by Luke Doyle
From Jack Dorsey to Jeff Bezos, the founders of today’s household name brands are not exactly ‘no nonsense’ characters, but underneath the public persona each has a finely-tuned productivity engine. Often, the oil that keeps it running is no more than a handful of carefully adhered-to principles for completing the most arduous tasks as efficiently as possible, thus freeing up the thought space that makes these leaders truly unique.
More often than not, these principles involve prioritization. The British have a great word for time consuming, low-value tasks: Faff.
Simply put, successful business leaders know how to cut the ‘faff’.
Mark Zuckerberg puts it succinctly:
“The question I ask myself like almost every day is…Am I doing the most important thing I could be doing?”
Low-productivity workers have a habit of succumbing to instant gratification tasks (such as social media interaction like Facebook). The brain is wired to prioritize quick reward tasks like these. it was a useful survival mechanism in the olden days. Today, this mechanism requires an element of discipline, especially at the end of a long hard day. And there is no discipline like that which comes with a micro-managed step-by-step strategy .
The Ivy Lee Method is one such strategy. It has endured for over a century having been designed by the eponymous productivity consultant for the Bethlehem Steel Corporation in 1918. The legend goes that Ivy Lee offered his strategy to the company for free, but boss Charles M. Schwab was so pleased with the results that after three months he wrote Lee a check for $25,000. Lee was more than just a pencil pushing consultant. He was a pioneer of today’s pay-what-you-want economy.
Here’s what he suggests:
- The last thing you should do each day is write down the six most important things you need to get done tomorrow.
- Sort the list in order of importance.
- The next day, start at the top of the list, and concentrate on completing that most important task before you get dragged into anything else.
- When it’s done, move on to number two. Rinse and repeat.
This is effective because it forces you to commit, which prevents you from drifting and it commits you to one task at a time, which protects you from multitasking which is actually a very unproductive form of working no matter how good you think you are at it.
Jason Fried, Co-founder of Basecamp, has a neat supplement to this, particularly if you struggle to stay on track.
“All the techniques and hacks in the world never add up to the power of ‘No….Having fewer things to get done is the best way to get things done.”
So whatever else you learn from the guru-like founders of Tesla, Virgin etc…, follow this lesson from Zuck, Fried, and Ivy Lee first. Once you’ve figured out how to get things done, only then is it time to figure out how to get things done better.