Ivy Lee Method of Productivity (My Experience, History, FAQs)

What is the Ivy Lee Method of Productivity? How can it help you save time and what makes it so effective?

I’ll first share a fascinating piece of history behind this method. Then I’ll explain to you what makes this method so effective. Later, I’ll even share my own experience of using the Ivy Lee Method of Productivity.

In the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of it, right from how many tasks should you list to whether this method is good for you or not.

Let’s get straight into it, beginning with the history.

History of Ivy Lee Method of Productivity

In 1918, Charles Schwab, the president of the largest shipbuilder in the US was looking for a way to improve the efficiency of the company.

So he hired a consultant named Ivy Lee, a man who also had a successful career in public relations.

Ivy Lee had a word with the senior managers of the company and told them to use a productivity technique. Later, he was paid an equivalent of $400,000 in today’s currency for what he had suggested. 

And that technique was later popularized as the Ivy Lee Method of Productivity.

What is the Ivy Lee Method of Productivity?

It is a simple productivity system where you list 6 tasks to accomplish during the day. You write down these tasks after finishing your work on the previous day.

Next, you prioritize these tasks according to the way you want to finish them. 

The most important task should be your first priority the next day. The least important task should be number 6.

And as you start working on them one by one,  you should only focus on one task you need to finish. Don’t even think about touching the other tasks unless the previous ones are finished.

If at the end of the day a few tasks remain, shift them to the next day.

In Ivy Lee Method of Productivity, unfinished tasks are carried over to the next day.
Unfinished Tasks are carried over to the next day.

Should you only put 6 tasks while using the Ivy Lee Method?

You can put 6 or lesser number of items on your list. There’s no strict rule which says you need to put only 6 items. 

When you have more items on your list, it might be harder to tick them off the list. It’s easy to overestimate how much you can accomplish in a day and this is one of the disadvantages of the Ivy Lee Method.

In the end, you’re left feeling overwhelmed. 

I put only items on my list that I’m absolutely sure of finishing and it gives me great joy!

Why the Ivy Lee Method is so effective? 

There are 3 things that make the Ivy Lee Method so effective!


It doesn’t force you to do anything that complex. At the same time, it doesn’t require a lot of maintenance. 

Just grab a pen and a piece of paper and use the method. It can take you anywhere between 15 seconds to a minute.

Because of this, it is easier to start and use it consistently for a long time.


The Ivy Lee Method shows you exactly what you need to get accomplished during the day. Once you finish your task,  you don’t have to think about what to do next. There is a clear plan laid out for you.

This adds structure to your day and saves you from ‘thinking’ you need to do next. 


Under this method, you need to focus on just one task and accomplish it before heading to the next one. As a result, you can give your best effort to the task, which increases the quality of the work you do.

My Experiment with the Ivy Lee Method

I have experimented with the Ivy Lee Method of Productivity for 30 days. 

Here’s what I have discovered:

  • Adds Structure to your day: So every night before going to bed, I would write my to-do list for the next day. As a result of that, I had a very clear picture of what I needed to accomplish during the next day. 
  • Frees up mental space: Apart from adding structure to my day, it also frees my mental space. I no longer had to think about what tasks I had to perform in the morning. All that was needed was to open my pocket-diary, glance at the tasks and start with the hardest one first! 

Also, instead of creating a list in the morning, you could use that ‘saved energy’ to dive straight into the hardest task.

  • More motivated to finish the tasks: For some reason, I felt more motivated to finish the tasks. Maybe it was because I felt the dread when I had to carry a leftover task to the next day. 
  • Took very little time to stick with the habit: Once I finished my working day, I’d spend only 2-3 minutes writing my to-do list for the next day. 

So not only the time investment was less, but it also allowed me to stick to the habit.  

  • Making Room For Urgent Tasks: If a task shows up in the morning, you need to make a provision to add it to the to-do list. That was one disadvantage of using the Ivy Lee Method. 

You need to stay flexible. However, urgent tasks rarely appear and it’s still much better to have a to-do list in place than decide later on what tasks you’ll accomplish.

Conclusion: Should you use the Ivy Lee Method of Productivity?

The Ivy Lee Method is simple to execute and takes not more than 2 minutes. Anyone will benefit from using it, especially if you are a busy individual who often forgets their tasks.

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