Get More Done with the Ivy Lee Method
Friday, August 11, 2023

Get More Done with the Ivy Lee Method

One of the simplest productivity methods out there is also one of the most effective.

In today's high-speed world, mastering productivity and time management is paramount to achieving success. With everything moving at an unprecedented pace, effective productivity and time management are vital. They not only help in achieving personal and professional goals but also contribute to overall well-being.

There are myriad methods to help you manage your time productively—from prioritizing tasks to breaking them into manageable chunks. Each technique is unique and caters to different needs and scenarios. This article will introduce you to one of the most effective solutions to common productivity problems: The Ivy Lee Method. 

The Intriguing Origin of the Ivy Lee Method

Ivy Ledbetter Lee

Regarded as a pioneer of modern public relations, Ivy Lee is a significant figure in the history of productivity methods. Born in 1877 in Georgia, Lee's innovative methods radically transformed not just public relations but also how we approach productivity.

The Ivy Lee Method was developed in the early 20th century, a time when industrialization was transforming the American economy. Businesses were grappling with how to increase efficiency and productivity in this new industrial age. Lee's method emerged as a beacon of simplicity and effectiveness amidst the complexities of burgeoning industrial enterprises.

The Ivy Lee Method found its first major test case in the Bethlehem Steel Company, led by Charles M. Schwab. Schwab, ever the visionary, was constantly seeking ways to enhance productivity. In 1918, Lee was invited to improve the efficiency of Schwab's executives. Lee proposed a simple method: at the end of each day, write down the six most important tasks for the next day and prioritize them. Focus on one task at a time, starting with the most important. The results were so impressive that Schwab willingly wrote Lee a check for $25,000—a princely sum for that time—appreciating the value of his counsel.

The method has also found favor with James Clear, an author renowned for his expertise on habit formation. Clear has personally attributed his success to the Ivy Lee Method. By prioritizing tasks, he was able to focus on what mattered most, leading to improved productivity and success.

Understanding the Ivy Lee Method: A Detailed Breakdown

Woman arranging sticky notes on a wall.

Unlike other productivity methods, the Ivy Lee Method focuses on simplicity and commitment to a few essential tasks. Here are the steps the process entails: 

  1. At the end of each day, list the six most important tasks you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not exceed six tasks.
  2. Prioritize these tasks in order of their true importance.
  3. When you start your day, concentrate on the first task. Work until it’s completed before moving on to the next one.
  4. Approach the rest of your tasks in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished tasks to a new list of six for the following day.
  5. Repeat this process every working day.

Each step of the Ivy Lee Method focuses on prioritization and single-tasking. The rationale is to eliminate the productivity drain caused by multitasking and task-switching. By focusing on one task at a time, your efficiency and effectiveness improve.

Many productivity techniques emphasize completing as many tasks as possible. In contrast, the Ivy Lee Method encourages focusing on a few important tasks. This simplicity makes it a powerful tool for improving productivity.

Making it work for you 

Woman writing in journal.

While the Ivy Lee method is straightforward, you may need to tailor it to fit your individual needs and circumstances. If six tasks seem overwhelming, start with fewer. The key is to avoid multitasking and focus on completing one task at a time.

Various tools can aid in implementing this method. A simple notebook or digital task manager can serve the purpose. Consistency is key, so use a tool you're comfortable with and likely to stick with.

The Science Behind the Ivy Lee Method

Brain, neuroscience concept illustration.

The Ivy Lee Method aligns with our current understanding of human cognition and behavior. This method capitalizes on the psychological principle of goal-setting theory, suggesting that people perform best when they have specific, short-term goals. The act of writing down these goals further reinforces their significance and prompts action, a phenomenon extensively documented in research like Dr. Gail Matthews' study on goal achievement.

The Ivy Lee Method also incorporates elements of the Zeigarnik Effect, which indicates that uncompleted tasks are more likely to stick in our minds than completed ones. By prioritizing just five or six tasks a day, this method ensures that our cognitive resources aren't stretched too thin, thus increasing the likelihood of task completion.

Moreover, by encouraging users to tackle the most significant task first, the Ivy Lee Method aligns with our understanding of peak performance times. Most people's cognition is sharpest in the morning, making it the ideal time to handle the most challenging tasks.

Thus, the Ivy Lee Method is not just a productivity hack; it's a scientifically grounded approach that capitalizes on our cognitive tendencies for optimal performance.

Strengths, Weaknesses, and Practicality

The Ivy Lee Method offers several advantages. Firstly, it encourages focus on the most critical tasks, promoting efficiency and effectiveness. It also simplifies decision-making, removing the stress of deciding what to work on each day. Finally, it ensures continued progress toward goals. These factors make it particularly beneficial for individuals juggling multiple priorities, such as executives or entrepreneurs.

However, the Ivy Lee Method isn't without potential drawbacks. Its rigid structure may not suit those with unpredictable schedules or those who thrive on flexibility. It does not account for tasks that may take longer than a day to complete or for unexpected priorities that may arise.

Overcoming Challenges in Implementing the Ivy Lee Method

To overcome these challenges, flexibility is key. One solution could be to include longer tasks as part of the six and break them down into manageable chunks. For unexpected tasks, having a buffer in the list can accommodate these surprises. Ultimately, the method should serve as a guide rather than a strict rulebook.

With its balance of structure and flexibility, the Ivy Lee Method can be a powerful tool for enhancing productivity, provided it is tailored to individual needs and circumstances.


In conclusion, the Ivy Lee Method is a simple yet powerful tool for enhancing productivity and managing time effectively. Rooted in the principles of prioritization and single-tasking, this method aligns with our cognitive tendencies and is backed by scientific research. Its successful implementation in both individual and organizational contexts further attests to its effectiveness. 

While it may have potential drawbacks, such as rigidity and lack of flexibility, these can be overcome by tailoring the method to individual needs and circumstances. With the right approach and consistent application, the Ivy Lee Method can be a game-changer in your journey toward improved productivity and success.

Christin McLachlan
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