Project Oxygen: How to Support and Develop Your Most Valuable Asset: Employees

Companies often say that their most valuable asset is their staff, but do they really live this mantra? Google’s Project Oxygen found that employees rated managers more highly who helped them grow skills and nurture career goals. (Number 6 on the list of 10 Oxygen behaviors of Google’s best managers).

Companies have to be the best they can be internally before they can be the best for their clients. Good is no longer good enough. We must strive to be exceptional.

By really taking the time to develop relationships with employees and create a shared vision for success, managers can not only retain top talent, but can turn an underperformer into one of their best workers.

Researchers at Gallup were surprised when they reviewed data from 550 organizations and found that only about half of employees indicated a strong understanding of what was expected of them at work.

Don’t let that happen at your company. At Institute Success, we help leaders and business owners invest in their employees’ career development and discuss performance in a variety of ways. Here is a taste of what we recommend:

1) Focus not just on skills and knowledge, but habits and attitudes. A performance-coaching tool known as the K.A.S.H. box illustrates that employers must not look just for a prospective hire’s raw ability to do the job, but also at the mindset and habits they apply to it. There is a saying in business that we hire for aptitude and fire for attitude. Employees may know how to do something, but they may not know it in the way we want.

This is a people issue, not a technical one. Don’t make assumptions about your employees. Take the time to train them how to develop not just the skills but the habits and attitudes that you need to see in order for the job to be done right.

2) Make time for assessments, and then reassess continually. If a job could talk, what would it say? A recent study from an industrial and organizational psychologist working at RAND Corp. found that the average person will spend about 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime. If you are an executive, that number is likely even higher. That’s a lot of coffee!

So we as leaders want to make sure we are hiring people with the right aptitude for the work. Hire the person who fits what the job could look like as you envision it, not just the person who fits the job in its current form. We encourage employers to use assessments up front to see strengths and blind spots when considering someone for an open position or new role within the company. And then to be very clear about what success in that particular job would look like. The job candidate does not have to be perfect, but ideally would show a predominance of connection to the skills and attitudes needed to shine in that position. Along the way, employers must regularly check in and reassess not just how the employee is performing, but re-evaluate the definition of progress in that role.

3) Create a shared vision for success and nurture connection to work. Did you know that some of your employees may have “quit” long ago, but continued to show up? A comprehensive report from Gallup on the state of the global workplace found that a startling 67% of employees are not engaged with their work. They may be giving you their time, but not their best effort or best ideas.

Why is this? We’ve found that one reason is the way employees are being spoken to, or not spoken to, by their bosses. Positive communication is essential to employee engagement, and therefore the success of your business as a whole. The new workforce is composed of people seeking purpose and meaning from their career, along with opportunities to develop and a manager that acts more like a coach than a boss.

So if we say that employees are our most important assets, we need to ensure they have what they need and that we are playing to their strengths.

There is no “I” in team; our responsibility as leaders is to create a shared vision of success with our employees based on what competencies our clients need. And let’s talk to our employees about what kind of professional development would be in their interest. Show them that you are invested in their success and want them to grow.

When you know better, do better.

Pro Tip: We ask our team four questions every day to keep our success on track. Sign up for one of our coaching sessions and we’ll share them with you. Talk with a Coach

Overcoming Team Dysfunctions

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

                                         – STEPHEN R. COVEY

If only we never had to worry about conflict with other people in our jobs. Unfortunately, as anyone in the workplace knows, dysfunction follows us into work and breeds in a team environment. Some of our co-workers, superiors, or employees we trust implicitly; others we attempt to stay away from or experience friction with. Regardless, our book of the week delves into the important topic of tough team conversations.

Book of the Week: Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni.

Patrick Lencioni takes an unconventional approach to writing a business book about conflict: rather than take the subject head-on (what you might expect from someone courageous enough to write about conflict in the workplace), he weaves his insight into a story.

