From Leaders Who Last, by Dave Kraft
[In the early 1900s,] Charles Schwab, then president of Bethlehem Steel, granted an interview to Ivy Lee, an extraordinary management consultant. Lee told Schwab that his consulting firm could uncover opportunities for improvement of the company’s operations. Schwab said he already knew of more things that could be done than he and his staff could get to. What he needed was “not more knowing, but more going.”
“If you can show us a way to get more things done,” Schwab said, “I’ll be glad to listen to you. And, if it works, I’ll pay you whatever you ask within reason.”
Lee answered, “If that is what you want, I will show you a method that will increase your personal management efficiency, and that of anyone else who applies it, by at least fifty percent.”
He handed Schwab a blank piece of paper and said, “Write down the most important things you have to do tomorrow.” Schwab did as requested; it took about five minutes.
Lee then said, “Now, number them in the order of their true importance.” This took a little long because Schwab wanted to be sure of what he was doing.
Finally Lee instructed, “The first thing tomorrow morning, start working on item Number 1, and stay with it until it is completed. Then take item Number 2 the same way. Then Number 3, and so on. Don’t worry if you don’t complete everything on the schedule. At least you will have completed the most important projects before getting to the less important ones…
“Do this every working day,” Lee went on. “After you have convinced yourself of the value of this system, have your men try it. Try it as long as you like, and then send me your check for whatever you think the idea is worth.”
In a few weeks, Charles Schwab sent Ivy Lee a check for $25,000 [the equivalent of $250,000 today].
Since I read this part of Kraft’s book I’ve been doing this almost every day. It works. The key, of course, is staying with the task until it’s completed. Unless you do that, it only looks good on paper. But if you’re disorganized and scatter-brained like me, this can really help you.