I’ve never been the type to keep a planner or create a “to do” list. And, for a long time, I believed that these organizational tools would stunt daily creative flow. A few years ago while in college, I caught a glimpse of a classmate’s planner and was intrigued by the organizational flow of multicolored pens, sections for homework, social events, personal goals and grocery lists. The aesthetic of this planner is what really got me, and I was inspired. So, I went out and bought a planner. Well, I failed again. It sat in my bag untouched for weeks. The struggle for organization continued. I have tried and failed at planners dozens of times at this point.

Gradually, as life got busier, I gave in to the “to do” list. Listing out homework and due dates, what to buy at the grocery store, what to pack for vacation. With lists, my daily tasks and goals became more attainable. Flash forward 3 years, and lists are an essential part of my career and personal success. Not only have I adapted to using a daily “to do” list, I’ve researched the methods that work best when using a “to do” list at work. I came across one technique that was particularly intriguing. The Ivy Lee Method has been around for over a hundred years and has many success stories to back up the effectiveness of this list making technique.

Ivy Lee, a well known productive specialist and public relations pioneer in the 1900s, was given 15 minutes with several executives from a large steel company. His goal was to show them a new technique to up productivity and simply get more things done. He explained to each executive the following instructions:

  1. At the end of each workday, write down 6 things that you need to accomplish tomorrow. Only select 6 tasks each day.
  2. Prioritize these tasks.
  3. When you arrive to work the next day, only work on the first task. Once the entire task is complete, move on to the second.
  4. Follow this protocol for the entire list, moving unfinished items to the next day.
  5. Repeat this for each working day.

Why does such a simple method work?

It’s the lack of complexity. This method is simple enough to work, but gives you the ability to actually organize before the day begins. It removes the anxiety of starting a busy day with no plan by pushing you to select only the most important things to get done. This method also helps to get you focused on completing one task at a time, instead of dividing your attention to several tasks at once.

A few other interesting ideas behind a “to do” list to consider integrating into your day to day life:

  1. Writing a list helps make your brain’s job easier. By physically writing a list, you retain much more of the important information, and also won’t forget the little things. When you write down tasks, you are able to think about everything that needs to happen and summarize it into a few words. Your brain does a little extra work and analyzing over the task at hand. This helps to remember your list even when you aren’t looking at it.
  2. Taking time to plan helps you turn abstract goals into solid work. Taking big picture goals, and turning them into small attainable, day to day tasks helps you move towards your final product without the stress of getting it all done at once. I think of this as writing an essay. You start with research, move on to an outline, rough draft, revised work and final product. Taking a little extra time to ensure you accomplished the small yet significant things along the way.
  3. An ordered list helps you to stay on track when distractions arise. You won’t always be able to work through a list without having a random job arise, but having everything planned out on paper will help you to pick back up where you left off.

Do you have any productivity hacks to share? Or a certain way that helps you stay on track and on task? Share with us!