A few years ago, organisation expert Elaine Shannon wrote two posts about getting your business life back in order. Unfortunately, the posts are no longer accessible but her wisdom lives on as we've tried to encapsulate her advice here about how organising your work life.

In her first post, Elaine told the story of how nearly 100 years ago, Charles Schwab, the president of Bethlehem Steel, wanted to increase his own efficiency and that of his management team.

He approached Ivy Lee, a well-known efficiency expert, who proposed spending just 15 minutes with each of Schwab’s executives. Lee also told Schwab that he would charge nothing unless his ideas work and then Schwab could send him a cheque for whatever he felt the advice was worth.

So what advice did Lee give? Before leaving the office at the end of the day, he told each executive to make a list of the six most important things they need to do the next day and to number them in order of importance. For the next day, he told each executive to check off each item after they completed it and go on to the next one on the list.

Three months later, Schwab examined the results and sent Lee a check for US$35,000 - at a time when the average worker in the US was being paid only US$2 per day!

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5 steps for organising your work life

In Elaine's second post, she wrote about her modified version of Lee’s method, which is as follows:

  1. At the end of the work week take 15 minutes and think about your annual goals.
  2. Take a simple recipe card and write down 5 things you want to accomplish that feed into your annual goals.
  3. Any paper or files that are related to the 5 goals needs to be gathered together.
  4. Take those 5 things and put the most important on the top and organize the rest in descending importance.
  5. Email a copy of this list to yourself and mark it important.

She then pointed out that users of her method now have a game plan for the following week and hence, they can spend the weekend relaxing. Moreover, even if users only accomplish the first two items on the list, they will have completed two very important tasks that will add to their bottom line – just like it did to Schwab’s bottom line nearly 100 years ago.

So what do you think? It's worth trying out for yourself.

[This post was originally published on 15th February, 2011 and has been updated in 2018]

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