Almost 100 years ago, Charles Schwab, the president of industrial giant Bethlehem Steel, was looking for a way to boost both his own efficiency and that of his top management team.
Ivy Lee, sometimes credited as being the father of public relations and also a well-known efficiency expert of the time, went to go see Schwab with an enticing proposal, “I can increase your people’s efficiency if you give me fifteen minutes with each of your top executives.”
“How much will it cost me?” Schwab asked.
“Nothing,” Lee told him, “unless it works. After three months you can send me a check for whatever you think it’s worth.”
Schwab took the deal and the next day Lee met with the management team, taking less than 20 minutes with each to explain his plan, “For the next 90 days, before you leave the office and go home at the end of the day, I want you to make a list of the six most important things you have to do the next day, numbering them in their order of importance.”
“That it?” the executives said.
“Almost,” said Ivy Lee. “When you come back to work the next day, I want you to start at the top of the list and work on each item in turn. Cross off each one as you finish it and only then go on to the next. If something doesn’t get done, put it on tomorrow’s to do list.”
The executive all followed Lee’s instructions every day for the next three months. When Charles Schwab reviewed the results he was so impressed with the improvement that he sent Lee a cheque for $25,000. (Some estimates suggest this was the equivalent of over half a million dollars at today’s rates!)
If you want to try Lee’s approach for yourself, here’s a few thoughts to bear in mind…
Six things. Keep your list realistic. Six things not sixty or ten!.
Important things. Not urgent things. Not someone else’s things. Things that are important in helping you achieve your goals.
Make sure each “thing” is a task you can finish today. Not “Write that book.” but “Write x hundred words about (specific topic).”
Write your list at the end of the day. You have a better perspective on what is important and what’s achievable.
Every day. Every single day.