Task Lists and Workplace Productivity: The Ivy Lee Method

This post explores the Ivy Lee Method to enhance productivity. It was practiced by President and General Dwight D. Eisenhower and later repackaged as a time management matrix by Dr. Stephen Covey in, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” (1989) with special emphasis on distinguishing between important and urgent tasks.


Who was Ivy Lee?

Ivy Lee (1877-1934), a pioneer of public relations and workforce management, made a name for himself by successfully spinning popular media narratives in the early 20th century. The muckraker’s robber baron of the Gilded Age was reframed as a captain of industry in the Progressive Era. Lee’s client list included John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Charles Lindbergh, Walter Chrysler, and Charles M. Schwab (not this Charles Schwab).

The origin story of Lee’s eponymous method for workplace productivity traces back to Schwab’s executive suite at the Bethlehem Steel Company.  Schwab viewed employee enthusiasm and productivity as inextricably linked, and sought Lee’s advice on effective methods for cultivating both. Lee’s answer was the promise of a proven formula, the committed use of which was guaranteed to maximize workplace productivity.

Schwab inquired as to how much it would cost for Lee to share this formula, to which Lee responded, “Nothing. Unless it works. After 3 months, you can send me a check for whatever you feel it’s worth for you.” Schwab’s immediate reply is unknown, but it’s safe to assume that free of cost resonated with the man whom Thomas Edison (genius inventor’s to-do list) once referred to as “a master hustler.” Schwab promptly ushered the executives into the office space conference room where Lee articulated 5 steps.


The Ivy Lee Method

  1. Write a list of the 6 most important tasks you must accomplish tomorrow. It may be fewer than 6 but no more. The ideal time to do so is at the end of the work day;
  2. Prioritize the 6 tasks in order of importance. Make a distinction between what is important (long-term) versus what is urgent (short-term);
  3. Begin the first task when you arrive at work and see it to completion. Focus on completing each task one by one without jumping back and forth. No multitasking;
  4. Approach every task on your list this way. If only task 1 and task 2 are completed at the end of the day, then transfer tasks 3-6 onto the top of the next day’s list as tasks 1-4;
  5.  Repeat daily.

Following the steps serves many purposes, including but not limited to, provides a predetermined starting point to stymie the mind’s temptation to give-in to overwhelm, increase focus, decreases decision fatigue, prevents reacting to another’s agenda, and offers a clear metric for evaluating daily performance.

The $25,000 payment Schwab issued in 1918 (~$430,000 in 2021 dollars adjusted for inflation) affirms that Lee’s formula did, in fact, maximize productivity at Bethlehem Steel.


Productivity Apps for Task Lists

Whether task lists are handwritten on paper, the most effective form is whichever one you will actually use. You may maintain a list on the calendar in your office suite or in a preloaded Notes app on your smartphone. Other free apps worth exploring:

Microsoft ToDo  {https://apps.apple.com/us/app/microsoft-to-do/id1212616790}

Microsoft OneNote {https://apps.apple.com/us/app/microsoft-onenote/id410395246}

GoogleCalendar {https://apps.apple.com/us/app/minimalist-to-do-list/id993066159}

GoogleKeep {https://apps.apple.com/us/app/google-keep-notes-and-lists/id1029207872 }

GoogleTasks {https://apps.apple.com/us/app/google-tasks-get-things-done/id1353634006}


Disciplined practice of the Ivy Lee Method promises to enhance workplace productivity and improve your time management skills. Countless iterations of the method have endured for over a century for good reason!




Work and Life Balance in the Digital Age

Work Life Balance

Today’s technological devices (mobile devices, video conferencing, etc.) can help us to work flexibly from various locations and around the clock, but it can also lead towards a depreciation of work/life boundaries and the feeling of always being “on the grid.”

Decades ago some authors, scientists, and business people predicted that we would advance in our technological abilities.  Many of them also predicted that, as a result of new technological developments, we would see a reduction in the amount of work hours for the average person.  While we’ve seen technologies increase in leaps and bounds since the 1980s, the 50-60 hour work week remains a reality for most of us.

 Because we’re able to work from everywhere, we’re expected to work from everywhere.
-Arianna Huffington


What happened?  Why were they wrong?  What can be done about it?  In short, too many people created a “new norm” as they used the technologies at hand.  You receive a work email on your phone and feel the need to respond.  “It doesn’t take much time and it’s important,” you probably say to yourself.   Companies and bosses see that you’re “always on” and quick to respond, so they start to expect quicker response times and more hours out of their employees.  Before you know it, if you’re an employee who isn’t checking emails past 7 PM – or over your weekend – you’re perceived as a slacker.

