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Over the years, I just accepted procrastination as a personality trait, telling myself that some of us are organized and put-together, while others… thrive under pressure, I guess.
However, procrastination turned into a serious threat when I became a solopreneur. Procrastination means pushing the things you must do to later until you can’t anymore because you hit the deadline. But as the CEO and only employee of your business, this behavior also means pushing back the deadline again and again… so much that you never get anything done.
If you’re a procrastinator, it might be because you’re lazy, anxious, or just disorganized — or all of the above. I’m all of the above, and not ashamed to admit it. My strengths are just elsewhere.
To correct that behavior and turn into an achiever, I tried various productivity techniques, some of which worked better than others. Then, I discovered the Ivy Lee method thanks to writer James Clear, and it changed everything.
What it is
The Ivy Lee method was created in 1918 when a productivity consultant, Ivy Lee, was hired by Charles M. Schwab, the president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, to help improve the company’s effectiveness. The legend says Lee offered his method to Schwab’s company for free, but it ended up working so well that Schwab wrote him a gigantic cheque (the equivalent of $400,000 today).
This productivity technique is simple, and depends on three factors: decision-making, prioritizing, and executing.
The Ivy Lee method is the simplest and most effective productivity technique I ever tried, and it works wonders. Start the day before and come up with six important tasks that you want to complete the next day. Forget things like “go to the post office” or “clean my apartment” and focus on tasks that will actually get you closer to your writing goals.
Cleaning your apartment or going to the post office is only on your to-do list because you have no choice but to do it, and it’s an easy cross-off, so it makes you feel better. I remember that crossing things like “reading” or “do my taxes” off my list made me feel like I had accomplished a lot, even though “write 5 scenes” and “publish two stories” were left undone.
In the end, I couldn’t avoid but going to the post office at some point anyway. The things that really mattered, however, were never crossed-off. Do yourself a service and keep your admin and petty tasks off your to-do. Just do them, without waiting for the internal “reward” that comes with crossing them off.
So, what are six things you want to accomplish tomorrow?
Now that you know what you want to do, prioritize your tasks from the most important to the least important. Try to prioritize them according to how much they actually matter rather than how urgent they seem to be.
“As a writer, I can waste three or four hours debating what I should write about on a given day. If I decide the night before, however, I can wake up and start writing immediately. It’s simple, but it works.”
It’s time to start working. Get to the first task, and once it’s completed — only then! — you can tend to the second one.
At the end of the day, you will have accomplished six tasks, and taken six tangible steps to get closer to your goals. In addition to feeling great and having a sense of accomplishment, what you do on a given day really matters.
Write down six tasks you need to accomplish today. No more, no less.
Prioritize them from the most important to the least important.
First things first: complete the first task. Only when this one is completed, you can start the second one. Then the third one. On and on until you complete your to-do.
Enjoy the feeling of having done 6 things that really matter today.
Why it works
The Ivy Lee method works well for procrastinators for various reasons, the main one being constraint. This technique is just like a game: you must complete a step before being allowed into the next. In other words, you can’t get to the second task if you don’t cross the first one off your to-do.
In addition, this strategy reduces decision fatigue, which is often a critical factor that can make or break a good habit, for example. If you want to work out every morning before breakfast, you’re more likely to do it if your clothes are already prepared and if your mat is already on the floor because you don’t have to make the decision between “what should I wear?” and “how about I just go back to bed?”
“The strategy works because it reduces “decision fatigue,” saves you time, and forces you to prioritize your goals.”
It’s the same for your to-do. If you have already sorted out what’s most important and what needs to be done the day before, then you only have to execute.
“Write a screenplay” has been on my to-do list for what, six months? Since I implemented the Ivy Lee method, “write five scenes” has been at the top of my to-do list every day for weeks. Because I had no choice but to complete this first task before going to the next, I was forced to actually write these five scenes — and now my screenplay is almost done. Always put what matters most at the top.
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