This approach to unpacking what he identifies are the major five dysfunctions of team dynamics has the clever result of being both disarming and engaging. If the reader had thoughts of being skeptical or defensive, it is difficult to stay that way when watching the dynamics in play behind a common situation.

Lencioni makes the bold claim that if you can get everyone on your team to “row in the same direction” so to speak, you can be unstoppable. Plowing through the five dysfunctions are a critical part of this:

The Five Dysfunctions:

  1. Absence of Trust

As obvious as it sounds, the routine erosion of trust in the workplace between team members is a recipe for failure. There should be far more confidence in each other, specifically in each person’s intentions. Without trust, Lencioni believes people hide their weaknesses, fail to help, fail to ask for help, assume the worst, and don’t recognize the underlying gifts that could help the team. Lencioni’s solution here is to set up time to learn each other’s personal histories: he believes it is extremely difficult to write another person off when you know their story and the experiences that shaped the conclusions they’ve drawn. He also points this out as a great opportunity to delve into a behavioral assessment like DiSC to fill in the picture. To know each other better is to open the door to trust.

  1. Fear of Conflict

In the fable, Lencioni portrays the fear of conflict as one of the deepest motives for dysfunction. Importantly, he draws the distinction between two types of conflict: conflict over ideas and opinions (good and productive) and infighting and political jockeying (bad and counterproductive). He points out throughout the book that good conflict, the testing of ideas, leads to better, more interactive meetings, bigger ideas, more problem solving, heightened creativity, fewer politics as more voices are being heard, and a true addressing of important topics.

  1. Lack of Commitment

For a truly successful team, Lencioni points out two things that a strong team needs, a) clarity, and b) buy-in. When there is increased clarity and lines are not blurred (or there are no defining lines at all!), a team will inevitably have more direction about what to do and greater vision about what the priorities are. This leads to a growing consensus about the division of labor and the true goals, and you begin to learn from tactical errors together. This more agile team grows in commitment and is clear in its communication of what future decisions need to be made—together.

  1. Avoidance of Accountability

As the team opens up, the fourth dysfunction comes under fire, the avoidance of accountability. Positive peer pressure heats up, and it is a great way to maintain high standards. When team members are divided by the few who carry the team in their conscientiousness and those who ride on the work of others and make excuses, resentment becomes entrenched and hard to shake. Lencioni believes that a team with greater clarity and trust will be willing to experience more discomfort and are more likely to be held willingly to mutual goals.

  1. Inattention to Results

Given what the other dysfunctions are, it may surprise you that Lencioni views this as the ultimate dysfunction, the one that, if it sticks around, will undo your hard-earned wins in the others. When team members and leaders are too self-motivated to see the bigger picture or are simply confining themselves to their cube, this precludes failure. On the other hand, if you announce publicly what your desired state is and what result that produces, the end produce is more likely to be there. He suggests a public scoreboard as a valuable way to keep everyone out of their own heads and focused on the bigger objective.

Engaging, easy to read, and thought-provoking, we encourage you to dive deeper into Lencioni’s five dysfunctions as a way to examine what even a good team can improve upon.

Productive Is Not Just Busy: A Different Way of Thinking about Results

4 Habits to Cultivate Productivity

How managers can cultivate a culture of true productivity with four habits

Onward and upward into our extended of review of Google’s famous Project Oxygen: we’ve landed this week on Trait 4 of exceptional managers: 

As a leader, you are responsible for delivering results through your people.  Being productive and results-oriented is the fourth trait of effective managers as defined by Google’s Project Oxygen.  

This week’s theme is tricky because most people think of themselves as productive because they measure their perception against their level of busyness (it’s easy to do). We’ll show why this can be misleading and why Google understands the importance of tying together productivity and results.

