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The Ivy Lee Method: Your Ultimate Productivity Hack

The Ivy Lee Method is an often overlooked technique for increasing productivity because it is so simple. The Ivy Lee Method should take you no more than 10-15 minutes each day to plan, and that it's it.

So if it's simple, why doesn't it get used? That's a great question. In my opinion, it's because we can't accept that something so simple could work. Nah, that's too easy, it won't work. But it does.

Keep reading to find out how the owner of a steel company back in the 1918 paid the today equivalent to half a million dollars for implementing this system.

What Is The Ivy Lee Method?

The Ivy Lee Method, developed by Ivy Lee, is simple. Each night, you plan the next day by listing six (6) tasks you want to complete. You then prioritize those six tasks in order of importance.

The next day you start on the first task and do not move on to the next task until have completed the first. You continue to work down your list of tasks until the end of your day or the task list is done.

If there are tasks not completed at the end of your day, they get transferred to your list of six tasks for tomorrow, and you prioritize your list again. Rinse and repeat daily!

A white coffee mug with the word "COFFEE" repeated around a coffee bean logo, a red apple, and a slice of bread with butter on a table. In the background, a laptop displays the time as 2:03.
Photo by Julien Bachelet

Who Is Ivy Lee?

Ivy Lee, a pioneer in public relations and productivity management, revolutionized the way individuals approach their daily tasks.

In the early 20th century, Lee introduced his method as a solution to improve efficiency , increase productivity, and maximize results for businesses and individuals alike. It is claimed that he originally taught Charles M Schwab and his employees of Bethlehem Steel Corporation his method for free and said: If it works, you pay me what you think it's worth.

After a few months of practicing this method, Mr. Charles Schwab sent $25,000 to Ivy Lee, which equates to about $519,000 in 2024. I think we can imply that Charles was pretty happy with how this method helped his company!

Key Principles of the Ivy Lee Method

The Ivy Lee Method revolves around several core principles:

  • Prioritization: A fundamental aspect of the method is prioritizing tasks based on their importance and impact, ensuring that crucial activities receive the necessary focus.
  • Simplicity: Emphasizing simplicity, the method encourages individuals to streamline their to-do lists and concentrate on a manageable number of tasks each day.
  • Focus on Daily Tasks: By concentrating on a limited number of essential tasks each day, the method promotes deep focus and dedicated effort, leading to improved productivity and results. We're past the days of multitasking – it doesn't work!
A woman with long, braided blonde hair works at a desk, writing in a notebook, planning her day for tomorrow, while using a laptop. She is dressed in a white sweater and sits in a cozy room with bookshelves and plants in the background.

How to Implement the Ivy Lee Method

Step 1: Set Your Daily Priorities

At the end of your work day, take a few moments to set your priorities for the following day. Jot down the six (6) most crucial tasks you need to accomplish.

Instead of creating an exhaustive list of endless tasks, you will focus on a few important ones that align with your goals. By narrowing down your to-do list, you can concentrate on what truly matters and avoid spreading yourself too thin. Quality over quantity is the mantra here.

This proactive approach also allows you to start the day with a clear focus, knowing exactly where to direct your energy. No more sitting down at your desk or workstation and saying “What needs to get done today?” and then spending the next hour or two doing “busy work” (work that doesn't move the needle of your business).

A woman with blonde braids works at a desk, writing in a notebook while using a laptop. She is dressed in a white shirt and is surrounded by books and papers, with a cozy room and leafy plants in the background.

Step 2: Prioritize Your Tasks by Importance

Take your list of six (6) items and prioritize them by importance. If you need help prioritizing, you can use the Eisenhower Matrix to help with this.

By prioritizing your task by importance you are essentially focusing your efforts on what is going to move the needle of your business vs tasks that take up your time, but doesn't noticeably help your business at this moment.

For example, let's assume it's Wednesday night and you have “schedule 2 weeks of weekly Friday Newsletter emails” and “create new business logo”. I would say that likely, scheduling the 2 weeks of emails is going to be a higher priority than creating a new business logo at this time. It's nearly Friday and emails need to be scheduled.

A large, classical-style balance scale sits atop an ornate stone railing, against a backdrop of a cloudy sky. The scale is weathered and appears to be made of metal, symbolizing fairness and justice.

Step 3: Tackle Tasks in Order of Priority

Once you've established your priorities and curated a concise task list, you're all ready for the next day.

In the morning (next day), begin with the most critical task (first task on your list) and dedicate your full attention to its completion before moving on to the next one.

This sequential approach ensures that you make meaningful progress and avoid the trap of multitasking. By focusing on one task at a time, you are getting things done! You're not spending 30 minutes here, an hour there, and then accomplishing nothing.

Pro Tip: To really up your productivity game, use a productivity tool, like Sunsama, to schedule your six (6) tasks for the next day. And guess what! If you don't complete all six (6) tasks, they automatically roll over to the next day! So easy! I wrote a review if you want to see why I love Sunsama so much.

