Writing on the principles & practice of building digital products

Todo lists do not the best of a morning make

For a long time I was a big believer in planning out my day when I first arrived at work. On the face of it this seems like a good idea - plan out what you're going to do, then do it. However a few months ago I read about the Ivy Lee method and haven't looked back. The idea is this;

1) At the end of each work day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.

2) Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.

3) When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.

4) Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day. The Ivy Lee method – James Clear

This is not a new idea - Ivy Lee was a productivity consultant at the turn of the 20th century - but one I've found very helpful.

As I've written previously, morning is my best time. It's when I can take more on and generally be more productive. Using the Ivy Lee method I can launch straight into what's actually important as soon as I sit down, rather than using that time to make value judgements on tasks which may have popped up overnight but probably aren't truly urgent.

Thinking time

I've found the most valuable part of the Ivy Lee method isn't necessarily doing tasks in order, but the timing of planning vs execution. By creating some space between planning what I want to do and actually doing it my brain has a chance to ruminate on alternatives. I genuinely believe I find better solutions to tasks which I wrote down yesterday compared with those I just came up with.

It's certainly not an approach without challenge. Often at 6pm the last thing I want to do it go through everything I've jotted down during the day, filter out the crap and prioritise what's important. Having said that once I've started it's always easier than I think it's going to be, and the results have been more than worth it.