What does true productivity look like? We can think of a few things it’s not (and we bet you can, too). It’s not:
  • Racing from one meeting to the next
  • Working late (in and of itself)
  • Having the hours competition with colleagues
  • Listening to your phone ring off the hook
  • Checking your email more than a few times a day
  • Having a scarcity mindset (trying to get a task done with as few resources as possible)

Productivity is especially difficult to manage when you are in leadership: there is always a fire to put out, someone who needs your attention, or asks from the executive suite. So how do you cope, and how do you set the tone for your team? We suggest four places to start:

1.  Share the Burden 

Of the things on your plate, what can you delegate or collaborate on with your direct reports? Wise employees know that easing and sharing the burden can speed the path to results and improve the quality of projects. The current business climate’s obsession with efficiency is partially right here: many hands make light work, and as highlighted previously in our article about micromanagement, the trust built between you and your team by delegating is valuable.

2.  Delay Resurfacing 

We live in a culture of constant interruptions from our smart phones to our email to meeting invites. If at all possible, steer away from these distractions and interruptions to remain focused on your task. This will allow your brain a better chance of getting into a “flow” state, where you lose track of time in concentration on the task and are more effectively able to access the creative functions of the brain. The ideal timeline for this type of focused work is fifty minutes uninterrupted at a time. After spending a chunk like this, you’ll feel good resurfacing to check email or examine meeting requests. Sound impossible? It’s tough, but this sort of woodshedding will massively increase your productivity, even if you can only do it a few times a week.

3.  Avoid Reactive Initiatives 

Taking on the next shiny object is something you and your team can keep each other honest on. A tempting pattern some leaders get into is spearheading new and sexy initiatives. They give it a name, they get the team amped up, and they expect focus on  it for a period of time. Unfortunately, it may distract from core operations and other priorities.This can make for a stressful work environment. Get honest feedback from your team about if and how they see your vision contributing to the core functions of the team. Press them for ideas on execution, knowing they’ll be carrying a significant amount of the burden. Their feedback may be the making of the project.

4.  Stay in a Lane   

One of the toughest things to do under pressure is to resist the urge to reassess how the team is handling its work or aspects of its work. One of the stamps of good leadership is the ability to pivot based on what you see as work unfolds. But equally difficult is committing to a swim lane for work and sticking to it. Results can take weeks, sometimes months to show, and pivoting too soon can actually reduce productivity. Popular psychology has also verified that it takes a minimum of thirty days to form a new habit, sometimes longer. So waiting to see the results is a valuable exercise and will make any pivots you choose later more meaningful. 

How can you help your team be more focused on being productive and less on being busy?

The Top 5 Traits of a Manager Who Genuinely Cares about Employee’s Success

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more,
do more and become more, you are a leader.”

― John Quincy Adams

Showing you care for your team members, both personally and professionally, is foundational to effective leadership, according to Google’s manager research study, Project Oxygen. This third trait, “Express an interest in an employee’s success and well-being,” can be the key to motivating, engaging and retaining employees.

By expressing a genuine interest in the accomplishments and health of your team members, through your words and deeds, you are showing them you value them as important members of your team and organization. In fact, the research from Project Oxygen is clear, leaders who create an inclusive team environment and show concern
for the success and well-being of their team members are 71% more likely to have an energized and engaged team.

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, said, “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

What does it mean to be a caring manager?

Here are five qualities we believe are essential characteristics of a manager who cares
about their employees’ success and well-being.

1.     They communicate their feelings.
People are not mind readers. Employees need to hear you say, “I care!” It’s as simple as that. A surprising number of leaders who do care about the success of their people—never tell them. Deadlines, projects, and meetings can demand the time and attention of a leader and get in the way. Telling and showing you care can make a positive difference in your team members’ attitudes, engagement, and productivity.

2.     They ask questions about the future.
Most leaders are insightful enough to know their team members want to grow in their career. By asking questions to understand where and how they want to progress, you can prepare them for the next level of growth in the organization. Offering feedback, identifying opportunities for growth and encouraging them to develop new skills through training and on-the-job learning, illustrates your commitment to their success. The bonus for you as a leader is, better trained and motivated employees with a positive vision for the future.

