The Ivy Lee Method for Teachers

to-do-listA good friend of mine told me about a 100 year old method that she uses to improve productivity.  This method involves completing only six tasks each day and she promised it was amazingly simple yet highly effective. At first, I was very sceptical; what constitutes a task in teaching? There are so many little tasks to do each day. Did teaching a lesson count as a task? In which case, teaching five lessons in a day leaves only one task remaining that I can complete that day. Furthermore, my friend is a highly successful director working in industry; could I really transfer these principles to my job as a teacher?

The method is called the Ivy Lee method after an American PR consultant who, in 1918, was called in to help increase productivity at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, the largest shipbuilder and the second-largest steel producer in America at the time.  The strategy sounded too simple to be true but the president of the company, Charles Schwab, and his executive team at Bethlehem Steel gave it a try. After three months, Schwab was so delighted with the progress his company had made that he called Lee into his office and wrote him a check for $25,000 (around $450,000 today).

The method is summarised here by James Clear

  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. Prioritise 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 (ignoring interruptions) 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.

What makes it so effective? Colter Reed (Manage your Time, Manage your Life explains this below:

  • It’s just six things (give or take). So many times I have found myself darting from one thing to another and accomplishing nothing.  For me this method means that when I teach a five period day; that’s five tasks. I can only do one more task before I go home. This make me prioritise really effectively. Take today for example. I have taught five lessons and had an hour of time before the end of the day. During this time I planned my lessons for tomorrow and prepared equipment that my yr 8 class is going to need for their lesson on hydraulics tomorrow.  My planner has six spaces so I have written in my four lessons for tomorrow and two tasks that must be done and no more. Now I can forget about work and go home.
  • It encourages work-life balance. Going home and not thinking about work was an explicit part of Lee’s advice. If your subconscious wants to chew on problems, let it. But focus your conscious mind elsewhere. You’ve written tomorrow’s tasks. Turn off work email on your phone. Go for a hack. Write your blog.
  • The end-of-day perspective. Planning at the end of the day has several advantages over planning in the morning. You have a more realistic grasp on what you can get done in a day. You tend to focus more on what’s important and less on what’s urgent. You already have a plan in place when the morning’s distractions try to overwhelm you.
  • It encourages you to wrap things up early. The last task on your schedule each day is a given entity.  How many times have you left school later than you meant to because you got caught up in doing just one more thing or answering one last email? I have learned to wrap up ten minutes before 5pm and leave work on time. (Again: work-life balance.)
  • It’s simple. The more simple your system is, the more likely you are to stick with it. If you don’t make it through your list, don’t worry about it—you wouldn’t have gotten everything done by any other method either. I don’t sweat about what I haven’t done; instead I congratulate myself on what I have achieved (no one else will) and move unfinished tasks to the next day’s list.

The questions is, how do we adapt this method for teachers? Here are my insights:

  • Do only one task at a time.  As teachers we are so used to multitasking in the classroom that we apply the same chaotic principles to our ‘free’ non-contact time.  Sitting down to complete one task without distractions until it is done is incredibly therapeutic and enormously productive.
  • One lesson and its associated admin is one task.  By all means use lesson time to get students to self assess work, put their own behaviour points onto the class chart and monitor their own progress. I even got a child to rate his own behaviour on his report card today (surprisingly he gave himself 5/10 for effort and behaviour where I would have given him a 6/10!) But remember, one lesson is one task.  If you are teaching four lessons you can do two further tasks that day.
  • Complete those tasks you keep putting off.  For example that set of yr 7 books you keep meaning to mark. This had become a priority for me so, on a day when my ‘free’ was a period one, and having written it on my list the day before, I started immediately I got to work. I focused completely on the task, did not allow myself to become distracted, left my laptop in the cupboard and got two sets of books marked in the time I had allocated. Simple, but effective.
  • Group lots of small, similar things into one task. Teachers often have lots of small tasks to complete. For example entering a set of marks or phoning a parent. I waited until I had a few parents to call and grouped it with other admin/data entry tasks. In this way I completed a lot of small things in one hit.
  • Don’t think about it; do it.  At times we can spend more time thinking about what is to be done rather than actually getting on and doing it. Because I set my tasks the night before I never have to go through the process of wasting thinking time at the start of each day.  I know what is to be done and I simply do it.

Do Give this simple yet effective method a go. It has improved my work-life balance no end.  I’m rarely working at home in the evenings and I haven’t worked at all at the weekend since the start of this term.  Long may it continue!

Dedicated with grateful thanks to my friend, Gill Boot, for teaching me the Ivy Lee method and changing my life for the better.


Reducing the Burden



This week has revealed some very interesting things about me as a teacher and about the possible misconceptions I may have held regarding what being a teacher is about! These, I have decided, come from two areas.

