Quarter Million Dollar Idea for Productivity

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The story in this article illustrates the power (and profit) of one simple idea. It’s often the little things that make a big difference. It’s easy to overlook the obvious if it seems too simple. This idea is very simple, but don’t let that fool you. Remember dynamite comes in small packages.

You can use this easy technique starting today . . . right now. It will put you in an entirely different league — beyond the talkers, and the dreamers, and the planners. This “Quarter Million Dollar Idea” will make you an ACCOMPLISHER!

Years ago, an ambitious young man got a job as a stake driver for a steel company. He worked hard, and kept a close watch for the opportunity of advancement. He stuck with it, and worked his way all the way to the top. He became president of U.S. Steel: Charles M. Schwab. Still looking for advancement, he was one of the original founders of Bethlehem Steel and became it’s first president.

One day, a management consultant named Ivy Lee approached Mr. Schwab and offered his services. Mr. Schwab was not interested in any help managing Bethlehem Steel, but indicated he was interested in learning anything that would increase company profits, and he was willing to pay for it.

Mr. Lee was so confident in his techniques, he made a very unusual offer: He told Mr. Schwab that he was going to provide a very powerful technique, at no charge, under one simple condition. If Mr. Schwab tried the idea, and if it really did work, then, and only then, he agreed to pay whatever he felt the idea was worth to him and his steel company. Schwab agreed.

Mr. Lee said, “Write down the six very most important things you need to do tomorrow.” That was easy enough. Six projects were put down on paper in just a few minutes.

“Now look over your list,” Mr. Lee said, “and determine which of the six is the single most important project to the success of your company, and overall profit. Then, determine the second most important project, and the third, and so on, until you have each of your projects numbered, one through six.” This took some thought, but when Mr. Schwab had them all numbered, Mr. Lee continued:

“Tomorrow when you come to work, first thing in the morning, begin on project number one. Give it your full attention. Give it everything you’ve got, and keep working on project number one until it is accomplished. Then, move on to project two, then three, etc.”

At this point, Mr. Schwab was not convinced. It was too easy, but he continued to listen as Mr. Lee went on:

“If you allow yourself to be distracted by insignificant daily details, you might get them done, but the very most important projects will remain undone.

“First things must come first (always) for maximum efficiency and productivity. Whatever is left over from the first day should be carried over to the second day, and so on. When all six projects are completed, start over by making a brand new list.”

This conversation lasted only a few minutes, but Mr. Schwab later told Mr. Lee that it was the single most important lesson, from a profitability standpoint, he had ever learned. After putting this simple idea into practice for a few weeks, Charles M. Schwab was so delighted with the increased productivity of Bethlehem Steel, he mailed Ivy Lee a check for $25,000.00. (Considering wages and buying power, this is equal to over a quarter million dollars today.)

The voluntary payment to Mr. Lee was quite a bargain considering that Bethlehem Steel went on to become one of the giants in the steel industry and one of the most successful corporations in U.S. history.

Charles M. Schwab began by driving stakes and went on to make one hundred million dollars. This simple idea played a major role in his phenomenal success.

“Organization is made up of two complimentary parts: efficiency
and effectiveness. Efficiency is doing things right.
Effectiveness is doing the right things.” – David Stewart

I came across this story in the late 70’s and was immediately intrigued by its simplicity. I remember wondering why common-sense ideas like these were not taught in school. (Or, maybe I was playing hooky that day.) Imagine how helpful it might have been to learn this kind of discipline as a youngster. I wasn’t exactly a kid when this idea fired my imagination, but I’ve benefited from it for the last 30 years.

When I first read the story, I put the idea into action immediately. I made my list, prioritized it, and worked on item number one until it was done. Then, and only then, I’d begin on item two. I noticed increased efficiency and productivity immediately.

A Good Lesson on How to Think

Looking back, I realize how helpful this idea has been over the course of my life. I kept making lists and prioritizing my actions until eventually, it became second nature to me. This routine affected my thinking process in a positive way, so prioritizing my actions began to happen automatically.

Make a List — Check it Twice

I still make lists when I have many things that need to be accomplished in a fixed amount of time, but often, it’s just intuitively obvious what needs to be done first. It wasn’t always like this.

