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All good stories begin with a legend. Public relations pioneer Ivy Lee’s has a payoff everyone can use.

As the story goes, a successful entrepreneur faced a problem: He needed more output and productivity from his top executives to stay ahead of the competition. Lee was hired to solve it.

Lee promised that he would need just 15 minutes with each leader to solve it. If he failed, the time would be free.

What Lee taught them was a simple and yet highly effective method for prioritization and task management that anyone can implement – no matter the century.

And for Lee, the payoff wasn’t just business wins for his client: he was paid today’s equivalent of $400,000 for his trick.

The Ivy Lee method:

  1. At the end of each day, write down six tasks you would like to complete the following day.
  2. Prioritize the tasks in order of importance.
  3. Begin working your way through the list from one to six. Do not skip tasks.
  4. Anything you do not complete gets moved to the next list.
  5. Repeat this process for the following day.

The key to Lee’s method is its prioritization and orderly process. It means that you do not get swept up in less meaningful work, which leads to frustration when that important task still is not done. It forces an orderly, diligent process.

It also means you avoid multitasking, which is proven to decrease productivity. You can do a good job at two tasks at once; you can only do a great job at one.

While Lee’s method was completed with a pen and paper, you can take a more modernized approach if it best fits your workflow. You could use the method in conjunction with a productivity app or list tool. You could add alarms, reminders and calendar tasks to keep you on track.

If six tasks feels like too few or too many, you can also be flexible or adjust. The most important thing is that Lee’s method forces you to think about what’s most important, and creates a template for completing tasks efficiently.