The concept of a productivity planner as a business tool gained momentum early in the twentieth century when Charles Schwab, Bethlehem Steel president, confronted consultant Ivy Lee with an unusual challenge. And the story goes like this:
"Show me a way to get more things done," he demanded. "If it works, I'll pay you anything within reason."
Lee handed Schwab a piece of paper. "Write down the things you have to do tomorrow."
Schwab completed the list. Lee said, "Now number these items in the order of their importance."
Schwab did. Lee said, "The first thing tomorrow morning, start working on number one and stay with it until it's completed. Then take number two, and don't go any further until it's finished or until you've done as much as you can on it. Then go to number three, and so on. If you can't complete everything on schedule, don't worry. At least you will have taken care of the most important things before getting distracted by items of less importance. The secret is to do this daily. Evaluate the relative importance of the things you have to get done, establish priorities, record your plan of action, and stick to it. Do this every working day. After you've convinced yourself this system has value, have your people try it. Test it as long as you like, and then send me a check for whatever you think the idea is worth."
In a few weeks Schwab mailed Lee a check for $25,000. He later called this the most profitable lesson of his business career. Thus, Ivy Lee and Charles Schwab launched modern time management as a science. Dozens of techniques have been added since. But the to-do list with items ranked by importance-remains basic to the process. Like most great ideas it appears almost simplistic at first glance. Yet it works and will continue to work.