Ivy Lee Productivity: How to Get More Out of Your Day

written by Dan Silvestre
Productivity, Time Management
the ivy lee method

Imagine this: you are Charles M. Schwab, a successful businessman, and President of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. You are currently looking for ways to increase the efficiency of your executive team.

So you book a meeting with Ivy Lee, a highly-respected productivity consultant. Lee spends 15 minutes with each of your management executives.

Within three months, you see enough progress to write Lee a check for $25,000. 

This story, which has managed to survive for over a century, shows how effective Lee’s advice was.

Fortunately enough, Lee’s system is still intact and ready to apply to your own life.

Are you ready to boost productivity and reduce stress?

If yes, let’s take a look at the Ivy Lee method for productivity and how you can use it for yourself.

The Ivy Lee Guide to Getting More Done

The Ivy Lee approach to productivity is not only effective but simple as well.

Although it may take some planning upfront, maintenance is minimal. This makes it perfect for those who find other productivity tools stressful to use. 

The Ivy Lee method is a simple daily routine of six simple steps that will help you achieve peak productivity and do more Deep Work.

1. Create a List of Your Desired Goals for All Areas of Your Life

The most important part of this process is goal setting. While this process will help you get more done, you need goals to prioritize your tasks and work towards what you want.

That said, this can often be the most difficult part of the process as well.

If you do not know how to set goals (or have none at the moment), you need to first learn how you can set great goals.

Break Your Life Goals Down Into Categories

Trying to figure out all your goals can be messy.

The solution?

Break your life down into categories and set goals from there. You can break your life into financial, professional, physical/health, social/happiness, and mental goals.

Then, go through the categories you have created and figure out what you want most in each:

  • Is there are a certain amount of money you are looking to earn?
  • Is there a career you’re chasing or a business you want to start?
  • Are you looking to improve your physical health, learn a new skill, or do something new?

No matter what your goals may be, figure out what you want most and jot it down.

This will be the foundation on which you move forward.

Take Those Goals and Specify Them Further

Vague goals are the biggest enemy for productivity and progress. If you do not have a clear direction, you can’t move forward effectively.

For example:

Let’s imagine that one of your goals is to save up for a house.

While that is a great goal, it doesn’t tell you what you need to get there. When do you want to buy a house? How much do you need to save up? What does your current financial situation look like?

Break down your goals as much as possible.

The clearer they are, the easier they will be to achieve.

Create a Deadline for Your Goals

Another major aspect of goal setting that people tend to forget about is setting a deadline.

Without a deadline, you can end up working towards your goal forever. It creates the opportunity for you to delay your progress, whether you intend to or not.

For every goal you set, you should set a deadline for your goal as well. Map out your goal, set a realistic date for its completion, and prepare to work towards it.

With the right motivation and dedication, you are well on your way towards the life you want.

Simplify Goals and Track Progress

Having goals can be great. But when you set goals that are massive, it can demotivate and discourage you.

Every goal should be able to be broken down into smaller tasks.

Continuing with the example above, saving up for a house can be daunting. After all, you may spend a large chunk of time-saving and experience issues along the way.

Instead of trying to figure it out as you go, break the goal down by week or month:

  • How much can you afford to put aside?
  • Are there any other ways you can increase your income?
  • How can you better reach your goal without winging it?

Then set up those tasks by day, week, and month to stay on track.

The better you are able to track your progress, the more successful you will be in reaching your goals.

Update Your Goals As You Progress

What we want now may not be what we want in the future. Some of the goals you set today can lead you to new paths down the road. Additionally, you may see that some of your goals aren’t bringing you closer to what you are looking for.

It’s important that you brush up on your goals and your progress. Whether you do this daily, weekly, or monthly, follow up on your progress regularly.

This will help you work towards what you want, no matter what they may be at the moment.

It’s important to note that some goals may be lifetime goals rather than a goal with a solid deadline.

For example:

One of your goals may be to become a more productive person. Since this is something you will work towards over the course of your life, you can’t set a deadline or apply tasks. Instead, you will want to put in place a system to help you work toward your goal. 

One great example of this is the Ivy Lee method. If you want to improve your productivity, using Ivy Lee can help you do that. It will allow you to build habits that help improve focus and boost productivity over time. 

Once you have your goals in hand, you are ready for the next steps in this system.

2. Every Night, Write Down Six Things You Need to Do to Bring You Closer to Your Goal

This system is great for doing work, but you can apply it to any area of your life.

