When I read about the Ivy Lee method, I had a feeling it would change my life. And, to a certain extent, it did. For one thing, it gave me a more realistic sense of how many things can really be accomplished in any given day—six, really, seven is pushing it!—and for another, it was simple enough to implement and follow, coming into my life as it did in the wake of numerous fancy planners, sophisticated scheduling systems, and digital platforms. 

If you haven’t encountered the Ivy Lee Method before, it’s simple: make a list of six things to do on any one day, and do them. I love this method because it really forces me to consider what is actually urgent. If I only have six slots on my to-do list, I’m less likely to fill them with vague aspirations or things that realistically don’t have to happen until the end of next week. 

But those vague aspirations and long-term to-dos still needed a home, as evidenced by my long, crowded “brain dump” to-do lists that I periodically wrote to try to give my brain a break. This was especially true at work—if I was lucky enough to have a list, it was a long one, things crossed out and underlined and circled, inheriting system after system of symbols and color-coding. All of the things on that lengthy list were important. They just weren’t urgent. They hadn’t merited a spot on my extremely selective Ivy Lee list, but they often didn’t have calendar dates, so they didn’t belong in my pared-down planner, either. So I kept them in my mind, and that meant that, fairly often, I forgot them. 

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