Some people swear by to-do apps. Others believe they hinder productivity. And still others spend 20 years perfecting the ideal to-do list format, as the creator of the Bullet Journal system did.

Whatever your take on to-do lists, it's always interesting to peer into how the world's most successful stay productive. Oftentimes innovative thinkers prefer tools that have been around for decades. It's why Moleskine's classic notebook still reigns supreme. While technology continues to charge forward, we often find ourselves craving old-fashioned pen and paper to make our lists.

That's why this 98-year-old to-do list method is still quite relevant. Fast Company unearthed the story of this "ancient" system, called Ivy Lee Method. When considering the challenges to staying productive in the modern world, the method is spot-on. The key to the success of this to-do list system is that it forces you to prioritize and focus. If you find yourself easily distracted by Facebook notifications, emails and iMessages, then this to-do list just might do the trick.

Old habits die hard

Here's a brief recap of the to-do list founding story: In 1918, Charles M. Schwab -- one of the richest men in the world at the time -- hired productivity consultant Ivy Lee to help his executives learn how to get more done. Lee did not charge for his services. He just told Schwab to implement the method, see how it went over the next three months, and then pay what he thought the advice was worth. Three months later, Schwab mailed Lee a check for $25,000. (According to my expert use of Google, that's roughly $431,000 today.) For the full story, check out self-improvement writer James Clear's blog post.

The Ivy Lee Method

This was Lee's to-do list method, which is all about priority management and minimizing distractions. No multitasking and no squeezing in 17 things into one day.

  1. At the end of your work day, list the six most important things you want to accomplish. Only six. No more, no less.
  2. The first thing should be the most important. The sixth should be the least.
  3. Tomorrow, start with the first task. Focus on the task until it's complete. Move to task two.
  4. At the end of the day, move the items you didn't finish to tomorrow's list.
  5. Repeat every single day.

"The bottom line?" James Clear writes, "Do the most important thing first each day. It's the only productivity trick you need."

Published on: Aug 26, 2016
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