Early 20th Century steel tycoon Charles M Schwab found a way to make his people more effective and efficient which still has value now.
Rewind to 1918, and the world is a very different place. Men still wear hats with suits. Newspapers still make a profit. The President of the United States is still actually qualified for the position. And with World War One drawing to a close, steel magnate Charles M Schwab (above) is one of the richest men on the face of the earth.
Schwab ran Bethlehem Steel, which enjoyed a monopoly over certain munitions to the Allies during the War, as well as control of the USA’s naval shipbuilding efforts, earning the self-made millionaire fame and fortune. Thomas Edison described Schwab as the “master hustler”. He earned an entry in Dale Carnegie’s iconic How to Win Friends and Influence People. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1926. And he did it all on the back of one simple time management technique.
Ninety-nine years ago, Schwab sat down with productivity consultant Ivy Lee — best known as the PR man for the Rockefeller family — to come up with a way to supercharge Bethlehem’s efficiency. When Schwab asked Lee’s fee, he didn’t accept a cent, instead requesting an evaluation after his super-simple policy had been implemented for three months.
So what’s the big idea? Lee sat down with the companies executives for 15 minutes, and told them to write down their six priorities for the following day, numbered one to six in order of urgency. Leave the note on your desk to pick up first thing the next morning, completing no.1 before you shift to no.2. At the end of the day, redraw the list, including any leftovers from that day. Rinse and repeat.
And why does it work? Because it’s simple. It boils down tough decisions. It forces you to prioritise important tasks, and helps you tackle the most important issues while your mind is freshest. It sharpens your focus on one thing at a time, removing the burden of multi-tasking and allowing you to drill down on one thing at a time. And it cuts out procrastination, with the top-priority item constantly staring you in the face.
The proof? Three months later, Schwab sent Lee a cheque for $25,000 — worth about half a million bucks in today’s money. Not too shabby for 15 minutes’ work.