time, which is its great advantage.
I would like to share a few reflections on how I have developed this method in my life. Firstly, I noticed that it works remarkably well in conjunction with the Kaizen methodology — which teaches us how to set the smallest possible goals to achieve. However, in the hustle and bustle of daily work, we don't always manage to break down tasks into smaller steps. The next day, instead of completing the planned task as a whole, we start creating a backlog, which can negatively affect our motivation to work after a few days.
That's why I introduced step 7 in this method, which looks as follows: If a task postponed to the next day requires further work and we know that it won't be completed today, we should try to break it down into smaller actions by the end of the day. For example, the task "create a new website" is a comprehensive task consisting of many intermediate processes, such as developing functional mockups, creating templates, content, and choosing hosting. We won't be able to complete all of this in one day, especially if we've just started. That's why I start planning by breaking down the remaining task into smaller steps. For such a broken-down task, I create a separate list of steps (most importantly on a separate piece of paper) from which I choose one task to be completed and schedule it for the next day. This way, I can easily work on unrelated goals - that's one of my secrets to productive work.
Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
I hope that the knowledge I have shared with you today will transform your daily life. Remember to subscribe to my podcast on your favorite podcast platform. Take care and see you in the next episode.
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I am happy to say that I have the best job in the world, and I truly believe in it. However, I cannot deny that despite providing me and others with a lot of inspiration, my job as an independent content creator is not the most stable job in the world. As a freelancer, I invest most of my earned money in equipment and development to continue creating valuable content and sharing it with others.
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Leszek W. Król
On a daily basis, I accompany companies and institutions in designing strategies and developing new products and services.