Source: Wall Street Journal http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-technology-can-help-work-life-balance-1414382688


Other people feel that various technological advancements HELP them to achieve a better work/life balance.  Today it’s possible to use your mobile devices almost anywhere, allowing you to more efficiently toggle between your professional and personal responsibilities, while in the olden days you were almost always chained to a desk in an office.  Now you can be at your children’s sporting event or concert, but still be able to check-in with your office remotely.

Many have specifically highlighted how video-conferencing has helped them achieve a better balance in life.  Video conferencing is an extremely effective tool that does enable people to work from home (or wherever) while also being able to see their colleagues or clients in personal and collaborative ways, and despite the actual distance between them.

Work and life balance

So what’s the best way to achieve a work/life balance in today’s digital world?  First, you need to recognize that both employees and employers have a responsibility to set some parameters.  No one should always feel pressured to literally be on the grid 24/7!  Typically, it is the individual who must make the first step towards setting these kind of boundaries.  Create a time to sit down with your superiors and communicate your availability.

Second, when you are out of the office and don’t want to be “on the grid,” find a colleague who can handle the requests for you.  Delegating responsibility, when possible or necessary, is vital.  This is especially true for CEOs, managers, and supervisors.

Third, acknowledge and change company culture.  Too often companies respond to technologies by filling up the 9-5 days with meetings (known as “meeting bloat”) and expecting the actual work will get done “sometime” after all the meetings.  Other companies do the opposite.  They fill the regular work hours and days with so many tasks and deliverables that communications naturally have to occur via endless emails and texts, often after hours.  Help to create an in-office workplace culture that allows time for meetings and communications, as well as time for actual tasks and assignments.  Fight the idea that “it can be done later.”

Work Life Balance

Looking for more information or suggestions on how to improve your life/work balance?  Here are some more resources to check out:

  • Article from LifeHack
  • Read this article from the Wall Street Journal.
  • Give us call today!  Barrister Suites are experts in virtual offices and we can help you find the technologies you need to increase profits and efficiency while also helping you – and your employees – to keep that important life/work balance.


The Power of Power Couples

The Power of Power Couples

The term “power couple” usually evokes images of wealth, charisma, and glamour, but for many prominent professional couples, life in the dual-career lane can be anything but a smooth ride.

There are many challenges in maintaining a loving relationship and a chaos-free household when both partners work long hours and may often travel. Here are some of their road-tested ideas for making such relationships work:

Put the relationship first.

Marriages require a lot of care, feeding and attention, but, the relationship is unfortunately the thing that tends to get neglected first.  It’s important to be fully present for your spouse as much as possible. Steve Vassallo, a partner at Foundation Capital, uses a metaphor to make this point. “It’s like being in an airplane when the oxygen masks come down,” he says. “You’ve got to make sure that the relationship is healthy before you worry about other things.”

Define your roles.

As a management consultant for Strategy & (formerly Booz & Company), Alex Conrad spent a good deal of her career on the road, while her husband, Parker Conrad, co-founded companies in the Bay Area–most recently Zenefits, a free human-resources platform. Neither Alex nor Parker had much time to focus on home life. So they worked out an arrangement early on: She would handle the tasks that could be done remotely, like paying the bills; he would take care of anything that needed to be done in person. “Just being explicit in advance about what your roles are is really helpful,” Alex says.

Set your limits.

When Hagel was returning to her job at the Boston Consulting Group after earning her MBA in 2012, she knew that her spouse would be traveling a lot, “so one of my non-negotiables was that I didn’t want to be on the road all the time,” she recalls. Similarly, Eva Sage-Gavin turned down several lucrative job offers over the years so that her daughter, an only child, could grow up surrounded by uncles, aunts, and cousins in Northern California. “Without a doubt,” she says, “you’ve got to define what is important to you as a family, and you’ve got to stick to it.”

Outsource whatever you can.

The Vassallos experimented with a variety of caretaking arrangements for their three young children before settling on hiring a nanny who could also serve as a domestic executive assistant. “A big turning point for me was when I realized that it was as cost-effective to hire a nanny in the Bay Area as it is to have two kids in full-time daycare,” Trae says. Besides helping with the children, their nanny does the grocery shopping, child chauffeuring, and other routine errands. “By having logistical things taken care of on the home front, I feel like we’re able to spend real quality time with our kids,” she says.

