In 1918, Charles Schwab, president of Bethlehem steel company hired a consultant named Ivy Lee to help his executive team become more productive. Ivy Lee said that he had exactly what he needed. When Charles asked what it would cost, he said nothing. The deal they made was that Lee would spend 15 minutes with his team and give them an exercise for three months. At the end of three months Charles would send him a check for whatever he determined it was worth. The exercise went like this:
- At the end of each day, write down the top 6 things that you need to accomplish tomorrow.
- Prioritize them one through 6.
- Tomorrow, work on the highest priority one and don’t move to the next until it is complete.
- Move any unfinished items to tomorrow’s list.
- Repeat each day.
At the end of the three month trial period, Charles sent Lee a check for $25,000 which was a tremendous amount of money at the time. The science behind this productivity tip is that humans are not good at multi-tasking. Dr. Earl Miller, neuroscientist at MIT, says "You cannot focus on one thing while doing another. That's because of what's called interference between the two tasks. They both involve communicating via speech or the written word, so there's a lot of conflict between the two of them." We simply cannot multi-task because similar tasks fight for the same part of the brain.
But, Lee and Miller both discovered that we are able to shift our focus from one thing to the next with astonishing speed. Switching from task to task works while trying to focus on two at the same time does not. One effective way that I have found to organize and prioritize action items or tasks is through what is called a “brain dump.” A brain dump is a complete transfer of accessible knowledge about a particular subject from your brain to some other storage medium, such as paper. If you become stressed or overwhelmed due to how many to do’s or action items you “have on your plate” there is nothing more effective than a brain dump to organize and prioritize them into actionable tasks that can be swiftly worked through. Here is how it works:
Block off a few minutes of time at the beginning of your week, grab a pen and a blank piece of paper then turn your phone on airplane mode. Completely dump everything you have to do in the coming week onto the piece of paper. This should cover personal, professional, family and any other task that needs to get done. Once your brain has been totally cleared and everything is written down in front of you, you are now ready to organize and prioritize your thoughts into actionable tasks that can be accomplished throughout the week. Not only does this exercise allow you to organize and prioritize, but the clearing of the brain allows you to think more clearly and effectively while you plan your week.
If you strive for maximum productivity, start with a brain dump, then organize and prioritize everything that’s about to get done.