Getting it all done - the world's best time management tip

I’ve just re-read Richard Denny’s fantastic book ‘Selling to Win’, in which he mentions a time management technique that I learnt many, many years ago from an old boss of mine.

Unbeknown to me, as I have been teaching this technique to people over the years myself it was actually first taught to Charles M Schwab of Bethlehem Steel by a training expert called Ivy Lee.

Charles went on to make Bethlehem into the biggest steel company in the world, and in turn paid Ivy Lee $25,000 for the tip that he had learnt. It must be something amazing, right? Well, it is but…..

This technique is so simple that you are likely to think “is that it”, however, like all great ideas, the beauty is in its simplicity.

“So what is it then”, I hear you ask. Well, here it is….

The world’s best time management technique

  1. At the end of every day, make a list of all the tasks you need to do the following day.
  2. Then, prioritise the list and number in them order of importance.
  3. At the start of the next day, begin at number 1 and work on it until you complete that task. When it is done, cross it off the list.
  4. Then, move onto task number 2 and complete it as well. When done, cross task 2 off the list also.
  5. Then task 3 and so on through the list.

The most important aspect of making this technique a success is that you must turn the process into a habit. To make it a habit you need to do this each and every day. A good habit needs to be developed and Denny suggests that you should do this for a minimum of 30 days. That sounds like good advice to me.

I told you it was simple, but here is how and why it works.

Doing the list the night before

Most people make a list of what they want to get done first thing in the morning. This is the time that most people are at their most productive, and most enthusiastic. Making a list first thing uses up and wastes this time, which would be better used on active tasks.

Conversely, making the list at the least productive time of our day (just before we go home) turns and unproductive time into a productive time. This is something I love.

Doing the list the night before also has the added benefit of allowing us to ‘sleep on’ the tasks for the next day. We can leave the office content that our following day is taken care of, content also (from a more NLP type perspective) that our unconscious mind is working through things for us overnight.

Writing it all in a list lets us go home to enjoy our down time, without thinking about work. A great help in unwinding, and letting us focus completely on family and friends. This benefit is so helpful in maintaining a balanced life.

Getting the key tasks done first 

You have to accept that there are only so many hours in the day, and some days you will only be able to get a proportion of the list done. That is fine, because you will be getting the most important tasks done first. When you make your list for the following day, you will prioritise again, and the tasks that didn’t get done will be put into their logical positions going forward. They will get done at the right time, eventually.

Crossing tasks off as you complete them

Physically crossing tasks off a list (or the electronic version) has the subconscious benefit of motivation. We see ourselves progress, getting the important things done. The cumulative effect is that we see and feel the achievement in our work. And this is great, we see achievement, not simply activity.

Make this a habit 

Having worked this system for many years now, I know how much more effective and purposeful I am as a result. Why not try it yourself? Before you leave work this evening, start the process off. Try it for 30 days, and see what a great difference it can make for you too.

Contact me

For more on developing yourself, your staff and improving the profitability of your business, please do get in touch. You can email me at, use the contact page on my website or call me on 07736 831151. Follow me on Twitter at @jamesnathan, connect to me on LinkedIn, or follow me on Facebook.

I look forward to speaking soon.

Views: 429

Comment by Stephen Smith on May 22, 2013 at 9:35am

I agree that whilst the subject matter is straightforward, it deserves to be revisited as not enough of us actually do this. I'm guilty myself of flapping around in the morning, with a task list as long as Adam Scott's belly putter.

Great post, James. It's always nice to see best practice shared amongst the industry. Recruitment agencies can only prosper with this lesson in mind!

Comment by james nathan on May 23, 2013 at 6:07am

Thank you so much Stephen 


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