3.     They ask meaningful questions.
If you are paying attention, you know how your team members are doing. You know their priorities and what engages and motivates them. For some team members, it may be their golf game. For others, it may be their children, parents or a loved pet. For still others, it may be cheering on their alma mater.  Most people have interests attached to the “How are you?” question that will get them talking in a deeper and more connected relationship. Listening, being present and remembering what’s important to them, leaves employees with a profound sense that you care. Additionally, by encouraging their outside interests, it’s a reminder that you value them as a whole person, not just an asset or tool of the organization.

4.     They ask about roadblocks.
Asking about roadblocks opens the door to frank discussions. Even though some employees know exactly what their blind spots and limitations are, they don’t have the resources to do something about them. Acting as a coach, which is the first trait of Google’s Project Oxygen, you can empower them to think creatively about how to tackle roadblocks and turn them into opportunities.

5.    Keep presenting them with challenges and opportunities.
There are those rock star employees who seem to get everything done without breaking a sweat. Their reports are early, their presentations are polished and knowledgeable, and they attract positive attention from upper level leadership.

However, as much as it seems they’re doing, could they be doing even more? Are they being challenged? For some hyper-productive, talented employees, what looks like success may be only temporary until they grow bored or overconfident. Presenting them with challenges that ask them to stretch may be the answer. Acknowledge their skills and express confidence in their ability to keep growing.  Help them grow by challenging and motivating them.

How Micromanagement is not Management

“In general, looking forward is great management; looking backward is micromanagement.”

– Verne Harnish

Nothing can hinder an employee’s engagement and productivity more than a manager who tries to control their team members with excessive focus and attention to the minor details.

Here is the difficult thing about micromanagement, though: we can see it in others, but it is far more difficult to recognize (and admit) in ourselves. Project Oxygen suggests taking a positive approach can help you empower your employees and avoid micromanaging them.

How do you empower your employees?

1.  Engage in regular coaching

When you focus on building trust and rapport with your team members by engaging in ongoing coaching, the focus becomes less about managing their work and tasks and more about empowering them to create their own strategies and actions. You are able to provide insight and feedback, while they own their outcomes. The interactions become more collaborative and less of a boss to employee relationship. 

A 2016 Society for Human Resources Management Study found that only 37 percent of employees participating said they were very satisfied with the respect and consideration their managers gave their ideas.

2.  Let your employees make decisions

There are likely only a handful of things on your plate that require you, and only you, to make a decision. What if you passed those decisions off to your employees to make the call? You might be surprised by the insights they offer. They are likely to take your gesture as a sign of confidence in them, which will boost their productivity.

3.  Smile more

We’re not even joking. It’s almost impossible for someone to exert the kind of tense energy that micromanagement does when they’re genuinely smiling. If you don’t think you have something to smile about, find it. We think you wouldn’t be in your current job if there wasn’t something about it that you liked, even if only initially. 

So how do you know if you’re dealing with a micromanager? Look for these three things:

1.  They can’t accept help

This may seem like a surprising first clue, but micromanagers become the way they are in part because they are fatally incapable of accepting help. There may be a few more deeply psychologically rooted reasons for this, but the two most likely are either:  a) they are perfectionists who can’t stand having things done any other way than theirs, or b) they have an overactive sense of responsibility and diligence which drives them to make sure things are done right.  Accepting help risks (at least to them, seems to risk) one or both of those things. They lose control of the situation, so that even when they truly need help, they have no intent of accepting it.

2.  They come off as a little (or a lot) suspicious

At least in this moment, these aren’t “glass is half full” kinds of people. They tend to look for mistakes or trouble when, to the outward eye, there’s little reason to think it might be there. When you’re sure there must be things that are amiss, it’s hard to prevent that vibe from rubbing off on your employees. Have you ever received (or given as an employee) an almost reflexive look that communicates subtle surprise or confusion? Fair or not, people who are suspicious look suspicious to other people. We are more apt to trust where we are trusted, and when it seems like the overriding assumption is that something is wrong, trust erodes.

