Advice worth $1000 a minute

March 23rd, 2011  |  Published in Uncategorized

In 1903 Charles M. Schwab (no relation to the company overseeing my IRA) became the President of a small steel manufacturer names Bethlehem Steel. One day he had a meeting with PR and Management Consultant Ivy Lee. Schwab expressed concern that people in his organization knew what they needed to do but seemed to have difficulty actually accomplishing it.

Ivy Lee told him: “Do this. Each day right down the 6 most important things for you to do that day in order of importance. At the start of the day, work on the most important one. Don’t do anything else till you have finished it, then begin working on the second one. Have all your people do this as well.”

Lee continued: “Don’t worry if you only finish 2 or 3 of the items, or even if you only finish the 1st one. If you can’t finish all 6 with this method you wouldn’t have finished them with another method. And doing this you will at least know you are spending your time on the most important ones.”

Schwab asked his “That’s it?”

Charles M Schwab’s home was the largest on Manhattan at the time

Lee said “Yes, do that and have your managers do that for a month. At the end of the month mail me a check for what you think the idea is worth.”

The entire meeting took 25 minutes. Two weeks later, Schwab sent Lee a check for $25,000 (more like $300k in modern times) and a note saying it was the most profitable business lesson he had ever learned. Schwab went on to build Bethlehem Steel into the largest independent steel company in the nation.

That’s the story at least. Some variation of this story is a favorite of writers and coaches. Some version is told and retold and it probably falls into the “Too good to validate.” camp – Wikipedia currently footnotes the anecdote as “Dubious – Discuss.”

But while the specifics of the anecdotes may be in question, the value of the advice isn’t. Systems to make sure you are setting aside time for or focusing effort on the highest impact activities (through either Top 5 or Calendaring) are imperative to staying focused on the important things and not getting sucked into putting out fires or dealing with unimportant but demanding/pressing people or problems.

Interestingly, getting Charles M. Schwab to use a Top 6 system is not actually the thing that Ivy Lee is most commonly associated with. He is mainly known as the Father of modern Public Relations.

I guess any good PR person will tell you, it doesn’t matter how good your idea is if you can’t find a way to package it so that people will listen.

a monthly blog for those who seek insight about productivity approaches