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by Rob Porter | November 21, 2023


There are numerous methods out there that claim to boost your productivity, and depending on your preferences and the type of work you do, you might find varying degrees of success with any number of such methods. Today we’re going to talk about a near-ancient strategy known as the Ivy Lee method, and how it can do wonders for your career. In order to start, we must first travel back in time with a little history lesson.

Who is Ivy Lee?

Ivy Lee was born in 1877, and is considered to be the founder of modern public relations practices. He popularized the use of internal materials designed to boost and maintain employee morale, as well as stockholder reports and media press releases covering a company’s activities. Such practices might be taken for granted in the present, but at the time they were considered to be ground-breaking.

Over the course of his career, Lee worked with many notable clients such as the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Rockefeller Family. Lee also acted as the publicity director for the American Red Cross during the first World War. Most of his clients were major railroads, which led to Lee being a key figure in the creation of the Association of Railroad Executives. Lee’s skill in public relations became well-known and as such, he was often sought after for his expertise.

In 1918, Charles Schwab contacted Lee and asked for his help in making the team at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation more productive. Lee then met with the management team at Bethlehem Steel and explained his method of productivity. At that time, Lee refused to let Schwab pay him, instead requesting that Schwab send him a check if there was a notable change within a 3-month time period. Legend has it, Schwab was so impressed that he sent Lee a check for $25,000, which is actually closer to half a million dollars by today’s standards, and the rest is history.

The Ivy Lee Method

Lee’s method of productivity is around 100 years old, and the fact that it is still being used today is a testament to its genius. In fact, the genius of the Ivy Lee method is in its simplicity; anyone can use it, and it can be incredibly effective when implemented properly. The Ivy Lee method consists of four principles, or “rules,” if you will.

The first step is to create a list of the top six tasks you need to complete in a day. Organize these six tasks in order from highest priority to lowest priority using project management software such as Trello, in your computer’s notepad, or on a simple sheet of paper. Whichever method you choose, make sure you jot the tasks down, as simply putting them to paper will enhance your awareness of what comes next.

The next principle of the Ivy Lee method is to stick to each task until it is completed. This means that you should never walk away from a task that is half-finished, or even 90% finished. If you’re following the method properly, you may only move on to the next task on your list when you’ve fully completed the task you’re working on. When you’re concentrating on a single task, you’ll be far more focused and organized, which will greatly increase your productivity.

If you find yourself unable to complete all six tasks in one day, the Ivy Lee method has you covered. Yes friends, the third principle of the Ivy Lee method is to shift unfinished tasks to the next day. In this case, any unfinished tasks from the first day will take priority the next day. Let’s say for example you finished tasks 1-4 on Monday. On Tuesday, your list will include tasks 5 and 6 from Monday in the top two spots, with the remaining four being once again organized by their priority. The second aspect of this particular principle is that you may only have six tasks per day, even if you have a couple left over from the previous day.

The final principle of the Ivy Lee method is very simple—all you have to do is be consistent. In other words, if you’re following the Ivy Lee method, continue to do so every single day. If you’re consistent, you can rely on having a certain degree of productivity and you’ll be able to anticipate when you’ll have tasks completed. This can come in handy if your boss is asking you for an update.

When it comes to the first principle of creating a list of tasks, you may update your method if you find that a certain project management software is better than the one you’ve been using, or if you feel that physically writing tasks down helps you keep track of things more effectively. Other than that, the Ivy Lee method of productivity works best when it’s followed without variation. If you’ve been looking for a simple way to boost your productivity, give this method a try. If you’re already familiar with the Ivy Lee method, take the initiative and introduce it to your coworkers—your boss will be very happy when everyone is motivated and productive.