Have realistic expectations.

People often think they know exactly what they want in a future spouse, including good looks, brains, earning power, and the disposition to be a good parent. But Dennis Gavin cautions against “over-optimization” in that department. “I guarantee there are a bunch of [men] in this room who say, ‘I really want to marry someone who is a brilliant [career person],’ but then when they get married, they also want their spouse to have kids and be a supermom,” he says. It’s critical for dual-career couples to have an open dialogue about their expectations before marriage.

Remember that the laundry really can wait.

Another strategy that is helpful is to lower your “Martha Stewart” standards. Perhaps it’s best to live in a small apartment that doesn’t require a lot of upkeep. If the laundry isn’t folded promptly, remember it’s no big deal.

Keep rituals.

While they were dating and attending Stanford GSB, Lindsey Scrase and Theresa Hagel started taking long walks together in the campus foothills. The regular outings gave them the time and space to talk about big agenda issues in their lives–work-life balance, mental and physical health, finances, and relationships with family and friends–before they became problematic. Now married and living in San Francisco, they take walks in the city at least twice a month to check in with each other on the bigger issues.


Reference/Source: http://www.inc.com/stanford-business/how-power-couples-balance-work-and-family.html

Four Steps towards a More Balanced Life!

Discovering a work-life balance can often feel like an impossible feat in today’s world. Various technologies make us accessible around the clock and the impact of the Great Recession means many people still fear losing their job. The results are longer days and longer work weeks.  The unhealthy levels of stress that come from these never-ending workdays can be quite damaging, impacting your relationships, health, overall happiness…and it can even reduce productivity.

While establishing a work-life balance can mean something different to every individual, there are some general steps that can help most people to achieve a more balanced life.


Priorities? Yes!   Perfectionism?  No!

Figure out what you want your priorities to be, not what you think they should be.  Create a list of the 5-7 top priorities in your life and focus on these items without becoming a perfectionist. Perfectionism, when you let it become an unchecked habit, can be quite destructive!  Try to let go of your perfectionist tendencies.  Strive for excellence, not perfectionism.


It’s okay to unplug!

Technology has helped us in many ways, but it often creates the expectation that we’re available 24/7.  The work day never seems to end!  It’s important to remember that almost every piece of technology we work with does have an off button, even if we rarely use it! Unplugging from the technological grid that is so central to our lives can be difficult, so try it in phases.  First stop bringing your cellphone to your meals.  Take time to chew, enjoy your food, socialize and bond!  After a week or two, stop bringing technological devices to the movies or to your children’s extra-curricular activities.  Create some pictures in your mind instead of using your tablet!  Enjoy those special moments with your loved ones.  The phone services available from Barrister offers personalized call answering and call screening.  Take advantage of these services when you need to unplug.

You’ll soon find it’s easier to push the boundaries. Remember that when you unplug you’ll start to experience one of life’s greatest treasures — perspective. Unplugging allows you the freedom to be more analytical and less emotional and to think, instead of just diving in and responding in the moment.


Schedule your downtime!

Many of us have developed elaborate systems to schedule our tasks, meetings and work activities, but we never think to schedule some downtime.  When you plan out your week, make a point to schedule time with your family and friends, and to engage in activities that help you recharge.  Consider getting up earlier to give yourself an hour or two of “me time.”  Schedule yourself a true daily lunch hour break.  Communicate to your coworkers, clients and friends that you’re unreachable during that hour.  Make a commitment to your family to spend time with them every week.

Barrister Suite’s offices are centrally located, with many conveniently located health clubs, restaurants, and cultural centers.  Some offices are even within walking distance of the beach!

Marina Del Rey Office Space

The patio at the Barrister Executive Suites offices in Marina Del Rey Beach Offices is a perfect place to spend a relaxing lunch hour!


Move and Meditate!

No matter how busy we get, we often make time for the crucial things in life. We eat. We go to the bathroom. We sleep. Yet two of the most crucial needs – exercise and meditation – are often the first things to go when our calendars fill up. Exercise is an effective stress reducer that releases those feel-good endorphins in your body which helps to lift your mood.  They also can help to put you into a meditative state so you can relax your mind.  Some offices offered by Barrister Executive Suites, Inc. are conveniently located near the beach – take advantage of this perk!  Schedule some time when you can go for a walk on the beach, get your body moving, and recharge your mind.


Achieving balance in both your work and personal lives allows you to perform optimally in both areas.  It helps you to be a better worker and a better person.  What steps do you plan to take to help you achieve work-life balance?