With your goals in hand and broken down, figure out which tasks are most important and select six. The most important items are at the top of the list of your priorities.

Let’s say that you plan on writing your own novel. The biggest items may be: 

  • Coming up with the plot
  • Figuring out your characters
  • Mapping out the story
  • Creating the chapters
  • Outlining each section
  • Writing the novel

Of course, this is a rather large example but one that can be broken down into many sections. You can easily turn the first point on this list into several tasks to work on. All you have to do is figure out the six most important tasks.

Assign those for the next day so that you can start tackling your goal.

Once those are finished, you can tackle the next six tasks that will bring you closer to your goal.

With this steady progress, you are sure to get to your final goal over time.

3. Prioritize Your Tasks By Listing Them in Order of Importance

ivy lee method prioritize

Knowing how to set priorities is a vital skill when it comes to productivity.

If you choose to focus on the wrong tasks, you will always be behind on the work that matters most. For example, if you choose to list checking email as a task over doing a work project, you won’t move forward. 

Whenever you start crafting your list of six items, ask yourself: Is this bringing me closer to my goal?

If it is just wasting time or is a task you could take care of during another part of the day, save it for later. If it is something that is going to help you cross an item off of your goal list, put it on your list of six tasks.

Then, list each of these items by priority, which will often boil down to deadlines.

Take care of the most important item first and work your way down the list. 

4. Every Day, Work on Each Item Until Each One Is Complete

The problem with many people who want to be productive is that they set out to do too much. With hundreds of items on your to-do list, multitasking and distraction follow.

Lee’s method forces you to focus by limiting your number of tasks and asking you to do one thing at a time.

Since you already have your whole day planned out, all you have to do is clear your mind and focus on the first task.

Once you’ve crossed that off, take a break and prepare for the second task.

Repeat this for the rest of your list until you have either finished all your tasks or have done as much as possible.

If you want to become more productive and work smarter, you have to avoid multitasking.

The Ivy Lee method makes it easy to do this.

5. Take Any Unfinished Items and Place Them Into Tomorrow’s List

Even though we may plan ahead for all the things we wish to achieve, we may not be able to get everything done the way we like. The good news is that the Ivy Lee method recognizes that this happens. 

At the end of each workday, check your list. If you end up having any extra items on your list, shift them over to the following day.

While you will have to make sure you do not fall behind, this leaves room for error if you list more than you can get done.

This will also apply the perfect amount of pressure to help you schedule more efficiently. 

6. Repeat This Process Daily for Better Results

Productivity tools don’t always provide instant results. You must become familiar with the process over time if you want to boost productivity.

To get the most out of the Ivy Lee method, repeat these steps daily.

Plan ahead for the next day, complete the most important tasks, and stay focused. Over time, you will start getting a feel for the process and working with it rather than against it. 

With this in mind, you should also make a point to review your progress weekly (or even daily).

See what tasks you have completed and how much closer you are to both your short-term and long-term goals. Then, take the time to readjust your course as needed.

You’ll find that knocking out six tasks on your list can be a very efficient way of moving towards your final goal. 

The Ivy Lee Method: Field Notes

The Ivy Lee method is a great way to simplify your to-do list and work smarter.

Here are the 6 simple rules to apply this productivity hack to your workday:

  1. Figure Out Your Goals. To get the most out of the Ivy Lee system, you have to set actionable goals first. Figure out what you want out of life and set goals that you can track your progress for. 
  2. List Your Top Six Tasks. List the top six tasks you need to take care of the night before. When the next day comes, you have a clear vision of everything you need to do to get one step closer to your goal. 
  3. Learn How to Prioritize Your Work. Take care of the most important task first. Then, take care of the next most important task, and so on.
  4. Work on Each Task Individually. With only six tasks on your list, you can stay focused on each task until they are all finished. This makes it easier to get through your work and achieve your goals.
  5. Readjust Your Tasks. On any given day, if you do end up missing a task, move it to the next workday. As long as you stay on top of your work, you can make this process work for you. 
  6. Remain Consistent. Consistency is key to any productivity system. Use the Ivy Lee method daily to help you work towards your goals more efficiently and with less stress.

If you struggle to achieve your goals because of task overload, the Ivy Lee system is perfect for you.

Work through the steps above and try this system out during the week.

You may find yourself becoming far more productive in the long run.

Tags:: tasks, To-Dos

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