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How This Century-old Method Can Improve Productivity for Remote Workers

Entrepreneurs do a lot of remote work. This method can help make it more efficient

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BY Melissa G. Bagamasbad - 07 Feb 2018

How This Century-old Method Can Improve Productivity for Remote Workers

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

“I’m a bit of a productivity freak,” confesses Gina Romero; partner at #SheMeansBusiness, an organization that supports women entrepreneurs; and founder of Connected Women, an organization that helps Filipinas use technology for social mobility.

Romero has always loved playing with different productivity apps and tools, which have pretty much become a necessity in her life. She narrates that like many, she likes using Slack for online team collaboration.

“It’s simple, fun, and has lots of other integrations with other apps so you can create efficient workflows and automate processes for getting stuff done. In theory,” she says.  

In reality, she claims, there are so many distractions — with messages going in and out and everyone around you trying to be “hyper-efficient.”

She says that the instant replies and instant output can be exhausting. This is where the Ivy Lee Method comes in. It was devised by Ivy Ledbetter Lee, a businessman who was also a productivity consultant, in 1918.

How it works

According to James Clear in his article in the Huffington Post, the Ivy Lee method works through these simple steps:

  1. At the end of the day, take some time to reflect and write down your six priority tasks for the next day.

    “Make sure these are listed in order of priority and although this is quick and easy to do, it requires what remains of your left brain at the end of the day!” says Romero. She says doing this helps her unwind, and random thoughts won’t be popping up when she’s trying to relax.

  2. Prioritize tasks according to importance.
  3. When you begin working, focus on the first task until it is completed.

    When you start for the next day, the day has already been “decided,” so to speak. “The idea of the Ivy Lee method is that you don’t multitask and you focus on working on that list item at a time,” Romero explains.

  4. Move on to the next tasks, following their order of priority.
  5. What you don’t finish for that day, move them to the next day.
  6. Repeat the process.

Constraints can make you work better

Clear says this method works because “it’s simple enough to work,” and simple methods can be effective in guiding complex work. He adds that one of the advantages of the Ivy Lee method is that it forces you to make tough decisions.

“I don’t believe there is anything magical about Lee’s number of six important tasks per day,” writes Clear. “It could just as easily be five tasks per day. However, I do think there is something magical about imposing limits upon yourself. I find that the single best thing to do when you have too many ideas (or when you’re overwhelmed by everything you need to get done) is to prune your ideas and trim away everything that isn’t absolutely necessary. Constraints can make you better.”

An efficiency helper

Romero says that remote teams and start-ups can definitely tweak and change the rules of the method and find out what works for them. “It’s essential to find a way to share tasks and workload progress with your team,” says Romero. “As a start-up founder with a remote team of fourteen, one of the hardest things to track is workload.”

“[For me], I like to keep a record of my previous task lists and tick off what was done,” she shares. “And what isn’t done rolls over.” She says through a variation of this method, one gets a sense of their task preference. “So if an item has been in your number one or two spot for several days and it still hasn’t been ticked off when other low priority tasks are, it might be time to outsource, delegate, or delete that task altogether.”