Internet Sources (and something on efficiency)
I recommend the following article: Seek and Ye Shall Find: How To Evaluate Sources on the Web by Wendy Boswell
It has some real commonsense advice about what we should do when evaluating information on the Internet. Although the focus is on writing research papers and similar, I find the advice great for general evaluation. I came across this article because I was looking for the source of a piece of information I was including in a writing project and became exasperated with what I found. This is an excellent example of how easy it is to fall into a crappy-poor source trap.
The information I was seeking to source was advice and it goes something like this: Start the day by putting the most pressing tasks on a list. Rearrange the list in order of priority. Concentrate only on the first one (forgetting the others) until it is done. Scratch it off, then go on to the next and do the same thing.
I have used this advice to great effect in my life, especially when I have been in high-pressure situations. I still remember with amazement how useful and effective it was during a show I produced in Paraguay (right across the bridge from Brazil). Everything that could have gone wrong did and it seemed like Mr. Murphy had brought his whole family along. I suddenly found myself on show day with no stage preparation whatsoever, a very famous controversial singer, a way-too-small small budget, oodles of top press from Brazil just waiting for a scandal and only 2 of my staff left (the others had walked off in a fight with the singer). So I told the singer if he opened his mouth during the day I would ram my foot down it. That meant he was to keep it shut (I was also pretty ticked at the time), and then I held a small meeting with my two assistants. I asked what all needed to be done and wrote it down as they mentioned it. I also included the things I remembered. Then I put all the items in order of priority and dug in. I made the assistants follow this list, too. One of them was a worry-wort and kept asking me (in a panic) about other items on the list, but all I would say is, "I don't know. I am doing this right now and so should you. I will worry about that when I get to it." We three ended up literally doing the work in one day that about 8 people would do in two days, but we got it all done. The show went on and it was successful. The audience had no idea how ragged things had been earlier that day.
I know this method works because I have used it. I get miffed at myself because I actually need to use it more and I end up forgetting. I certainly want to include it in my project because it is very useful and I have experience to prove it.
I first came across this method in the 80's in a book by Mark H. McCormack called What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School: Notes From A Street-Smart Executive. I no longer have this book, but from the way I remember how McCormack told the story (thus the details might be slightly different), an "efficiency expert" had fooled and finagled his way into a meeting with a top business executive. When the CEO understood that he was there to pitch his services, he said to the expert that if the expert was so skilled in efficiency, he should be able to tell him (the CEO) how to increase his productivity by 50%, all within 60 seconds. If he couldn't, he was no expert. And if he could, the CEO would give him $25,000 for that meeting. The expert said no problem. Just make a task list in the morning, prioritize the items from most important to least, concentrate only on the first until done, scratch it off, then go down the list that way. After he finished speaking, the CEO ended the meeting. A week later the expert received a check from the CEO for $25,000.
Since I am including this method in my project and I don't know the source for this story (and I don't remember McCormack sourcing it), I decided to do a Google search. After trying this and that, one name kept popping up: Ivy Lee. This was a man who was one of the founders of public relations. He worked for people like Andrew Carnegie, Charles Schwab, John D. Rockefeller and other industrial titans in the first half of the twentieth century. There was some controversy at his death about serving Soviets and Nazis, but that is not pertinent to the present issue. Apparently Lee was VERY good at what he did.
Here is a small sampling of what I came up with. All of these accounts present the story as if it were absolute fact. Not one mentioned that he got it from hearsay (although a few—all too few—sites not mentioned here do make some kind of qualification).
An efficiency consultant named Ivy Lee once gave the president of a steel mill a simple piece of advice. Ivy told him that it would increase his productivity by at and told him to send a check for whatever he thought it was worth. A couple of weeks later, the president mailed him a check for $25,000.
Around 100 years ago, Charles Schwab, president of Bethlehem Steel, wanted to increase his own efficiency, and of the management team at the steel company. Ivy Lee, a well-known efficiency expert of the time, approached Mr. Schwab, and made a proposition Charles Schwab could not refuse:
Ivy Lee: "I can increase your people's efficiency – and your sales – if you will allow me to spend fifteen minutes with each of your executives."