3.  They don’t recognize creativity when they see it

Micromanagers aren’t interested in creative problem solving.   Even if you achieve the sought after results, if you didn’t do it in the way they thought it should be done, it’s a loss. They have a hard time wrapping themselves around the fact that a good thing, done a different way, is innovation.  Innovation keeps teams alive and thriving. It’s true that, for many tasks, there’s an established way of doing things for a reason. With as competitive as today’s marketplace is, if you as a manager are afraid of tolerating, even cultivating, this kind of experimentation, others will most likely give their team those freedoms and outshine you eventually.

If you’re a recovering micromanager (at least, you’d like to be), and you’re wondering what steps you can take to move in the direction of true empowerment. It’s not as easy as it sounds: if you’ve been a historical micromanager, it won’t happen overnight, but it’s possible, and achievable if you recognize your own potential micromanaging tendencies and are willing to take action.

A Good Boss is a Good Coach

“Leadership is less about having the right answers and 

more about having the right questions.”

                      ― Michael Hyatt

When it comes to being an exceptional leader, there’s one behavior that stands above the rest. Extensive research, including Google’s Project Oxygen, clearly proves that the best leaders are also coaches. So what does it take for a manager to become a great coach? We believe there are five behaviors that drive success and a few that can hold you back.

Five Behaviors that Make a Manager a Coach:

1. They Use Coaching Skills

The days of command and control leadership are over. Today’s successful leaders practice active listening and asking powerful questions. They speak less and listen more. And, they ask more and tell less. Motivating employees is no longer based on fear and retribution, instead it is focused on developing team members by empowering them to succeed. 

The International Coach Federation, which is the governing body for professional coaching, has identified eleven core coaching competencies, which define what it takes to be a great coach and to leverage their own coaching skills for success. 

2. They Are Empathetic

There are three things everyone wants:  to be heard, to feel valued, and be connected to others. Successful leaders know how to show they value and care about their team members. In fact, a recent ‘Harvard Business Review’ article points to how important empathy and connection-building are in successfully coaching employees. When employees think you understand and have put yourself in their shoes, or at least care, they are more likely to accept  criticism and put it into action.

3. They Give Feedback

You might be surprised to know how much your opinion matters with your employees. Even if they don’t ask–they care. Knowing how and when to give effective feedback is a critical coaching skill.

Feedback runs in both directions: both positive affirmation and constructive criticism, and Gallup has identified that employees are three times more likely to be engaged in their job, if they receive feedback. This one element has the power to bring sideline employees into the game.

That said, they’ll care even if they don’t ask—and sometimes they’re afraid to ask. So anticipate that natural concern and curiosity by proactively offering feedback.

4. They Remove Obstacles

 Even the best employees occasionally find themselves in a tough spot, and while some can power through, others might need a little help. Managers who coach are able to spot these obstacles because of their connections with their employees and can help remove them, whether they are mental or actual. In 2017, Forbes wrote that heading off obstacles allows for employees to perform at peak productivity.  Managers with this approach have real, authentic conversations and are able to push by caring and challenging at the same time.  

5. They are Focused on the Team’s Success

As the saying goes, “There’s no I in Team.” Great coaches know when their team wins–they win. They know how to recognize good work and give credit. They also know how to fix breakdowns without placing blame on others. 

Three Things that Hold a Manager Back from Coaching Effectively

1. They Don’t Trust Their Team

Obviously, it’s tough to be a coach and put your own sweat into someone else’s success if you don’t trust them. The underlying assumption in our three traits that make a manager a great coach, is trust, and this is something Google addressed in Project Oxygen. 

2. They Take the Coaching Thing Too Far

When we say coaching, we don’t mean micromanaging, which is a huge turnoff to employees, especially productive ones who truly care about the mission of the team. While a micromanager may think he or she is making their team more effective, according to this Reader’s Digest article in their Work and Career section, employees become preoccupied with, not only doing the job, but doing it as if they were their boss. This slows them down, makes them less efficient, and robs them of satisfaction in their work.

