The Ivy Lee Method or Ivy Lee's priority task list

an efficient way to boost your productivity

ivy lee method

The Ivy Lee Method is based on prioritizing your daily tasks and the peculiarity of the method lies in limiting their number to no more than 6 tasks.

The one who created it is the publicity expert Ivy Lee (July 16, 1877 – November 9, 1934), which is also recognized as the founder of modern public relations.

The method appears to have emerged as a result of the collaboration between his public relations firm Ivy Lee & Associates and Bethlehem Steel Company.

How was this method created

The American company was at the time one of the world's largest steel producers and shipbuilders and had invested a lot to increase the production of armor plates used in the building of war vessels. Some problems aroused when Congress passed a bill authorizing the government to build similar facilities. What Ivy Lee did in this case was to orchestrate a large public relations campaign to stop the government plant as a waste of taxpayer money.

But Ivy Lee's collaboration with this company was not limited to the situation presented above. It seems that Charles M. Schwab, the president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, was constantly seeking to increase the efficiency of his team. In this regard, Ivy Lee was asked for help and the solution offered was prioritizing tasks, exactly what is known today as the Ivy Lee method.
Apparently, this simple solution was so efficient that Charles M. Schwab referred to it as the most profitable advice he had received.

Basic principles

The basic principles and rules of applying the Ivy Lee method are extremely simple. Most likely, this is also the reason why the method is very effective and continues to be applied to this day.

  • Choose 6 daily tasks that you want to work on
  • Approach them in the established order
  • Finish the already started task and only then start the next one
  • Move any unfinished items to the list for the next day

Although at first glance it may seem superficial, it must be borne in mind that it had extraordinary results from the beginning. Moreover, the fact that these results appeared at one of the largest steel and shipbuilding companies of the twentieth century. Therefore, there is no doubt about its proven effectiveness.

Applying the Ivy Lee method step by step

The Ivy Lee method can be applied by anyone in any field. Whether it is about prioritizing daily tasks in personal or professional life, the results obtained will be just as remarkable. Here are the steps to follow:

1. Make a general to-do list and write down all your tasks in order of their importance

Write down in order of their importance all the activities you need or want to carry out in the next period. You can consider both short-term and long-term activities. In time, as you come up with ideas, add them all to this list. The balance will be kept because as you work on them they will become completed activities and you will delete them from this list.

How to prioritize your daily tasks

The most important feature according to which you can prioritize your daily tasks is their importance. And their importance is about the influence that the respective task will have in fulfilling the goal you are heading towards. Therefore, it is from this point of view that you must estimate your tasks. How much does it help you doing and accomplishing a certain task to get closer to your goal?
For an objective assessment of the priority of daily tasks, you can use for example the Eisenhower Matrix. This is also called the Urgent Important Matrix and is a matrix of decisions in which tasks will be framed according to their importance and urgency. It is very simple to apply, provides immediate results, and, over time, will form you a very useful way of thinking in making decisions of any kind.

More details about this and how to use it can be found in the article Urgent Important matrix, a To-do list efficiency tool.
Also, from the same article, you can download the matrix templates in Excel, Word, PDF, and printed format.

2. Analyze the General To-Do list and choose 6 important tasks to perform

The Ivy Lee method recommends reserving at the end of each day a few minutes to analyze the general To-do list and make your planning for the next day. Choose from the general list the 6 activities you want to do the next day and plan them in order of importance. If the activities can be divided into several smaller tasks then do so. Includes the amount of time you assign to each task.

Why plan your day the night before?

Because this way in the morning you will not waste time trying to decide what to do. Moreover, you will start your day in a good mood, given that you know exactly what you have to do next and what you want to accomplish that day.
Another advantage of planning the day the night before is that once the list is made, you will not actively think about it until the next day. Such an approach allows you to focus on your day-to-day activities and make the most of your time.
It is also important that during this time the subconscious can offer you remarkable solutions. Until the next morning when you start working on daily tasks, you may come up with ideas to help you accomplish them in a different manner, a more efficient one.

