How ‘The 6 List’ Can Help You Get More Done More Easily


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Nearly 100 years ago, a man called Charles Schwab (a steel company president) asked Ivy Lees (a well known efficiency expert) for his time management techniques.

Ivy Lees said Schwab only had to pay him after 3 months of using his technique, and only what he thought it was worth.

After 3 months, and in a time when the daily wage was just $2, Schwab handed over to Lees a cheque for $25,000.

If this was what Schwab valued the advice for, I wanted to investigate it a little more – and I hope you are as intrigued as I was!

What was Ivy Lees Time Management Technique?

It was so simple really:-

  • Every night, write out the 6 most important things that you have to do the next day in order of importance
  • The next day, work through these 6 things in order, and cross out as they are done
  • Any that are left can get carried over to the next day but have to be at the top of the next days list

And thats it!

Why does it work?

I believe that the trick to this technique is that it makes you think, and prioritise, all up front.

Preparing your mind for the following day the night before sets you up immediately to be more productive as you can hit the ground running on the following day, and your subconscious is preparing overnight.

Making yourself do the most important thing first, and to its conclusion before moving onto the next thing really helps to focus the mind, and also having a list to work through means less chance of procrastination.

It saves time and effort, and gives you focus.

Lastly – scheduling your TO DOs really helps them to actually get done.

How do I use it?

Well, I have got two ways that it works well for me – and I hope you get some inspiration too!

Method ONE

As you are more than aware if you read these posts regularly, I always try to lead a balanced life – and as part of this I try and look back over the day and check that I have done something from each part of my S.M.I.L.E acronym.

So, I have now taken this a step further – not only looking back over the past day, but also looking forward to the next.

In my diary each night I ensure that at least part of the following day I have something that fits into each part of the S.M.I.L.E (and I try and choose the most important item from each section as the one to do.


  • Social – Call my sister
  • Manage the Home – Ironing
  • Income – 3 hrs on Client designs
  • Leisure – Bath
  • Energy – Morning run

If I complete all these, I know I will feel happy that I’ve achieved a lot that day, and will, most definitely, be smiling!

(and if I haven’t ticked all the boxes already for the next day when I check, then I can adjust and add in in time to do something about it – so I am more likely to stay on track and progress all parts of life, not letting anything take over too much).

NB – of course there will be times when something takes over, thats life – but if this can be the default most of the time, then its worth doing!

Method TWO

I also work from home, and often feel overwhelmed by all the TO DOs that I have on my master TO DO list of things I have in the pipeline.

Having a top 6 list each day really helps me to focus, plan forward, and gives me a push to achieve as much as I can – for example:-

  • 3 hours on client A designs
  • End of month books
  • Email potential client with information
  • Call supplier to order fabric for client B
  • Send invoice to client B
  • Update page X on website

Its important to be realistic about what you can achieve, and also to look at what you’ve already got booked into the next day so you don’t get overwhelmed – but it really helps to get as much out of the day as possible (and it only takes 10 minutes to sort the night before).

With the 2 lists above, heres what my diary page for the following day may look like in its entirity:-

Diary example

So as you can see, my work time is optimised, I have momentum throughout the day (including that I have done everything I wanted to, and in order of importance) – and i all fits OK around all my other scheduled commitments.

You can also see that if one thing takes longer, others would be pushed to the next day – but this works fine as my most important tasks of the day (the client A designs) has enough space to be done even if it takes longer.

Isn’t 6 a lot though?

6 does seem like a lot to some, and not much to others – but it’s a good number if you think it through – it’s enough to create a sense of urgency which can drive you to do more – it’s not too many to get overwhelmed – and it’s enough to usually stop you from finishing and spending time working out what to do next which can be the biggest time waster of the day.

How 'The 6 List' Can Help You Get More Done More Easily - 143. the 6 list and how it can help you1

Use whatever number suits you best – if you don’t work then your 6 would be whatever jobs, errands, tasks that you need to complete each day – the trick is that whatever you do, you can be the most productive if you plan up front and work through your jobs in order of importance.

We all have busy lives, and this might just help a little – let me know how you get on, and if this really has made you more productive after a few weeks.

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