3. They Play Favorites

No one likes to be on the receiving end of this one, but it happens more than perhaps any of us would care to admit. A manager who truly cares about being a good leader may dive into the coaching element of his or her job, but when this coaching becomes noticeably uneven over time or disproportionately promotes the interests of one employee, it’s favoritism.

Most employees will go through stints of needing more help, and that’s ok. But if you’re a manager, resist the urge to coach more the employee with whom you feel most comfortable, whom you see most of yourself in, or who you see as the greatest asset. All of your employees need your time.


As we’ve seen, the workplace needs good coaches, and true coaches become recognized as valued leaders who inspire the respect and thanks of their peers and employees.

Project Oxygen – The 10 Qualities You Need to Be a Great Leader

“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal which is worthwhile.”

― Vince Lombardi

If you’re wondering what it takes to be a great leader; you’re in luck. Institute Success’s is going to be diving into the core characteristics Google has identified as the common traits of the highest performing managers. It’s all part of Google’s Project Oxygen, an ongoing strategic initiative inside Google, focused on identifying what it takes to be a great leader. 

At Institute Success we are passionate about helping our clients succeed.  If you haven’t heard of Google’s Project Oxygen, to put simply, it’s Google’s take and effort of what makes a manger great.  Throughout countless hours of research, they’ve taken common traits from the highest performing managers and incorporated their research into their own management development programs.   This effort distills the most common characteristics in great leaders and adds that knowledge to their program to encourage growth and high performance throughout the organization.

Institute Successes’ take on the Project Oxygen traits:

1.  Be a good coach.

Everything happens through conversations. The best leaders are those who know how to engage their teams by listening, asking questions, communicating positive expectations and offering feedback and alternatives. The old command and control style of leadership is no longer effective. The most effective leaders today act and think like coaches.

2.  Empower your team, and don’t micromanage.

Effective leaders are good coaches who don’t micromanage.  They delegate to their team members to get the job done, even at the risk they may fail. By coaching and empowering others, great leaders build trust and allow others to take calculated risks. 

3.  Creates an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and well-being

Work environments can often be an impersonal place focused on results. Connecting with others on a personal level and communicating you care about them as an individual can have a profound effect on employee engagement and satisfaction,  and in turn the bottom line. Research proves that leaders who show an interest in your employees strengths are 71% more likely to have an energized and engaged team. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric said, “before you became a leader, success was about growing yourself. After you became a leader, success was about growing others”.

4.  Be productive and results-oriented.

“Lead by example” is an integral part in creating a successful team. Great managers set the tone of what a good leader looks like as they are continuously encouraging and empowering their team to do the same.  The bottom line is this, employees don’t want to work for a lazy boss. When team members see their bosses’ engaged, working tenaciously, and making a best effort, it only makes them want to be more productive and results oriented.  

5.  Be a good communicator and listen to your team.

Communication is leadership and leadership is communication. Effective leaders know the art and skill of respecting, connecting and valuing each individual team member. They know how to practice active listening, ask powerful questions, provide feedback and coach employees to finding effective solutions.

6.  Supports career development and discusses performance.

Helping employees with career development is often viewed as risky. The fear is team members may leave after investing in their skills and experiences. However, Google’s findings were just the opposite.  They found the more a manager actively looked for ways to help employees grow and develop in their career goals, the less likely the employees were to leave. Additionally, by investing in their professional development you gain a stronger more confident and competent member of your team. 

7.  Have a clear vision and strategy for the team.

Success begins with a clear vision. When the purpose and strategy is articulated to each team member they can begin to see for themselves where they have an opportunity to contribute. Surprising insights come when employees are enrolled as an active contributor in achieving their own and the organization’s success. There is nothing more powerful than a team with a shared vision of success.  

8.  Possess key technical skills to help advise the team.

Great leaders possess both emotional intelligence skills and technical expertise. They have honed their soft skills and are able to take the time to get to know how things are done. This allows them to make the best decisions and positively advise their team members on how to move forward. 

