Master Productivity Using the Ivy Lee Method

“Create a definite plan for carrying out your desire and begin at once, whether you ready or not, to put this plan into action.” – Napoleon Hill, Author Think and Grow Rich

As part of the monthly Leadership Education program we do, we most recently taught a Planning and Productivity module, one of 18 we offer – either in person or via Zoom for leaders in multiple locations.

Planning and pre-planning are two of leadership’s most fundamental and under-utilized skills, so we started with the basics by reviewing Chapter 17 in my book.

If you really want to enjoy enduring success for your Work, Self and Life, you need to use the Master Plan template, and consciously think about how you decide how much energy on each area to succeed.

When we got down to productivity, I thought about the many conversations I’ve had with leaders, and my own experiences, and was reminded of a story from the great book Think and Grow Rich (first published in 1923) by Napoleon Hill. He talked about the brilliant PR/productivity consultant Ivy Lee, known as Mr. Productivity, who was once compensated $25,000 – the equivalent of $400,000 today – by steel magnate Charles M. Schwab.

In 1918 Schwab, one of the richest men in the world, was constantly looking for an edge over his competition. So, he called Lee and asked him what he would do to increase the efficiency of his team.

Lee asked to spend just 15 minutes with each of Schwab’s executives. When Schwab asked how much it would cost him, Lee replied, “Nothing – unless it works. After three months, you can send me a cheque for whatever you feel it’s worth to you.”

The Ivy Lee Method

As he met with each executive, Lee explained his simple method:

  • At the end of each day, write down the six most important things to accomplish the next day. And no more than six
  • Prioritize them in order of importance
  • On arrival the next morning, focus only on the first task. Work until it’s done then move on to the second
  • Complete the list, working in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to the next day’s list
  • Repeat every day.

After three months, Schwab was so pleased with the results that he presented Lee with a cheque for $25,000.

A Toad + Five

I’ve used Lee’s method ever since I heard about it with one modification which I call Lick Your Toads (see Chapter 5 of my book). Make your #1 task the one you’re most likely to put off because you dread doing it, to free your mind and energy for bigger and better things. Don’t keep putting it off to the next day.

So, your list is a Toad + five.

The Challenge

  • What would happen if everyone in your company made a good list of their six most important priorities and made sure they got done every day – versus responding to the world of email and text?
  • If you are already doing this, you know the power of it
  • If you’re not, give yourself a nudge to start today and share this idea with your team.

Let me know what happens – and if you’d like one of our team to teach you our module Planning and Productivity, let us know.