The image depicts a screenshot of a digital task management application for a Thursday. The interface includes tasks such as "Add images and links to post" for blogging with a designated time of 1 hour, and "Finish editing time blocking post" also for blogging, scheduled for 1 hour. The evening tasks include checking emails, with subtasks to read all emails, respond, and file them, each allocated 15 minutes. The tasks are organized with checkmarks to denote completion and use tags like #Blogging and #work to categorize activities. This functional display is visually structured to enhance productivity and time management.
Screenshot of Sunsama, one day of tasks (there are only 3 here, but for the Ivy Lee Method, you would add 6)

Benefits of Using the Ivy Lee Method

The Ivy Lee Method offers numerous benefits that can significantly enhance your focus, productivity, and time management skills in your daily life. By incorporating this simple yet powerful technique, you can experience positive outcomes that lead to a more organized and efficient approach to your tasks and goals.

Improved Focus and Concentration

Limiting yourself to a set number of crucial tasks each day allows you to prioritize effectively and direct your attention to what truly matters. This approach helps in minimizing mental clutter and promoting deep concentration on one task at a time.

Enhanced Productivity and Time Management

Focusing on completing one task at a time without the overwhelm of a lengthy to-do list lets you allocate your energy more efficiently and accomplish tasks with greater speed and accuracy.

This method encourages you to make the most of your time by concentrating on essential tasks and avoiding the trap of multitasking, leading to improved overall productivity.

An advertisement for a 'Free Notion Goal Planner & Task Tracker Template', which includes a visual of a tablet displaying the template with sections for SMART goals and task organization. The image also features a prominent 'Free' starburst icon and text that encourages users to easily record and align their tasks with their SMART goals. The 'Made for Notion' badge at the bottom signals compatibility with the Notion ecosystem, against a stylish background with a blend of neutral and green tones.

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Additional Ways to Increase Productivity

When implementing the Ivy Lee Method into your daily routine, consider that there are a few more things that you can do to take your time management strategies further. Here are some key takeaways to consider:

Reflect on Your Achievements

Take a moment at the end of each day to review your accomplishments. Celebrate your successes, regardless of size, and identify areas for improvement. Reflecting on what you've achieved can provide motivation and insights for the following day.

Sunsama has a built in daily shutdown ritual where you review your completed tasks and make general notes of your day.

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Stay Flexible and Adapt

While following a structured method like the Ivy Lee Method can enhance productivity, there will be days that you need to pivot and do something you weren't planning to do. It happens. Flexibility is crucial for long-term success, so feel free to modify the method to meet your evolving needs.

And don't forget, the intend of the Ivy Lee Method is not to complete all six (6) items, the intent is that you only have six (6) items on your list that hopefully you can accomplish, vs a never-ending list of tasks creating a sense of overwhelm or doom.

Embrace Continuous Improvement

Remember that productivity is a journey, not a destination. Embrace the process of continuous improvement by consistently evaluating your methods, trying new approaches, and learning from both successes and setbacks.

The beautiful part of trying something new, is that if it doesn't work, no worries, you can try something different. There are other techniques you can try like the Two-Minute Rule, the Pomodoro technique, (if you're a Notion user, check out this Pomodoro post to create your own timer), and many more.

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Practice Gratitude

Practicing gratitude is something I am starting to incorporate into my business more because I feel it's that important. My mom has told me to do this for years!

When I was a teenager and I would complain about all the ‘super important' teenage things that I don't even remember now (because they weren't important), she would say: “Make sure you wake up each morning and think of one thing that you are grateful for.

Incorporating an “Attitude of Gratitude” into your routine by reflecting on the positive aspects of your day can shift your mindset, boost motivation, and cultivate a positive outlook, enhancing your overall productivity.

Final Thoughts

Try out the Ivy Lee method and head over to the Facebook Group or comment below, and let me know what you think? Do you love this method? How do you organize your day?

Also, check out my 15 time management or task prioritization techniques for different options to try.

If This Post Helped You In Any Way, Please Pin One Of These Images Below!

It helps my blog enormously. Thank you!

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"The Ivy Lee Method - Work Smarter, Not Harder" cover image featuring an old-fashioned alarm clock, emphasizing time management. The image, sourced from organizeyouronlinebiz.com, promotes the Ivy Lee method as an effective strategy for improving productivity.
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Creator and CEO of Organize Your Online Biz, Lindsay Trca

Hi, I'm Lindsay!

A blogger dedicated to empowering women entrepreneurs in the online business world. With over 15 years of experience in process documentation and SOP creation, I specialize in streamlining workflows, organizing workspaces, and optimizing digital tools for maximum efficiency. Join me as we transform your business operations with practical insights and budget-friendly solutions.

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