Charles Schwab: "How much will it cost me?"
Ivy Lee: "Nothing, unless it works. After three months, you can send me a check for whatever you feel it's worth to you."
Charles Schwab: "It's a deal."
The following day, Ivy Lee met with Charles Schwab's management executives, spending only ten minutes with each in order to tell them:
Ivy Lee: "I want you to promise me that for the next ninety days, before leaving your office at the end of the day, you will make a list of the six most important things you have to do the next day and number them in their order of importance."
Astonished Executives: "That it?"
Ivy Lee: "That's it. Scratch off each item after finishing it, and go on to the next one on your list. If something doesn't get done, put it on the following day's list."
Mary Kay Ash writes in her book (Mary Kay: You Can Have It All : Lifetime Wisdom from America's Foremost Woman Entrepreneur)
"Each Bethlehem executive consented to follow Lee's instructions. Three months later, Schwab studied the results and was so pleased that he sent Lee a check for US$35,000. At the time, the average worker in the US was being paid $2 per day.
The efficiency expert named Ivy Lee wrapped up his short presentation. He felt confident. After all, he had given the speech before and had found success. To top it off, he knew how badly this steel mill needed his help.
He stared the stone faced president in the eye. "Mr. Schwab, if you allow me the chance to help, I'll teach you and your executives to manage better. You'll know how.."
Schwab cut him off. "Look, Mr. Lee, I'm sure your services are great, but we don't need them. We don't need any more 'knowing' around here. I don't manage as well as I know how to now." He shook his head. "We already know what we should be doing. If you can just show us a way to get it done better, I'll pay you anything you want."
For a moment, Ivy was almost flustered. A lesser man would have turned tail and run. Ivy forced himself to remain cool and collected. After all, he had an idea.
Ivy took a step toward the the steel president's desk. "What if I could give you something in the next 20 minutes that would raise your efficiency by 50%?"
Schwab raised an eyebrow and tilted his head slightly. "Go on."
Lee smiled to himself. This was a good idea. He bent down and rifled through his briefcase for a moment, then pulled out a small piece of paper. He put it on the large desk and slid it toward Schwab.
Schwab looked slightly confused. He glanced up at Ivy Lee and then stared at the paper.
Lee took a half step back. "Do you see this piece of paper?"
Through a furrowed brow, Schwab looked up again. "Of course."
"Take that paper and write down the six most important things you need to do tomorrow."
Schwab thought for a couple of minutes and scribbled down six items. After he finished, he tossed his pen back onto the desk. "Now what?"
Lee folded his arms and looked down at the paper. "Now number them in order of importance."
Schwab reached across the desk to grab the pen he had just flung. It only took a moment to put them in order. This time he laid the pen on top of the list.
He gave a nod. "There."
Lee smiled again. "Now, tomorrow when you get to work, I want you to work on the first item until it is done. Distractions will arise. Ignore them. Work on number one until it is done. Then move on to number two, then when that's also finished, number three, and so on. At the end of every day, make a new list. Don't worry about the things that don't get done. You will know you have been doing the most good possible for your company, and if you can't get all items done using this method, you couldn't get them done using any other system, either. Once you've had time to prove to yourself the value of this, have your people try it out as well. In fact, try it out as long as you like. Then, you can send me a check for whatever you think it is worth."
The steel mill president stood up and extended a hand, but he looked lost in thought.
They shook hands and Lee left, confident his idea was a winner.
Several weeks later, Ivy Lee received a letter in which Schwab informed him that his list idea was the most profitable thing, from a money standpoint, that he had ever learned.
Enclosed in the letter was a check for $25,000.
Ivy Ledbetter Lee advised Charles M. Schwab (not related to
Charles R. Schwab, founder of the Charles Schwab discount
brokerage firm) on this formula to success. Ivy Lee (1877-1934)
was one of the most influential pioneers in public relations.
Lee did not limit his role to writing press releases and public
statements; he was also an advisor to industrial millionaires,
such as John D. Rockefeller, Jr., President of Standard Oil, and
Charles Schwab, President of Bethlehem Steel.
