The Ivy Lee method, which involves planning and prioritising, will stop you from being distracted by or paralysed from what has been termed the ‘tyranny of choice’.
Now that we’re past the halfway point in January and the residual effects of the year-end festivities are well behind us, it can be difficult to get back into the swing of things at work or school.
Fortunately, there are a number of helpful approaches available for boosting productivity – one of which is the Ivy Lee method.
This approach is named after its creator, a productivity consultant who lived in the United States in the 1920s. Lee had been hired to improve the efficiency of employees at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, and his advice proved so useful that the company director thanked him with a cheque for US$25,000 – the equivalent today of US$400,000, or a whopping RM1.9 million!
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So what is this century-old method all about? It’s based on two simple pillars: planning and prioritising.
The day before a particularly busy day at work, identify six important tasks you need to complete, and prioritise them so that you start with the most important. Limit yourself to only six, to avoid ending up with a to-do list that’s as lengthy as it is unachievable.
The next morning, once you’ve arrived at the office or school – or switched on your computer if you’re working from home – let this list be your guide. Be careful not to be tempted by multitasking: switching from one activity to another, or doing several at once, can often lead to errors.
Once you’ve completed one of the tasks listed, move on to the next.
At the end of the day, if you haven’t managed to do everything you set out to achieve, don’t panic. Simply write a new to-do list, at the top of which you note the tasks you still have to complete from the previous day. Repeat this process until it becomes part of your daily routine.
For some, the Ivy Lee method is a no-brainer, but it does have the advantage of pushing those who apply it to make choices, enabling them to overcome what the American psychologist Barry Schwartz calls “the tyranny of choice”.
This concept is based on the observation that contemporary society constantly pushes us to make decisions, whether at the grocery store or at work. The most decisive minds see this as a mark of personal freedom, while the more indecisive find themselves paralysed when faced with a multitude of options. For some, this can lead to stress and negative emotions.
The Ivy Lee method spares us this unpleasant experience by imposing a strict framework: it minimises our chances of being trapped by indecision, resulting in increased motivation and personal wellbeing.