One Simple Step to Be More Productive – Today

In: BlogDate: Oct 02, 2013By: Henry Stewart

Have you noticed how in some organisations people seem stressed and over-loaded and complain of too much work, but nothing much seems to get done? Yesterday I had a meeting at Google, which always appears to be the opposite. Everybody is relaxed, helpful and friendly and yet they are incredibly productive.

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Is there a lesson here? The key at Google is, I think, around culture and the great working environment. But it did remind me of the story which, when I remember to act on it, leads to my most productive days.


In the 1930s, Charles Schwab, head of Bethlehem Steel, issued efficiency expert Ivy Lee a challenge over dinner.

“Show me a way to increase my productivity and I’ll pay you any fee within reason.”

Lee handed him a blank pad and said:

“Write down tomorrow’s four most important tasks and number them in order of importance. When you arrive in the morning, start on number one and stay on it until it’s completed.

“Once you’ve completed the first task, recheck your priorities and begin number two. Stick with it all day if necessary, as long as it’s the most important one.”

Three months after passing the advice to his executives, Schwab declared that it was the most profitable idea he’d learned and sent Lee a cheque for $25,000 – a huge amount at the time.


Note the crucial difference between this and a To Do list. It is about prioritising those most important tasks, often the difficult ones that normally get left to last, and doing them. (Try doing the first two, at least, before you check your email.)

Right. This blog is my fourth task of the day ticked off (and that’s after having to step into a course to cover a late trainer for an hour.) That’s a productive morning done. I’m going to relax for a bit now and pop down to our local art gallery to check out the exciting new Sarah Lucas exhibition. After that I’ll deal with all those pesky emails.

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Henry Stewart, Founder and Chief Happiness Officer

Henry is founder and Chief Happiness Officer of Happy Ltd, originally set up as Happy Computers in 1987. Inspired by Ricardo Semler’s book Maverick, he has built a company which has won multiple awards for some of the best customer service in the country and being one of the UK’s best places to work.

Henry was listed in the Guru Radar of the Thinkers 50 list of the most influential management thinkers in the world. "He is one of the thinkers who we believe will shape the future of business," explained list compiler Stuart Crainer.

His first book, Relax, was published in 2009. His second book, the Happy Manifesto, was published in 2013 and was short-listed for Business Book of the Year.

You can find Henry on LinkedIn and follow @happyhenry on Twitter.

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