The beginning of the working relationship between Lee and Schwab
began when Lee called on Charles Schwab in the role of efficiency
expert. Lee told Schwab that he could help him do a better job
of managing Bethlehem Steel. Schwab said it wasn't that he
didn't know what to do, but what was needed was a lot more doing.
He said, 'If you can show us a better way of getting it done,
I'll listen to you - and pay you anything within reason you ask.'
Lee assured Schwab that he could give him something that would
increase his efficiency by at least 50 percent. He handed the
executive a blank sheet of paper and said, 'Write down on this
paper the six most important things you have to do tomorrow.'
Schwab paused a moment and then did as requested. In about 3-4
minutes he was done.
Lee then said, 'Now number them in the order of their importance
to you and to the company.' After Schwab was done, which only
took another 2 minutes or so, Lee told him to put the paper in
his pocket. In the morning take the paper out and look at the
first item and start working on it. And if you can stay with it
until it's completed, then work on item number two the same way;
and so on, until you quit for the day.'
Lee told him not to worry if he only finished one or two items.
The others can wait. He assured him that without a system it
would take 10 times longer to get anything done, and more than
likely not even have them in the order of importance.
'Do this every working day,' Lee went on. 'After you've
convinced yourself of the value of this system have your men try
it. Try it as long as you like, and then send me your check for
whatever you think the idea is worth.' The interview was done in
less than half-an-hour.
A few weeks later Schwab sent him a letter stating that the
lesson was most profitable. Included with the letter was a check
for $25,000. Not bad for less than 30 minutes of consulting.
In the 1920's Charles Schwab met with Ivy Lee -- a person renowned for helping people get organized and focused. Ivy Lee offered Schwab a simple technique and said:
"After using it for 6 months you can pay me what you think it's worth."
Sure enough, 6 months later, Schwab was so delighted that he sent Lee a check for 25,000 dollars. He even attached a note saying that the process had helped him increase his own efficiency, he became more productive and as a result was able to generate tens of thousands of dollars more and dramatically improve his business.
Here's what Ivy Lee told Charles Schwab.
Every night, at the end of each day write down the 6 most important things that need to get done the next day. Write only 6 no more. You can have fewer but no more than 6. In the morning, start with number one and do only number one until it is completed.
Do not go on to number 2 until number one is completed. When number one is completed go on to number 2 - then do only number 2 until it is completed. And so on.
Around 1905, Charles Schwab was President of the then fledgling Bethlehem Steel Company. The small steel company was struggling due to its inefficiency and poor sales.
Mr. Schwab was of course a very busy man and had little time to waste with sales people. One day Mr. Ivy Lee (a business consultant) made a call on the company and asked if he might have a few minutes of Mr. Schwabs time. He was met with reluctance but persisted and was granted a short interview with the busy business executive.
"Ok" Mr. Schwab said "What do you have in mind?". The optimistic Mr. Lee told Schwab that he would allow him to spend only fifteen minutes with him and each of his managers he (Lee) could increase the efficiency of his entire company and that Schwab and his managers would learn to "manage better."
The indignant Schwab said, "I'm not managing as well now as I know how? What we need around here is not more "knowing" but more doing, not knowledge but action! If you can give us something to pep us up to do the things we ALREADY KNOW we ought to do, I'll gladly pay you anything you ask."
"By the way, what do you propose to charge me for your services?" asked Schwab. Mr. Lee replied, "Nothing, unless it works. I will provide the service and in three months you can send me a check for whatever you feel it was worth to you." Mr. Schwab, thinking he had little to lose, shook Lee's hand and the deal was made.
Lee indeed spent only about fifteen minutes with Schwab and each of his executives. At each meeting Lee asked each manager to do the following:
At the end of each day they were to:
- Write down the six most important things for the next day.
- Mark the most important item with a number one the second most important with a two and so on until all were marked.
- First thing the next morning, begin working on the task marked number one and upon completing that task, check off the completed item and immediately start on the next number until all the items were completed.
Only a few weeks passed when Mr. Lee received a letter from the Bethlehem Steel Company. Inside the envelope, Mr. Lee found a check in the amount of $25,000.00 and a note from Schwab saying the lesson was the most profitable from a money standpoint he had ever learned.