* Those are Google’s eight original behaviors that they discovered since their study started in 2008. But they haven’t stopped there—they have recently added two more behaviors that they have seen consistently in great managers. Those are:

9.  Collaborate across the organization.

While the traits mentioned above will strengthen team bonds under a unified leadership, leaders should actively collaborate across the organization to develop personal and professional relationships with different groups. Teams shouldn’t isolate themselves from the rest of the organization. As high performing teams become more interdependent they develop a greater appreciation of everyone’s’ shared contributions and become more successful within the organization as a whole. 

10.  Be a strong decision maker.

When it comes to decision-making, prompt and well-considered decisions rule the day. Impulsive decisions aren’t the answer, and waffling and hoping a colleague or employee will make it–isn’t either. Being a strong decision maker also means communicating your choices and more importantly the “why” behind them.  

Five Reasons Why the Ivy Lee Method Works

The Ivy Lee Method turned 100 last year, and that has brought renewed discussion about why, as a productivity method, it is so helpful. If you haven’t heard of the Ivy Lee Method, its deceptive simplicity hides a true understand of the human mind and how we operate at our best. Undergirded with an uncanny pulse on human nature, it is still discussed as one of, if not the, most successful productivity philosophies out there. The tenets are,

  • At the beginning of the day, or at the end of the day for the next, write down the six most important tasks you have to complete… no more
  • Rank the tasks in order of importance so that you have a clear view of your priorities
  • Start working on the first item on the list, and focus only on that one until it is completed; resist the urge to work on multiple
  • Move down the list in the same way until you have completed it or have run out of time
  • At the end of the day, roll any incomplete tasks into the next day and re-rank with a fresh list of six

That’s it!

So why is the Ivy Lee Method so effective? We can think of five reasons:

1. It pushes you to be honest with yourself about your priorities

We are fatally capable of believing the myth that everything we have on our plates is of critical importance. The truth is, two or three things may be, but most of it falls into the tyranny of the urgent rather than the important. By being bound to only six items for the day, you are taking a few moments to identify the things that truly need to get done. They may be vitally important that day, while something else is vitally important but can wait at least one day.

Before long, a narrative of what you spend your time on will begin to take shape as you look at how you spent your time before and how you use it now.

2. It acknowledges that you have a finite amount of time during the day

Who of us doesn’t make a to-do list for the day that, for most mere humans, would be impossible to complete in one business day? You may not have it all written down, but between the obligations on your calendar and your to-do list, you’d need superpowers to get it all done.

While we are only able to get so much done during a given day, there is quite a bit we can do, and once you’ve prioritized, it is remarkable how you can push tasks through to completion—especially when you don’t multi-task.

3. It discourages multi-tasking

American business culture still clings desperately and proudly to multi-tasking, but clinical psychologist and neuroscientists are in unanimous agreement that multi-tasking doesn’t work. In execution work, the brain may keep other considerations running in the background, in the subconscious, but we are only able to be effective, and an active agent, in one task at a time.

This is why Ivy Lee’s insistence that you stick with one task until you have completed it is so powerful. It guards against the pride that suggests that you can juggle when doing so will only slow you down. While it feels counterintuitive if you are an addictive multi-tasker, you will actually get more done more quickly when you focus on one thing at a time and complete.

4. It eliminates cluttered thinking

With that excessive, superhuman to-do list comes a crowded and diffuse mentality that does not make the best use of your brain’s computing ability. The more clutter in your day and in your mind there is, the less likely you are able to focus, to follow through, and even to demonstrate self-control. Cluttered thinking triggers a stress response, and scientists are discovering that, the greater the level of mental stress, the less likely you are to be able to make the proper judgment calls about what to prioritize and do. It is a far more reactive and frantic way to live.

5. It lends you a grounded feeling of accomplishment

When you can look at your list of six items at the end of the day and know that you actually finished something, there comes a great feeling of relief and confidence. There is nothing worse than getting to the end of a busy and wondering what you did (and what you got done doing it). When you have a top-of-mind list that you progressively work through that is targeted, you will always be able to articulate to yourself what you got done. Over time, you will have a progressively larger list of completed tasks, and to look back over a month’s time and see what you accomplished really will make you feel superhuman!

