$400,000 for 15-Minutes of Advice

Would you pay $400,000 for 15-minutes of advice? What is the advice would DOUBLE your productivity? Charles Schwab thought the advice was worth $400,000, and paid that sum (in adjusted dollars) in 1918 to a gentlemen named Ivy Lee.

Schwab hired Lee to boost the productivity of his executives. Asking Lee what the cost would be, Lee replied, “Nothing, for now. Just give me 15-minutes with each of your executives. Then, in 3 months, send me a check for whatever you feel the advice was worth.” So Lee met with each of Schwab’s executives for 15-minutes, and explained a simple method of boosting personal productivity. Three months later, Schwab was so impressed, he mailed Lee a check for $25,000 (which is about $400,000 in today’s adjusted dollars).

The Method… For Free

Ivy Lee’s method for increasing personal productivity was actually quite simple. You can even start today. It just takes a few minutes of prep each evening. Here’s what you do:

  1. In the evening, when your day is done, write down 6 things that you want to accomplish tomorrow. That was six. Not five, not seven. Six. There’s something about 6 that makes the method work very well.
  2. Prioritize the items from the most important first.
  3. Work on them in order. And when you work on them, work only on them. Do not work on anything else, so not move on to the next item, until you finish the one you are working on. This is a BIG part of the solution.

If, for whatever reason, you do not finish all six, move the ones you did not accomplish today to tomorrow’s list of six.

Yep, it’s just that easy. And it works. Charles Schwab knew it worked, and paid a handsome sum to the creator. I know it works, because I employ the method every day. And now you know the method… and it cost you less than $400,000. But why does it work?

The Science behind the Solution

So why does the Ivy Lee method work? Several reasons, really. First, there’s really nothing more powerful than the power of focus. What’s more powerful? A flashlight or a laser beam? A laser beam (you knew that, right?), because a laser is focused light. When you focus, you can move mountains. And that’s the key. Focus on 1 task at a time. Ignore distractions. Turn off the social media, hide the email, silence the phone, and finish the task. Here’s a great method to help you focus: Mastering the Pomodoro Technique in 5 Minutes

Second, the method eliminates the hardest part of doing a task: choice. When you have 100 things to do, it’s very hard to decide what to do next. This usually leads to an inefficiency in productivity caused by prolonged decision making as to which task to do next. By creating a list of six tasks to accomplish for the day, you have eliminated the need to decide “what next”, because you have already created your list. That leads us to the third reason why this method works: The Halo Effect.

The Halo Effect, in simplest terms, is a cognitive effect caused by the known observation of another entity. In this scenario, you are watching you, which causes you to act in a manner that may differ if you did not hold yourself accountable. In other words, you set an expectation for yourself, and the expectation itself creates a positive cognitive effect such that you strive to accomplish the six tasks on the list.

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

Life in 2016 is more hectic than life in 1918. We are bombarded with sensory inputs at a blazing and alarming rate: cell phones, social media, texting, emails, internet, TV. But wait, there’s more… many folks work from home these days, so add the distractions from home, often including kids. So how do you adopt a 100-year old efficiency method designed for executive in 1918 for a work-at-home person in the 21st century?

This is how I do it:

First, I know I am going to get slammed. So my list of six includes one, and only one, BIG task. I choose a task that will move the needle for my business. By choosing only one really big task per day, I feel a sense of accomplishment that I finished all of my tasks, versus a sense of “catch up” and stress because I couldn’t finish all of my tasks. Also, I make great strides by doing one big tasks per day. I know the urge is to do as much as you can every day. But this leads to burn out, and then instead of going forward, or even just standing still, you start to go backwards. So by choosing one big task per day, you’ll make much better progress within a year than trying to overdo do and burn out. If you work 5 days per week for 50 weeks per year, that means you will have accomplished 2350 big task per year. More than most.

Second, I set the big tasks as the FIRST thing I do. Brian Tracy is famous for saying, “Eat that Frog”. He borrowed the saying from Mark Twain, who proclaimed that if you eat a live frog each morning, you will have the confidence to do anything else that day. My frog is the “one big task” on my list of six tasks per day (today, my “frog” was this blog – tasty). I eat my frog as the first thing I do. Yum! Then I tackle my other 5 tasks. It’s a great way for me to stay productive, and a great way to feel a sense of accomplishment.

Third, I mix business with personal. Life in the 21st century is blurred. We have a family life, and work, and socialize, and work, and exercise, and work. It’s a blur. We’re not living in a time when work was defined at work and personal was defined at home. The lines are slowly (or quickly) being erased. So a number of my six items are what I call “Personal Foundational Habits”. They are tasks designed to build strong, personal habits for self-improvement. By adding these items to my list, I build a personal foundation of habits that strengthen me mentally and physically for focusing on my “one BIG task”.

Finally, my remaining tasks are housekeeping tasks to keep the ship running. For example, once a month, one of my 5 tasks is to balance my books. I find I am less stressed with “the little stuff” if I can keep on them a little each day: one task this day, maybe three the next. But staying on top of the housekeeping keeps the ship sailing smoothly.

Do More and Be Less Stressed

One of the major causes of stress is worrying about all of the tasks we need to do. Let’s face it, we all have 1,000 things to do, and we all want to get them done today; now. Faced with thinking about all we need to do can be mentally overwhelming, causing undue stress, which diminishes the quality of the tasks we actually have time to work on. The Ivy Lee method isolates just six tasks to focus on for the day, thus decluttering your mind of the mental baggage we were carrying, so we can perform at a higher level and with less stress.

Your Homework

Try the Ivy Lee method tomorrow. You really have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Imagine if it boosted your productivity by 100%! And you paid zero for it (Schwab covered you 100 years ago). So tonight, jot down six things that you want to accomplish tomorrow.

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below.  Does your six items include both business and personal? What’s your approach for the realty big tasks? Are you doing your tasks yourself, or sharing the responsibility with others? We would all like to hear your ups and down with the Ivy Lee method, and learn.

Thanks for reading, and have a productive day!

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply