Fantastic Productivity Tip from Almost a Century Ago

This was a great story retold by Sean Iddings at Intelligent Fanatics.

In 1919, a consultant named Ivy Lee approached Charles Schwab, the leader of Bethlehem Steel, and told him he could significantly improve the company’s sales and efficiency. All Lee requested was 15 minutes with each member of Schwab’s executive team. Lee did not ask for upfront payment. He said that months later, after Schwab assessed the impact of Lee’s advice, he could pay Lee what he thought was reasonable.

In each meeting, Lee got the executive to promise to take this approach to their work for the following three months:

  1. At the end of each work day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
  2. Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
  3. When you arrive each morning, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished and scratch it off when it’s finished.
  4. Just work your way right down the list. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
  5. Repeat this process every working day.

After the three month period ended, Schwab was impressed enough to send Lee a check for $35,000. That would be about $500,000 in today’s dollars.