Charles M. Schwab, one of the richest men in the world at the time, was president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, the largest shipbuilder and the second-largest steel producer in America. He was also business manager for Andrew Carnegie, the the father of the steel Industry in the United States.
Constantly seeking an edge over the competition, in 1918, Schwab asked Ivy Lee, who had worked for the great industrialist John D. Rockefeller, what the cost would be for him to increase the efficiency of his team at Bethlehem Steel.
Lee replied, “Nothing, unless it works. After three months, send me a check for whatever you feel it’s worth to you.”
Spending 15 minutes with each of Schwab’s executives Lee explained the simple method for achieving peak productivity that is said to have also been used by J.P. Morgan, who died in 1913:
1.) At the end of each day, write down the most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow, including all your appointments and work items, then prioritize those tasks in order of their true importance.
2.) In the morning, concentrate only on the first task until it is finished. Then go to the next one on the list and work it until it is finished. Work you way down the list in the same fashion. Move any unfinished items to a new list for the following day.
After less than three months, Schwab was so pleased with how much more that he and his executive team were able to achieve in a day that he wrote Lee a check for $25,000, the equivalent of $431,614.96 in 2016.
Many successful and world-class experts use this method for the simple reason that mastery requires focus and consistency. Fewer priorities leads to better focus leading to better outcome. Trimming away everything that isn’t absolutely necessary eliminates feeling overwhelmed and disorganized when constantly trying to divide your time several different ways.
While we have been repeatedly told that multi-tasking is good, according to neuroscientist Earl Miller the exact opposite is true. Miller, professor of neuroscience at MIT, warns that the human brain simply can’t fully focus on more than one thing at a time. While we may switch back and forth quickly between tasks that isn’t multitasking.
Doing the most important things first, each day is the way to be successful.
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