Most people are living lives of reaction, which makes them wildly inefficient. Our productivity and stress levels will be in direct proportion to our ability to eliminate interruptions, and here’s how.
Every person on this planet shares a 24-hour day. The fact that some people can manage their day while most cannot shows that the problem isn’t the amount of time; it’s the management of time.
Time Management Programs? … forgetaboutit!
Time management has ballooned into a full-scale industry of books, programs, workshops, and seminars. Still, effective time management always has been, and it always will be (or it can be) surprisingly easy … as this timeless story perfectly illustrates.
Around 100 years ago, Ivy Lee, an efficiency expert, approached American steel magnate Charles Schwab to help him better manage his company … Bethlehem Steel.
Schwab’s reply was, “Look, I don’t need any more advice on how to manage my company; what I need around here is more doing! Show me a better way of getting things done, and I’ll pay you whatever you ask!”
And with that, Ivy Lee quickly whipped out a blank sheet of paper and said, “Mr. Schwab, follow my instructions, and I’ll show you how to increase your efficiency by at least 50 percent. The first thing I want you to do is to write down on that sheet of paper the six most important things you have to get done for tomorrow.”
Schwab thought about his upcoming tasks for a few minutes and then wrote out six items.
“Now,” said Lee, “I want you to number those tasks in the order of their importance — both to you and to the company.”
Once again, Schwab focused on each task, and within a few minutes, he had them arranged in their order of importance.
“Okay, Mr. Schwab,” Lee instructed, “first thing tomorrow morning when you come to work, I want you to start in on the item you listed as most important. Don’t even look at the others; just focus on item number one and stay on it until it’s completed. Then, and only then, do I want you to focus on item number two and so on all the way down the list until you’re ready to quit for the day. Now don’t worry if you’ve only finished one or two items on your list since you’re working on the most important ones; the others can wait.”
“Now here’s the key, Mr. Schwab; if you didn’t finish all the items on your list using this method, you couldn’t have finished them using any other method, and without some kind of system, you probably wouldn’t be working on the most important ones … in fact, you’d probably be ‘unconsciously’ working on the easiest ones.”
“Mr. Schwab, do this every working day until you have convinced yourself of the value of this system and then have your men try it. Try it as long as you like, and then send me a cheque for whatever you think this idea is worth.”
Within just a few weeks, Charles Schwab sent Ivy Lee a check for $25,000 (this was 100 years ago) and a letter saying it was one of the most valuable lessons of his life. In fact, this simple idea is credited with transforming Bethlehem Steel from a small mill into the largest independent steel producer in the world in just five years!
Now, I don’t believe that either Ivy Lee or Charles Schwab saw this formula in an absolute literal sense … meaning that one does nothing else until item number one is done, and then item number two and so on because, after all, even 100 years ago people had to stop for lunch, read telegraphs, deal with emergencies. Similarly, your day will always have more than one overriding priority, such as setting aside time for your family, work projects, reading, exercising, or maybe it’s just some desperately needed downtime watching TV. Still, whatever it is that your day requires, the spirit of Lee’s method is indisputable.
Each day comes with its own tempest. Suppose you don’t have some simple rules to protect your time and attention. In that case, you are highly vulnerable to endless interruptions and intrusions that will drain your energy and kill productivity.
True self-mastery is the understanding that we can only do one thing at a time. Focusing on the most important things first is the kind of unassailable logic against which no one can argue.
Try it, and you’ll be amazed at how liberating this simple formula really is. Take complete control of your focus and attention, and it will completely eradicate that feeling that you could have … or should have done more … and with it, there goes the stress.
As Andy Grove, the legendary founder of Intel, so wisely stated;
“My day ends when I’m tired and ready to go home, not when I’m done. I am never done…There is always more to be done, more that should be done, always more than can be done.”
That’s taking control, and that is sage advice!