The "Ivy Lee Method" Productivity Hack From 1918 Makes Getting Organized So Easy

One of the hurdles that can confront us when trying to get organized often comes down to the organizational system itself: How do you know it isn't more time and trouble than it's really worth? Well, it turns out that a vintage to do list hack dating back to 1918 might be just what you need. Called the "Ivy Lee Method," it's simple and to the point —  or, as James Clear puts it over at Fast Company, it's "stupidly simple." And that's exactly why it works so well, and for so many people. I know, I know: How did people get organized without cellphone reminders and Google calendar alerts? With the Ivy Lee Method, you actually don't need any of that. Let's take a closer look into how it breaks down. 

As Clear explains, the Ivy Lee Method of organization is comprised of six different steps: First, at the end of each day, write down six tasks you need to accomplish tomorrow. Second, prioritize these tasks in order of importance, not ease or enjoyment. Third, when you begin working, focus on only the first task until you complete it. Then fourth, repeat with the rest of the list in order. Fifth, what you don't finish on that day, move to your task list for the following day. Then sixth, continuously repeat this process. 


The cycle and repetition of this system is key: It means that nothing goes unfinished, and nothing gets swept under the rug and forgotten. It can be tempting to move on from one project to the next and skip transitional steps in between, or to leave priorities for a day when you have "more time" or are more "in the mood" to deal with it; however, more often than not, doing so results in our forgetting to accomplish the tasks at all, which contributes to more stress and frustration later on. The Ivy Lee Method prevents that issue from occurring.

Of course, back in the day, people kept these lists on paper. Now, you can maintain it however you'd like, whether it's in a journal, in a Google doc, or in A "notes" app on your phone. My suggestion is to choose whatever method you're likely to be able to easily access and remember to check every day — because one of the other key points of this list making system is that it becomes a habit. If you stop making and checking the lists, the system stops working.


If you've ever experimented with the "Bullet Journal" method of organization, you'll remember that this method, too, involves re-listing tasks until you finally complete them. There's a reason for that: It provides structure. According to William R. Klemm, Ph.D, at Psychology Today, the brain struggles to remember information if it's not organized and easily accessible. That's why it's so helpful to have a specific organization system that your brain comes to recognize. If you leave sticky notes all over the place, for example, you may be less likely to associate them with tasks you need to do, because there is no structure to themThe Ivy Lee Method and the Bullet Journal system, however, are organized systems that your brain can "learn," thereby helping it remember information. Pretty amazing stuff, right? 

Basically, it all comes down to the old adage: If it's not broken, don't fix it. Sometimes going back to the basics can be amazingly helpful, and in the case of organization, this one seems to fit the bill.

Images: Natalie B/Pexels; Giphy (2)

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