In his great book, Lead the Field, Earl Nathingale shares a great story about goal achievement:
The story goes that the president of a big steel company had granted an interview to an efficiency expert named Ivy Lee. Lee was telling his prospective client how he could help him do a better job of managing the company, when the president broke in to say something to the effect that he wasn’t at present managing as well as he knew how. He went on to tell Ivy Lee that what was needed wasn’t more knowing, but a lot more doing. He said, “We know what we should be doing. If you can show us a better way of getting it done, I’ll listen to you – and pay you anything within reason you ask.”
Lee then said that he could give him something in 20 minutes that would increase his efficiency by at least 50 percent. He then handed the executive a blank sheet of paper and said, “Write down on this paper the six most important things you have to do tomorrow.” The executive thought about it and did as requested. It took him about three or four minutes.
Lee then said, “Now number them in the order of their importance to you and to the company.” That took another, three, four, or five minutes.
Then Lee said, “Now put the paper in your pocket, and the first thing tomorrow morning, take it out and look at item number one. Don’t look at the others, just number one, and start working on it. And if you can, stay with it until it’s completed. Then take item number two the same way; then number three, and so on, until you have to quit for the day.”
“Don’t worry if you have finished only one or two items on your list. The others can wait. If you can’t finish them all by this method, you couldn’t have finished them with any other method. And without some system, you’d probably take 10 times as long to finish them – and might not even have them in the order of their importance.”
“Do this every working day,” Lee went on. “After you’ve 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.”
The entire interview hadn’t taken more than a half-hour. In a few weeks, the story has it, the company president sent Ivy Lee a check for $25,000, with a letter saying the lesson was the most profitable, from a money standpoint, he had ever learned in his life. And it is said that this plan was largely responsible for turning what was then a little-known steel company into one of the biggest independent steel producers in the world.
One idea! The idea of taking things one at a time, in their proper order; of staying with one task until it’s successfully completed before going on to the next; of living one day at a time.
For the next seven days, try the $25,000 idea in your life. Tonight, write on a slip of paper the six most important things you have to do. Then number them in the order of their importance. Tomorrow morning, go to work on item number one, and stay with it until it’s successfully completed. Then move on to number two, and so on. When you’ve finished with all six, get another piece of paper, and repeat the process.
You’ll be astonished and delighted by the order this brings into your life – and by the rate of speed with which you’ll be able to accomplish the things that need doing, in the order of their importance. This simple but tremendously effective method will take all the confusion out of your life. You’ll never find yourself running around in circles, wondering what to do next.
As you use this method, remember to live the best you can, one day at a time. You need not worry about tomorrow, or the next day, or what’s going to happen at the end of the month. One day at a time, handled successfully, will carry you over every hurdle; it will solve every problem. You can relax in the happy knowledge that successful tasks make successful days, which, in turn, build a successful life. This is the kind of unassailable logic no one can argue with. It will work every time – for every person.
The reason for writing down what you consider only the most important things to do is obvious. Handling each task during the day successfully is important to the degree of the importance of the task itself. Successfully doing a lot of unnecessary things can be pretty much a waste of time. Make certain that the tasks you take time to do efficiently are important tasks – tasks that move you ahead, steadily, toward your goal.