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Beginner's Guide to The Ivy Lee Method

Published on
August 31, 2023
Boost productivity with the Ivy Lee Method and accomplish your goals more effectively. Learn how with this beginner's guide.

$400000 - that's the value of the cheque (adjusted for inflation) that Charles Schwab wrote to Ivy Lee for his consultation with Schwab's executives intended to make them more productive.

Ivy Lee asked Charles Schwab for 15 minutes with each of Bethlehem's executives, and the results of this consultation impressed Mr.Schwab so greatly that he wrote Mr.Lee that generous cheque.

In this blog post, we'll delve into the Ivy Lee Method, its origins, step-by-step process, complementary methodologies, benefits, criticisms, and ultimately, its impact on our modern-day productivity struggles.

What is the Ivy Lee Method?

The Ivy Lee Method is a time management and productivity technique that revolves around the idea of prioritization and focus. It was developed by Ivy Lee, a renowned productivity consultant, in the early 20th century. 

The essence of this method lies in its simplicity: rather than overwhelming yourself with an extensive to-do list, the Ivy Lee Method emphasizes focusing on a limited number of tasks and giving them undivided attention.

Origins of the Ivy Lee Method

As mentioned earlier, the Ivy Lee Method's roots can be traced back to the early 1900s when Charles M. Schwab, the president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, sought advice from productivity expert Ivy Lee

Schwab was seeking a way to enhance his team's productivity and efficiency. In response, Lee proposed a simple technique that he believed could transform their work habits.

Step-by-Step Process of Using the Ivy Lee Method

  1. At the end of each workday, list the six most important tasks you need to accomplish the following day. Limiting the list to six tasks ensures you focus on what truly matters. You can use the Routine Planner to do this.
  2. Prioritize the tasks in order of importance. Identify the task with the highest value and move down the list from there.
  3. The next day, start by tackling the first task on your list. Give it your undivided attention and work on it until it's completed or until you've made substantial progress.
  4. Move on to the next task on your list only when the previous task is done, or you've reached a significant milestone. Repeat this process for each task on your list.
  5. At the end of the day, create a new list of tasks for the following day, repeating the process.

Benefits of the Ivy Lee Method

  • Enhanced Focus: By limiting your daily tasks to a manageable number, the method encourages deep work and minimizes distractions.
  • Prioritization: You'll learn to discern between tasks that genuinely matter and those that are less important.
  • Reduced Overwhelm: The simplified approach reduces the overwhelming feeling of an endless to-do list.
  • Increased Productivity: Devoting focused time to important tasks can significantly boost productivity and accomplishments.

Criticisms of the Ivy Lee Method

While the Ivy Lee Method has gained recognition for its simplicity and effectiveness, it's not without its share of criticisms and limitations:

  • Lack of Flexibility: The rigid structure of the Ivy Lee Method might not suit everyone's work style or job demands. In roles that involve unexpected tasks or frequent interruptions, sticking to a fixed list of tasks could hinder adaptability.
  • Task Complexity: Complex projects or goals that require multiple steps might not neatly fit into the six-task limit imposed by the method. This limitation can oversimplify significant undertakings and hinder the overall progress of larger initiatives.
  • Overemphasis on Daily Planning: The method primarily focuses on daily planning, which might lead to a short-term mindset. It could downplay the importance of setting and achieving long-term goals that require consistent effort over an extended period.
  • Burnout Risk: The method's emphasis on completing tasks at all costs could lead to overworking and burnout. It doesn't inherently encourage breaks or self-care, which are crucial for maintaining sustainable productivity.

Methodologies to Complement the Ivy Lee Method

While the Ivy Lee Method forms a strong foundation for productivity, combining it with other methodologies can address some of its limitations and provide a more holistic approach:

  • Pomodoro Technique: The Pomodoro Technique involves breaking your work into focused intervals (usually around 25 minutes) followed by short breaks. Integrating this technique with the Ivy Lee Method can help address rigidity. You can use the Pomodoro intervals within each Ivy Lee task, ensuring focused work while allowing for flexibility during breaks.
  • Eisenhower Matrix: The Eisenhower Matrix categorizes tasks based on their urgency and importance. This approach complements the Ivy Lee Method's prioritization by helping you distinguish between tasks that are not only important but also urgent. It assists in identifying high-priority tasks that require immediate attention.
  • Time Blocking: Time blocking involves scheduling specific blocks of time for different tasks or activities. Integrating time blocking with the Ivy Lee Method can provide a structured framework for handling tasks requiring more than one day to complete. It also helps allocate time for non-task activities, promoting a healthier work-life balance.
  • Goal Setting: Combining the Ivy Lee Method with goal-setting practices helps maintain a long-term perspective. While the Ivy Lee Method focuses on daily tasks, setting overarching goals guides your daily tasks toward achieving larger milestones.


The Ivy Lee Method might have originated decades ago, but its principles remain relevant in our digital age. Focusing on a small number of crucial tasks can transform how we work, becoming more productive and efficient. 

While the method may not be a one-size-fits-all solution, its core concepts can be adapted and integrated into our daily routines, leading to a more intentional and effective approach to work. 

Whether you're a busy professional, a student, or anyone seeking to optimize their productivity, the Ivy Lee Method offers a timeless strategy worth exploring.

If you have read up to this point, you are likely interested in trying the IL Method. So go ahead and fire up the Routine console and start listing tasks you believe are essential.

What are your thoughts on the Ivy Lee method? Tweet at us on Twitter.

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