(This story as linked was chopped off after the words "the deal was made." I completed it from a Google cache of a broken link for another version of the story here.)
From here (this one is my favorite for pure invention):
Years ago, an ambitious young man got a job as a stake driver for a steel company. He worked hard, and kept a close watch for the opportunity of advancement. He stuck with it, and worked his way all the way to the top. He became president of U.S. Steel: Charles M. Schwab. Still looking for advancement, he was one of the original founders of Bethlehem Steel and became it’s first president.
One day, a management consultant named Ivy Lee approached Mr. Schwab and offered his services. Mr. Schwab was not interested in any help managing Bethlehem Steel, but indicated he was interested in learning anything that would increase company profits, and he was willing to pay for it.
Mr. Lee was so confident in his techniques, he made a very unusual offer: He told Mr. Schwab that he was going to provide a very powerful technique, at no charge, under one simple condition. If Mr. Schwab tried the idea, and if it really did work, then, and only then, he agreed to pay whatever he felt the idea was worth to him and his steel company. Schwab agreed.
Mr. Lee said, “Write down the six very most important things you need to do tomorrow.” That was easy enough. Six projects were put down on paper in just a few minutes.
“Now look over your list,” Mr. Lee said, “and determine which of the six is the single most important project to the success of your company, and overall profit. Then, determine the second most important project, and the third, and so on, until you have each of your projects numbered, one through six.” This took some thought, but when Mr. Schwab had them all numbered, Mr. Lee continued:
“Tomorrow when you come to work, first thing in the morning, begin on project number one. Give it your full attention. Give it everything you’ve got, and keep working on project number one until it is accomplished. Then, move on to project two, then three, etc.”
At this point, Mr. Schwab was not convinced. It was too easy, but he continued to listen as Mr. Lee went on:
“If you allow yourself to be distracted by insignificant daily details, you might get them done, but the very most important projects will remain undone.
“First things must come first (always) for maximum efficiency and productivity. Whatever is left over from the first day should be carried over to the second day, and so on. When all six projects are completed, start over by making a brand new list.”
This conversation lasted only a few minutes, but Mr. Schwab later told Mr. Lee that it was the single most important lesson, from a profitability standpoint, he had ever learned. After putting this simple idea into practice for a few weeks, Charles M. Schwab was so delighted with the increased productivity of Bethlehem Steel, he mailed Ivy Lee a check for $25,000.00. (Considering wages and buying power, this is equal to over a quarter million dollars today.)
The voluntary payment to Mr. Lee was quite a bargain considering that Bethlehem Steel went on to become one of the giants in the steel industry and one of the most successful corporations in U.S. history.
How's them apples for accuracy?
The oldest source I could find was the The Time Trap by R. Alec MacKenzie (see here for the story on Google Books):
When Charles Schwab was president of Bethlehem Steel, he confronted Ivy Lee, a management consultant, with an unusual challenge. "Show me a way to get more things done," he demanded. "If it works, I will pay you anything within reason."
Lee handed Schwab a sheet of paper. "Write down the things you have to do tomorrow." When Schwab had completed the list, Lee said, "Now number these items in the order of their real importance." Schwab did, and 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 with it as you can. Then proceed 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 have convinced yourself that 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 $25,000.00. He later said this was the most profitable lesson he's learned his entire business career.
The above quote is from the third updated edition dated 1997. It was nearly impossible to find out on Google searches when the first edition was published, but according to MacKenzie's obituary in the Albany Times Union, it was first published in 1969. The excerpt is given by MacKenzie as a "classic story" and he gives no source.
I do not have Steel Titan by Robert Hessen yet, so I don't know if the story is in there. The principal biography of Ivy Lee is the 1966 Courtier to the Crowd: The Story of Ivy Lee and the Developments of Public Relations by Ray Eldon Hiebert and it is pretty hard to come by. I don't know if the story is told there either.
So here are the lessons.
Lesson 1: Be careful about Internet sources.
Lesson 2: Make a list of...
(After all that, I don't have the heart to continue Lesson 2. )