Ivy Ledbetter Lee was a highly-respected productivity method expert and a founder of modern public relations. Lee was the first person to use internal magazines to maintain employee morale, as well as management newsletters, stockholder reports, and news releases to the media. In 1912, Lee was hired full-time by the Pennsylvania Railroad and became the first public relations person in an executive-level position. He also drafted one of the first job descriptions of a VP-level corporate public relations position. However, his most remarkable work was yet to be widely-known until he met Charles M. Schwab.
By 1918, Charles M. Schwab was one of the wealthiest men in the world. He was the president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, the largest shipbuilding company and the second largest steel producer in the US. After inflation-adjustment, Schwab’s net worth at that time reached today’s $1.19 billion. Schwab was often described as a risk taker and was highly controversial, even the inventor Thomas Edison referred to him as the “master hustler.”
One day, Schwab invited Lee over to his office for a consultation. The president shared his intention to increase productivity among his employee, he famously asked Lee:
“Show me a way to do more.”
To this, Lee replied, “Give me 15 minutes alone with each of your top managers.”
Schwab permitted Lee to sit down with his top executives and explain his productivity method. During his 15 minutes, Lee introduced to each executive his simple daily routine to achieve maximum productivity. After the sessions, Schwab asked how much he owed Lee for his services, to which Lee replied, “Nothing at all. But when you see the results in three months, write me a check for whatever you feel it’s worth to you.”
Three months later, Schwab wrote Lee a cheque for $25,000 (the equivalent of $450,000 today). He was satisfied with the overall improvement in his business due to the increased productivity brought by this simple method.
So, what is Lee’s simple daily routine?
The biggest reason why this productivity method works, even a hundred years later, is because it sticks on being simple. Most methods work wonders in theory but fail almost immediately when put into practice. The reason for that is the more complicated a plan is, the harder it is to execute perfectly.
On top of that, making a priority list forces you to focus on being productive because it eliminates decision fatigue, a term that refers to “the more decisions you make throughout the day, the worse you make decisions”. By planning a night ahead, you can focus less on deciding what to do and more on actually doing things – hence becoming more productive.
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