Before incorporating this simple idea, it was easy to get distracted, derailed, and detoured onto some tangent. There are still plenty of opportunities for distractions, but the discipline learned from years of prioritizing my projects has helped me to recognize the potential detours clamoring for my attention before they have a chance to sidetrack me.

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker (1909 – 2005)

New Priorities

I’ve never been keen on creating any hard and fast rules about this. Sometimes, when in the middle of a deliberately chosen priority project, something else will come up. At that moment, I am aware that I have a choice to make. Either continue with my original project, or make a decision that this new direction is my new priority project. It sounds simple, but you don’t want to undermine your chosen priorities by every little thing that blows your way. The secret is to make these revision decisions deliberately.

It’s one thing to consciously change directions and another to look up and find yourself way off course and wonder what happened.

Balance

Flexibility is the key. I like to find the balance between focusing on my deliberately chosen projects and the spontaneous “coincidences” that seem to just show up. This prioritizing idea gives me the structure to be efficient and productive on purpose, while leaving the door open for unforeseen serendipities.

“Efficiency is intelligent laziness.” — David Dunham

Focusing on Chosen Priorities PLUS Staying Open to New Ones

Since these refreshing little detours can bring some of life’s best surprises, it’s important not to overlook them by focusing too rigidly on ANY system, structure or mental discipline. It’s obviously counter-productive to living your best possible life by having blinders on so tightly that you don’t even notice what could turn out to be an opportunity of a lifetime.

“My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” – Ayn Rand (1905 – 1982)

This “Quarter Million Dollar Idea for Productivity” has been a good friend to me for many years, and a major reason why I’ve been so prolific. It’s easy to do. Give it a try.

Here’s a summary of Ivy Lee’s original idea as pitched to Charles M. Schwab, plus a little twist at the end based on my years of personal experience of using it on a daily basis:

Six Steps to Supercharged Productivity

1. Make a list of the 6 most important things you could do right now.

2. Prioritize them and number them, with the most important at number one.

3. Focus your attention and energy on number one until it is completed.

4. When project number one is completed, focus on project number two until it is completed. Then three, etc.

5. Expect wonderful, unforeseen serendipities important enough to alter your priorities. Don’t allow yourself to be unconsciously distracted and diverted unless you make a deliberate decision in full awareness that your priorities have shifted, and now you have an official new number one priority. When that happens . . .

6. Make a new list of the 6 most important things you could do right now . . . and repeat.

“Wise are those who learn that the bottom line doesn’t always have to be their top priority.” – William Arthur Ward

While reading, did you choose to hear the relaxing instrumental music linked at the beginning of this article? To learn more about it, click here.

Listen FREE to the songs below . . . chosen to enhance the ideas in this article.

Related Songs
Miracle in Disguise
Synchronicity is such a positive and hopeful idea, it begs the question, "Why not actively look for it and even expect it, as long as it feels good?"
http://www.somemusicmatters.com/DescX.html#Anchor11

Fill o’ the Fair
This carnival of life is so rich and diverse, let’s squeeze every bit of happiness, joy, and delight as possible out of every single day.
http://www.somemusicmatters.com/DescHB.html#Anchor14

You Gotta Have Fun
Our moments are fleeting . . . and finite. Too few to squander on "bad news". We must steer our attention deliberately in order to attract the kind of life we were born to live.
http://www.somemusicmatters.com/DescAnth.html#Anchor20

Songs by Tupelo

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Your Passion as Your Compass
Allow your passions to stretch their wings and the direction of your life could surprise you – in a good way. Celebrate life with passion!

10 Steps to Discovering Your Life’s Purpose
Of all the self-help ideas I’ve come across through the years, this one has been the most helpful. For me, it’s been the Rosetta Stone of personal development techniques. After getting a handle on the idea of “purpose”, other areas of my life fell into place more easily.

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Take Time for You
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Articles by Tupelo

This is the end of the article entitled Quarter Million Dollar Idea for Productivity published by Tupelo Kenyon on March 9, 2007 at 8:00 am | In Awareness, Manifestation, Productivity - Copyright 2007 - All rights reserved worldwide.


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