DOING WHAT MATTERS MOST
During the 1920's, Charles Schwab, the president
of Bethlehem Steel, called in a management consultant named Ivy
Lee and said, "Mr. Lee, if you can show me how to get more done,
I will pay you any fee within reason."
I imagine Mr. Lee liked the way the conversation was going. He
asked Mr. Schwab to write down everything he hoped to accomplish
the next day, and Mr. Schwab did so. Then Mr. Lee asked, "If you
were driving home from work tomorrow, and only one of these
things had gotten done, which one would you like it to be?" Mr.
Lee put a "1" next to that item. Then he asked, "If you only
accomplished two, which would you like the second one to be?" He
put a "2" next to that one, and so on. Then Mr. Lee said, "When
you get to your office tomorrow, begin working on your top
priority item and stick with it until it has been accomplished.
Then start the second item. At the end of the day, if you
haven't finished your whole list, that's okay. At least you've
devoted yourself to the things that matter most--without getting
distracted by items of lesser consequence. If this works for
you, share it with your staff, and then send me a check for
whatever you think the idea is worth."
A few months later, Ivy Lee received a check in the mail for
During the next two decades Charles Schwab built Bethlehem
Steel into the largest independent steel producer in the world,
earning over five hundred million dollars. He later testified
that the lesson he learned from Ivy Lee was the most helpful
lesson he ever learned during his business career.
I find that adhering (or not adhering) to this principle
makes a dramatic difference in my life. Surprisingly, if I
complete my top priority item, I usually go home with a sense of
satisfaction--even if I'm not able to accomplish anything else.
On the other hand, if I start working without first focusing on
priorities, I often leave feeling unsatisfied, even if I
accomplish a large number of low-priority tasks. I feel more
like a hamster running on his wheel.
When I was a new Christian, I use to have my time with the
Lord at the end of the day--when other things were out of the
way (so I could really focus). I can't tell you how many times
my time with the Lord dropped off the end of the day. By the
time I got to that last item, either my time was gone or my
energy was gone.
The word "priority" not only indicates what's important, it
also indicates what should be tackled "prior to" other things.
If you find this principle helpful, please send your checks
to me at the address below. Thank you.