Using the Ivy Lee Method

I’ve recently felt a sense of balance and peace when it comes to my productivity output, which has taken years to get a handle on. This post breaks down what has been working for me and what I’m doing next, in case you’re interested in switching up your workflow or haven’t yet reached a point of productivity zen.

A quick note that you will not find pomodoros in this post! I simply cannot make them work for myself; every time that timer goes off I feel like I’ve only just gotten started and I either fall out of the pattern of taking breaks quickly or feel like I’m restarting trying to get into a state of flow. Kudos to those who can use them, but if you can’t just know I can relate.

The Ivy Lee method

I use a modified version of the following method:

  1. At the end of each work day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
  2. Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
  3. When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
  4. Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
  5. Repeat this process every working day.

My modifications are:

  • I break the list of tasks into “Work” and “Home”
  • I don’t limit the number of tasks for the work section, instead carrying over and rescheduling any that aren’t completed or blocked in any way.
  • I count every mundane thing as a task, whether it’s “ask Bob about pianos” or something I’m trying to add into my daily routine like “think about skeletons for 2 minutes”.
  • I try to keep the “Home” category to 2-3 items during the week because taking time to decompress (and do nothing if you can!) after work is very important and part of being productive


  • Noteplan: Markdown compatible, calendar based, accessible everywhere thanks to the mobile app!
  • Calendar before any other kinds of notes/reminders/lists (I just use the ios/macos app for this, I’m sure you can get fancy with it if you want though!)
  • Pocket: Any app that syncs a reading list across all devices would probably be a great choice here.
  • Anything else that lets you keep TODOs as close to where the work is as possible (ie issues in GitHub if it’s for a project, quick terminal notes if it’s a part of work or a paper notebook for general mind mapping).

On rituals & hobbies

The following are along the theme of “give your brain room to breathe”, which is of course silly because your brain isn’t responsible for that…or is it

  • Meditation/mindfulness
  • No phone or laptop before bed
  • Journalling
  • Exercise
  • Give your hobbies and any time spent not working or studying just as much emphasis when you plan; you need to make downtime a priority or else it won’t happen at all!

Finally the greatest tip I can offer is that you take what you need from this post and ultimately do what makes you feel the most at ease with your work. Once you can go home and not feel the need to log into any work accounts or ask yourself if you’ve “done enough”, that’s ease I’m looking to help you accomplish!