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Productivity Advice from a Hundred Years Ago

Time Management

These days there are so many books on time management and improving productivity you could spend a lifetime exploring them. And this would not be a good use of time! So, I prefer the simplicity of a one-hundred year old method that was developed in 1918 by a productivity guru of the time called Ivy Lee. It earned him nearly half a million dollars in today’s money, when he increased productivity in steel executives by twenty percent. There are five basic steps.

Firstly, at the end of a working day, decide on your top six jobs for tomorrow and prioritise them in order of importance.

Secondly, go home and put your life and health as top priorities. Do what gives your life purpose and meaning. It’s not work time.

Thirdly, the next day, work uninterruptedly on your first task on the list until it’s done.

Fourthly, work down the rest of the list. Any task not done gets put on the next day’s list.

Fifth, repeat the process every day.

I like this technique because it is so simple. It also is about prioritising. Not everything on our to-do list is created equal. Some jobs have a higher priority than others. We need to focus our time on the most important jobs and ditch the more trivial demands on our time. This system also focuses on mono-tasking – that is, doing one thing at a time. Multi-tasking leads to more mistakes and study after study confirms it is not a productive way of working. Finally, it also recognises the importance of a work-life balance. All work and no play doesn’t just make Jack a dull boy. It will also make him very stressed. Bottom line: Do the most important things first. One at a time.

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