One day a management consultant, Ivy Lee, called on Schwab of the Bethlehem Steel Company. Lee briefly outlined his firm’s services, ending with the statement: “With our service, you’ll know how 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 listen to you and pay you anything you ask.”
“Fine,” said Lee. “I can give you something in twenty minutes that will step up your action and doing at least fifty percent.”
“Okay,” said Schwab. “I have just about that much time before I must leave to catch a train. What’s your idea?”
Lee pulled a blank 3 x 5 note sheet out of his pocket, handed it to Schwab and said: “Write on this sheet the five most important tasks you have to do tomorrow.” That took about three minutes.
“Now,” said Lee, “Number them in the order of their importance.” Five more minutes passed.
“Now,” said Lee, “Put this sheet in your pocket and the first thing tomorrow morning, look at item one and start working on it. Pull the sheet out of your pocket every fifteen minutes and look at item one until it is finished. Then tackle item two in the same way, then item three. Do this until quitting time. Don’t be concerned if you only finished two or three, or even if you only finish one item. You’ll be working on the important ones. The others can wait. If you can’t finish them all by this method, you couldn’t with another method either, and without some system you’d probably not even decide which are most important.”
He went on, “Spend the last five minutes of every working day making out a ‘must do’ list for the next day’s tasks. After you’ve convinced yourself of the worth of this system, have your people try it. Try it out as long as you wish and then send me a check for what YOU think it’s worth.”
The whole interview lasted about 25 minutes. In two weeks, Schwab sent Lee a check for $25,000—a thousand dollars a minute. He added a note saying the lesson was the most profitable he had ever learned. Did it work? In five years it turned the unknown Bethlehem Steel Company into the biggest independent steel producer in the world, and made Schwab a hundred-million-dollar fortune, and the best known steel man alive at that time.
This story has been re-written in so many books and blogs, but the aforementioned version is the one with which I’m most familiar. The beauty of this story is that it outlines one of the simplest tools for setting goals that I’ve ever encountered. I’ve found it so helpful in keeping me on-task and on-time that, in addition to using the “TOP 5” method on a daily basis, I use the same concept to stay focused on quarterly, monthly, and weekly goals, too. Although the original story may involve drafting up your top six goals each day, I use variations on the number—“TOP 5” and “TOP 3”–depending on the area of business with which I’m working. The thinking is simple: The lower the number, the more focus I hope to impart. No matter which number you use, or which version of the story you’ve read, this is pretty darn close to exactly what happened.
Oh ya, and if this helps you grow your company, you’re welcome to send me a check for what ever you think it was worth to you too. 😉