Way back in the 1920’s Andrew Carnegie was one of the most famous millionaires in America.
He owned the Bethlehem Steel Company which produced rails for the American railroads. Carnegie employed as his chief executive a man named William Schwab, whose ability in managing and motivating people he admired so much. He paid Schwab a salary of $1 million a year! Imagine what that would be worth today. (I can tell you: its $12 million in today’s money.)
A management consultant once approached Schwab claiming he had an idea which would help him and his senior executives get more done with their valuable time. He said he did not want to charge Schwab any fee – he simply wanted him to try the idea for a month or so, and then pay him what he thought it was worth. After only three weeks’ trial Schwab sent the consultant a check for $25,000. That’s worth more than $311,000 in today’s market. Some idea! So, what was it?
This is what the consultant told Schwab:
Every evening, make a list of all the things that are on your mind, and on which you need to work the following day. Don’t leave anything out. The order does not matter. Then decide what the first three things you will work on are and write the numbers 1, 2, 3. Don’t go any further than that.
- Start on number one.
- Do not start on number two until you have finished number one!
- Do number two and then number three
That’s it. The best time saver really works. That’s the whole story.
It all seems so simple. Why did Schwab find it so useful, why did he think it was worth so much money? Well, the act of writing everything down and applying numbers to your tasks forces you into deciding your priorities every day, to decide what is most important to get done, and in what order. Instead of going home at night thinking: ‘I really should have got that done today’, you knocked out the really important things first.
Here is why this simple practice gets so much results.
- Most people get 80% of their results with 20% of their effort. The priority list insures that you spend your time on the things that will get you the most results. As a result, you work less and get more results.
- Did you know when you write something down on a to-do list it is 80% done? There is something that happens when a thought flows from your head to your hand and you write it down…a commitment is made. You just signed the check of commitment, now you are going to do it.
- Writing your priorities down takes the pressure off. The magic of this list is that if your brain thinks of something that must be done and it cannot forget it until it is done … it becomes a burden, a pressure that you carry around with you like a rock on your back. If your brain knows that when you write something on your list it will get done then is can release it and let it go…the rock is off your back.
- Priorities give “Work Life Balance”. When setting your priorities consider what is important. Vince Lombardi, the well-known coach of the Green Bay Packers, was once asked what are your priorities? He said “God, Family, and the Green Bay Packers” and in that order. I personally adopted his priority list God, Family, and Career. Having priorities will help you have a balanced life. When you are finished with item number one, review your list and consider whether item two is still the next priority. Whatever is your number 1, get right on it.
- Compose your list just before you leave work to go home for the day. With your list in mind and without you doing anything active about it, you will find your subconscious mind begins to work on the items, both as you go home, and overnight too. Then, having incubated them silently overnight, you will often find ideas popping out next day. I have had some of my best ideas in the shower.
- Delegate! Once you have used the system for a few weeks, you’ll realize that some items are never going to rise to the top. These are the candidates for delegation. If you have an assistant, show them what needs to be done in detail and let them handle these items permanently. Remember another word for “delegate” is “trust”. I know there is no one that can do it better than you, but give it up and trust that they will do a good job.
- Just use one list. Don’t use several lists for different purposes, just work off one list. Keep it visible on your work surface all the time and put a definite line through each item as you complete it. Two useful psychological things will happen:
- There’s a great deal of satisfaction as you see yourself visibly getting through the work.
- Because everything you need to do is on the list, you will not feel guilty all day about the things you haven’t done yet – they will get done, but all in good time.
Mike Duke: President, Recruiting Practice Leader
Mike is a Certified Personnel Consultant and President of Professional Search for Career Development Partners. He is a successful entrepreneur and people developer.
For over twenty years Mike has been bringing positive change to corporate leaders in the area of hiring, training, and developing people. He says, “You can boil any business down to three basic strategies: Products, Profits and People. Out of these, the people strategy is the most important. If you don’t hire the right people, none of the other strategies will work.”