The Ivy Lee Method: The Simplest Productivity Technique?

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Munadil Shafat
Student (MBA), Bangladesh

The Ivy Lee Method: The Simplest Productivity Technique?

Recently I wrote an article summarizing David Allen's popular productivity framework Getting Things Done (GTD). The post has received a lot of reactions, thanks to this large management audience. But learning and getting habituated with a framework like GTD takes time and effort and there are many who want something simple and ready-to-use. In today's post I will cover the simplest form of productivity technique that anyone can start using right away. The technique is named after its inventor, productivity consultant Ivy Ledbetter Lee. In 1918, Charles M. Schwab, the then president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation consulted Mr. Lee to improve his company's efficiency. In that meeting with Lee,
Mr. Schwab asked: "Show me a way to get more things done."
In response, Mr. Lee replied: "Give me 15 minutes with each of your executives."

Mr. Schwab asked: "How much will it cost me?"
Lee replied: "Nothing, unless it works. After three months, you can send me a check for whatever you feel it's worth to you."

It turned out that the 15-minutes with al executives were so valuable that Mr. Schwab sent Lee a check for $25,000 - the equivalent of more than $400,000 today!
Wondering what Lee did in those 15-minute? Then keep reading...

The Ivy Lee Method

Lee told each executive to do the following:
  1. At the end of each work day, write down the 5 or 6 most important things (not more than 6 though) that you have to accomplish tomorrow.
  2. Prioritize each of them in terms of their true importance.
  3. When you are at the office tomorrow, just concentrate on the first task. Work until the first task is done before moving on to the second task.
  4. Do the same for other items on the list. At the end of the day, if you still have any unfinished item, move them to a new list (again a list of not more than 6 tasks) for the following day.
  5. Repeat this process everyday.
No doubt his is the simplest productivity method that anyone can start using from day one. Just list these 5-6 to-do items and prioritize them to work on the next day. Start from the top of the list. Do one task at a time (don't multi-task) and you are on your way.

⇨ What do you think of the Ivy Lee method? Feel free to react.

James Clear, "The Ivy Lee Method: The Daily Routine Experts Recommend for Peak Productivity", Medium
Mark Abadi, "A CEO and Dad uses a 100-year-old Strategy to Get Control of his Schedule in just 15 Minutes Each Night", Business Insider

  Jose Luis Roces
Professor, Argentina

Ivy Lee Method is Simple and Effective

Focus and prioritization. 100-year-old and always effective. In complex environment it is also possible....

  Melchiorre Calabrese
Business Consultant, Italy

Ivy Lee Method Helps you Concentrate

This method works and will always work because it requires you to focus on a single task. Modern society loves multi-tasking. But focusing, having a few important priorities leads to better work. A ch...


We May not be Exclusively in Charge of our Agenda

Thinks for being so clear about this Ivy Lee approach and explaining it so easy! I will test it! Only one big issue: we are not the only one in charge of our agenda. During the day many people will h...

  Jose Luis Roces
Professor, Argentina

Time Management as a Key Competence

@Breban: We are not the only one in charge of our agenda, but we are accountable of our time management. When you believe that there is a priority conflict, then you could ask your boss to provide the...

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Commit to Managing your Time

@Jose Luis Roces: A while back we visited Vietnam. To get across the road to the other side through the hectic traffic we were told: commit and walk with a steady pace across the road (so the motor bi...

  Udayan Gor

Ivy Lee Method

Perhaps Ivy Lee is the simplest yet effective "TO DO LIST". It may sometimes have more items than 6, delegated items and their follow-up need to be added....

  Maurice Hogarth
Consultant, United Kingdom

Manage the Work in Time

Setting six prioritized tasks/activities as described is good PROVIDED they relate to the OBJECTIVES that you have to achieve. Activities are meaningless, unless they move you towards the achievement ...

  Alejandro Centeno Jeronimo
Project Manager, Mexico

Ivy Lee Method for Managers and Executives?

I wonder, are management and executives priorities the same? If not, this valuable routine will not be worth much....


Why Listing of Things to do Works

The listing of daily things/tasks to do makes one effective, because the list acts as your "supervisor". Each time you look at the list you are reminded of undone tasks and completing them is a good m...

  Maurice Hogarth
Consultant, United Kingdom

The Hierarchy of to do Lists Like Ivy Lee

@Alejandro Centeno Jeronimo: I will refer to your 'executives' as Directors, to whom Managers report within an organisational structure. The Director has targets, typically expressed as objectives. A...

  Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

The Golden Thread

Here is a little more information about this interesting "Golden Thread". It is a somewhat pretentious designation for "organizational alignment". It is a high level performance management model that ...

  Maurice Hogarth
Consultant, United Kingdom

The Thread in the Tapestry

@Jaap de Jonge: Thank you. Yes the Ivy Lee approach is essentially related to the activities of the individual within this framework. The individuals in an organisation are not, however, islands unto...

  David Rutchik
Project Manager, United States

Be in Line with Expectations of the Position

@Jose Luis Roces: The position you have no matter where you are in the hierarchy exists only because your boss, supervisor or leader could not get it done along with everything else they needed to do....

Manager, Botswana

Ivy Lee Method and Others Running your Day

Regarding the point on others running your day - and that that is not right... In my view, the challenge here is lack of assertiveness on your part or the part of those at leadership level. A director...

  aloke mookherjea
Director, India

The Need to Make Frequent Changes

The Ivy Lee equation (!) is good but nothing new. If you prioritize your work items and do it methodically, you should always get some good results. Unfortunately, particularly in the 21st century, li...

  Brillo L. Reynes
Consultant, Philippines

The Position of the Ivy Lee Method in the Perspective of the Entire Organization

The Ivy Lee Method is indeed a simple but very effective tool for individual work performance. There is however the need for the organization as an entirety to ensure that its individual personnel's p...


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