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  • The Ivy Lee method is a 100-year-old strategy for helping people become more productive at work.
  • Under the Ivy Lee method, at the end of each night you write down your six most important tasks to accomplish the following day in order of importance.
  • The next day, you begin working on the tasks one at a time.
  • The strategy works because it reduces "decision fatigue," saves you time, and forces you to prioritise your goals.

Optimising your schedule is important for making the most out of every workday.

That's especially true for new parents — every minute you save at work is an extra minute of family time when you get home.

John Rampton writes in Entrepreneur that he realised his unproductive work habits were taking a toll on his family, as he would often come home late and sapped of energy when his wife and newborn daughter needed him the most.

That's why he turned to what he calls a 100-year-old "productivity hack" that lets him spend less time at the office and more time at home.

The Ivy Lee method is simple and effective 

The strategy is called the Ivy Lee method, and it's surprisingly simple. Here's how Rampton, the founder and CEO of the startup Due, described it in his article:

"Every night, after the kids are asleep, jot down the five or six most important things you want to accomplish the next day. List them in order, starting with the most important task first thing in the morning. Don't list more than six items."

Under the Ivy Lee method, you should focus on one task at a time, going from most important to least important, until you've accomplished your whole list. Any unfinished business should be moved to the next day's list of six tasks.

How does the method help? As Rampton wrote, "by planning your day the night before, you reduce decision fatigue and reserve your energy for your most meaningful work. You wake up knowing exactly what you'll be working on all day instead of wasting valuable time and energy making decisions in the morning."

The Ivy Lee method has been working for 100 years

The Ivy Lee method dates back to 1918, when Lee, a productivity consultant, was hired by Charles M. Schwab, the president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, to improve his company's efficiency. As the story goes, Lee offered his method to Schwab for free, and after three months, Schwab was so pleased with the results he wrote Lee a cheque for $25,000 (a tad more than R380,000) and the equivalent of about $400,000 (R6.1 million) today. 

James Clear, the author of "Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones," elaborated on why the strategy has stood the test of time.

For one, he wrote, it "forces you to make tough decisions." Clear compared the Ivy Lee method to Warren Buffet's "25-5 Rule," in which you isolate your five most important goals and ignore everything else until they are accomplished.

"I do think there is something magical about imposing limits upon yourself," Clear wrote in a blog post. "Basically, if you commit to nothing, you'll be distracted by everything."

On top of that, the Ivy Lee method "removes the friction of starting" a new task. By determining your most important task the night before, you eliminate indecision and time-wasting the next day, allowing you to be more productive when it's time to start.

"As a writer, I can waste three or four hours debating what I should write about on a given day. If I decide the night before, however, I can wake up and start writing immediately. It's simple, but it works," Clear wrote.

"In the beginning, getting started is just as important as succeeding at all."

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