3. Start your day by working on the first planned task

Respect the planning done the night before and start working on your first planned task. If you do things in the order established the night before, you avoid wasting time in the morning trying to decide what to do first. You know exactly what to do, so you can start working right away.

How to successfully start your day

If you followed the previous step and arranged your to-do list in the order of importance of the activities, it means that the first thing you have to do the next day is the most important task of the day. Therefore, it is essential that you start working on this task as soon as possible and complete it.
It is a very effective method of avoiding unnecessary delays and helps you achieve visibly improved results in terms of efficiency and productivity. Besides, the fact that you manage to complete the most important task of the day is an achievement in itself. As we all know, achievements are very big motivators. Therefore, you will benefit from this momentum throughout the day.

4. Finish what you are working on and only then start the next one

When working by the Ivy Lee method first of all you need to complete the activity you started, and only later can you move on to the next one. It is recommended not to leave things unfinished because you will have to go back to them and resume the work. This way, you risk wasting precious time juggling tasks.

Single-tasking is one of the keys to an increased efficiency

It is scientifically proven that multitasking is not efficient. When our attention is divided between several activities it is almost impossible to be careful and correct in everything we do. Moreover, every time we change our activity, we waste time trying to focus on the new one.

Therefore, most likely we will not finish what we had to do in the optimal time frame and the final results will not have the best quality either. If we also take into account the fact that there are many chances that we will have to resume the activity to correct the errors, we realize that this way of working is in no way efficient or productive.

It is for these reasons that it is recommended to focus our attention on one task at a time. In this way, we have the opportunity to carefully fulfill it and it will certainly take us less time to complete it. Also, the quality of the final product will be clearly superior in this situation.

5. If unfinished tasks remain, move them to the list for the next day

There is also the possibility that the planned activities will take longer than you anticipated, or something unforeseen may occur that will mess up your planning. Even in this case, you continue to follow the planned order and what has not been completed you may reschedule for the next day.

Adhere to your plans as much as possible, but be flexible when needed

When you make a schedule for the next day, you take into account the situation known at the time you do this. But certain things can go differently the next day and you may find yourself in a situation where, for example, you cannot complete one of the tasks you have on the list. Or maybe you can't even handle it at all.

Specifically, what do you do in this situation?

If possible, include that task in the To-do list for the next day. Put it exactly in the corresponding order according to the importance of the tasks you have to do then. But if you have to finish it today, re-evaluate the following tasks and see which one can be moved to the next day.

PlanArty is a time management solution that gives its users the possibility to compile their To-Do lists directly in the Calendar. Thus, they can take advantage of the big picture of their plans and avoid overloading the daily schedule or overlapping daily tasks. Also, when necessary, they can adapt their program very easily, rearranging their tasks with drag & drop.

6. Resume and apply this process daily

Consistency is one of the factors that positively influence the results you get with the Ivy Lee Method. By working like this daily, you make sure that in time you'll complete all the activities you have proposed.

In general, the results of an occasional activity cannot be compared with the results obtained with the activities we carry out repeatedly. The same thing happens with this method.
In a way you will perform if you apply it only from time to time, and quite differently if you do this daily.
By applying this method regularly, you will get better results from one day to the next.

Here are some of the most visible changes you will notice:
  • easily exclude unnecessary tasks from your To-do list, right from the start
  • be able to prioritize tasks more easily because you will make the right decision faster
  • become more efficient and it will be easier to respect the planning and the time allocated to each task.

Benefits of using Ivy Lee method

  • You start your day relaxed, without having to make decisions first thing in the morning, because you have already done this the previous evening
  • You do your activity without stressing because you know both what you have to do at the present moment, and what to do next
  • You work more focused precisely because the method is based on single-tasking and all your attention can be directed to the activity performed
  • It motivates you to keep going because you notice your achievements daily

Mariana Holostenco

Contributor at PlanArty

Economist with a degree in Marketing and International Economic Affairs. Mariana is passionate about efficient time management in business. Therefore, she shares with our readers and our team members her knowledge and experience in this domain.