Let’s face it, if you’re as busy as we suspect you are, you don’t want to make the investment of an audiobook, a Kindle edition, or a paperback if you’re not sure you are going to read it. Even if you do intend to read a book, the insights there may be valuable to you now… so why wait to benefit? A brilliant concept for boiling down business and development publications into videos of roughly twelve minutes apiece, gives you the essence of a book so that you maximize a quarter of an hour by learning something new without even having to pick the book up. Then later, if you have the chance to do so, you’re conceptually one step ahead. We love so much, we have partnered with them to offer a selection of three curated books each month to our readers.  Enjoy our gift to you, a free subscription to and consume the essence of that next essential read in less than twelve minutes.    

Leaders Are Readers: The Enduring Tension Between Time, Desire, and Knowledge

Social media and news outlets are teeming with stories about celebrity business successes and executives who swear that their key to success has been their voracious reading habit—or, if they don’t attribute their success largely to that, they still do it. Many claim that the trade-off between time and the knowledge gained for their endeavors is more than worth the trade. If you don’t believe us, google “What famous people read,” and see who pops up: while the emphasis on fame is superficial, you’ll get the point. A broad swath of unnaturally successful and well-known people read.

But what if you haven’t yet hatched your billion-dollar startup or been invited to head a Fortune company, and you are still run off your feet by the grind of the average week? You’re not alone: an increasing body of evidence points to the American workforce as the most overworked in the developed world.

How the Busy Person Reads

So how do you find time to read and to absorb new ideas that will keep you fresh and informed? Fortunately, with the advance of technology, there are more avenues to read easily than have ever been available in human history. This access to high-quality information is unprecedented, and with a little creativity, you can squeeze reading into an already packed week.


Whether on Kindle, iPad, Surface, Galaxy, or others, you can access millions of titles for periodicals, research papers, and books. But the advantage here isn’t just in the ready access to material (although the ease of access cuts out a physical purchase or trip to the library, both of which take time); it is in the level of portability. While traveling with printed material isn’t horrible, for a person in a rush, pages get crushed, things get shoved to the bottom of the bag, or they just don’t get touched. When you have your tablet already in hand, instead of surfing the web for ten minutes, read a few pages of an interesting book. Reading has been known to lower both heart rate and blood pressure, so there are health benefits, too!


We love the convenience of Audible, Amazon’s audiobook subscription, but there are plenty of other sources for good audiobooks, including the library. A book on your smart phone and a few minutes in the car every day adds up over time. If you have a long commute or are in the car a lot, with consistent listening, it would be possible for you to get through a forty-hour book in a little over a month—the equivalent of around one thousand pages! If you enjoy your reader, your commute may even become some of the pleasant time in your day instead of time simply to stare at someone else’s rear bumper.

Let’s face it, if you’re as busy as we suspect you are, you don’t want to make the investment of an audiobook, a Kindle edition, or a paperback if you’re not sure you are going to read it. Even if you do intend to read a book, the insights there may be valuable to you now… so why wait to benefit? A brilliant concept for boiling down business and development publications into videos of roughly twelve minutes apiece, gives you the essence of a book so that you maximize a quarter of an hour by learning something new without even having to pick the book up. Then later, if you have the chance to do so, you’re conceptually one step ahead. We love so much, we have partnered with them to offer a selection of three curated books each month to our readers.  Enjoy our gift to you, a free subscription to and consume the essence of that next essential read in less than twelve minutes.    

Closing Thoughts 

The truth is that reading takes time, but you can trick time by cheating it of unnecessary page flipping, errands to pick up books, time on Amazon, etc. by accessing these ready sources to keep you reading as much in your limited time as possible. Reading something interesting will take you into a state of flow, where you lose track of time in what you’re doing, and this is deeply mentally healthy. So get reading!