Saturday, June 15, 2024

A Simple and Powerful Time Management System

Ted Engstrom and Alec Makenzie, in their book, Managing Your Time, give perhaps the best known business example regarding time management. The authors tell how in the early part of the 20th century, Ivy Lee, a pioneer in the field of public relations, helped Charles Schwab and his employees become much more effective at managing their time. Although Lee’s time management system is now almost 100 years old, it is still very effective.

Ivy Lee had started one of the nation’s first public relations firms in 1915. One of his most important clients was Bethlehem Steel. On one occasion, Charles M. Schwab, the president of Bethlehem Steel, made an unusual request of Mr. Lee. Mr. Schwab said, “Show me a way to get more things done, and I will pay anything within reason.”

Mr. Lee showed Schwab a simple yet powerful time management system. At the conclusion of their meeting, Mr. Lee said, “Try this system for as long as you like. After you convince yourself how valuable it is, have your employees try it. Test it for as long as you like. Then send me a check for whatever you think the idea is worth.”

A few months later, Schwab sent Lee a check for $25,000. And this was during an era when a laborer earned only two dollars a day. The following is a summery of the time management system Lee taught to Schwab:

1. At the start of each day, write down all the things you have to do. If possible, prepare this list at the end of the previous day. Ideally, the list should not be more than six items long. After you have prepared the list, evaluate the relative importance of the things you have to get done. Number those items in the order of their real importance.

2. The first thing in the morning, start working on item number one, the highest priority on your list. Continue working on it, until the task is completed. Then proceed to item number two, and don’t go to any other items, until it is completed (or until something else becomes more important). Then proceed to number three, and so on.

3. Do not worry if you can’t complete everything on your list. At least you will have taken care of the most important priorities before getting distracted by items of lesser consequence.

Mr. Schwab and his employees adopted Mr. Lee’s time management system and within a few years, Bethlehem Steel became one of the largest independent steel producers in the world. Mr. Schwab attributed much of their success to following Ivy Lee’s time management strategy. Since that time, the strategy devised by Mr. Lee has become legendary and has helped many people (including myself) become more effective and efficient. Try this system for one week and let me know how it works for you. Share your discoveries in the box below.

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