The first is the fact that I trained over twenty years ago when worksheets were constructed using a banda machine (link provided for those who have no idea what this is Possibly the time and effort it took to craft these hallowed sheets, or (more likely) the hit one achieved from breathing in the chemicals, has caused me to adopt the belief that no lesson is complete without them. This is further confirmed by the plethora of other people’s work sheets available to download or buy online; the fact that there is a huge market for them fosters the idea that they are fundamentally important. The second is that I find it incredibly difficult to ‘let go’ of the pupils and stop leading from the front using the format; give information, discuss to deepen understanding and get the kids to answer a set of questions on what we have ‘learned’.

This week I asked myself the question, ‘Do I really need this work sheet?’ This has forced me to find other ways to structure lessons and has reduced a lot of wasted time and stress standing in a queue for the photocopier only to find out that, when it is my turn, it has run out of paper and/or developed a fault due to overheating. Here are a couple of worksheetless examples.

In a yr 12 health and social care lesson I wrote a quote on the whiteboard which stated that the attachment we form as children formed the blueprint for future romantic relationships. I asked the students if this was true and how we could find out.  From this they planned a study using a ‘love quiz’ which looks at adult attachment style and which I provided a link to and they set about writing some questions for a survey about early relationships with parents.  They then gave it to participants and recorded their responses.  While they did this I cleared my list of ‘missed’ registers for 10 minutes and then floated around helping them; bliss!

In a year 7 science lesson I asked pupils if a virus was a living organism.  They then had to work in groups to find out what information they would need to answer this question.  By the end of the lesson, they had learned the 7 characteristics of living things, drawn a diagram and mnemonic to help them remember them and some had attempted to answer the question and justify their answer.  They did some research to find out the characteristics of living things and, at the end of the lesson, they even worked out what the lesson objectives had been and decided whether or not they had met them!  I had jotted these  in my planner before the lesson rather than having them on a pre-prepared powerpoint slide.

I am going to spend next week trying as many ‘Pose a Question’ lessons as I can and try to measure if students actually learn more that way. I also intend to look at reducing the amount of feedback I write on work and come up with a method for getting the kids to work out what they need to do to improve, rather than me telling them.

Finally, I locked my large teacher bag in a cupboard and swapped it for a much smaller one. This has reduced the amount I can fit in and prevented me from bringing home lots of work; every little helps!

Jobs done:

  • Taught lessons (some well, some not so well)
  • All tests marked during half term have been given back to students
  • Students have responded to feedback on the tests, have ‘closed the gap'(more on this in future blogs) and set targets for improvement
  • Planned most lessons for next week (half of which are not on powerpoint)
  • Attended one meeting, one whole training day, and one professional discussion group
  • Run the first ever yr 11 Psychology ‘after school’ club
  • Planned an assembly for Monday

Jobs not done:

  • Two  UCAS references
  • Trip paperwork for a trip to London in December which is now URGENT or  the trip will not go ahead!

Time spent working out of school:

  • One and a half hours marking a test on Wednesday evening
  • A sleepless night last night worrying about not working in the evenings!

See you next week!









First blog post

I’ve decided to write this blog as a record of what I’m about to do!  Do permit me to introduce myself.

I am a teacher in her early fifties, working full time in a comprehensive, earning £37,000 a year (PSP3). I am sole teacher of Psychology A level and also teach Health and Social Care and Science.  As a PSP teacher, I have a wider school commitment to mentor an NQT and I’m currently looking at setting up GCSE Psychology in September 2017 as well as running Psychology Club for year 11 students on Thursday after school. I work from 8am to 5pm Monday to Thursday and from 8am to 3.30 pm on Friday.  I have a fifteen minute breakfast break and a thirty minute lunch break.

The reason for setting up this blog is that I am going to try to do the impossible! I’m determined to try and fit all of my work into a working day!  Before you talk about long holidays, yes that is true but I have long been resigned to the fact that the holidays (apart from about four weeks in the  Summer) are simply ‘working from home’ with the added luxury of being able to prep and mark in pyjamas; without interruption.

I firmly believe that I should be able to fit all my work into a working day plus a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and that, if I can’t, the workload is too large.  I have spent my October half term catching up with prep and marking.  I’ve prepared a scheme of work, marked two sets of student work and prepared 21 lessons (all on power-point as is a requirement of my school). This will get me through next week’s teaching and I will have the same amount to do for the week after. I still have one set of marking and a scrutiny of GCSE Psychology syllabuses to do this weekend so that I can present my action plan for the setting up of this course next week.

Here goes then! I’m not sure how I will do it but I’m resolute in my determination to try. I don’t normally do anything other than teach in a lesson but, perhaps, I will have to review that idea.  I’m making teaching and marking my priority and I’m going to give a weekly update of what gets done and what does not.  Wish me luck!

WB 24th October (half term)

Done: 21 lessons planned, two sets of marking and one scheme of work.

Pending: one set of marking, one scrutiny of GCSE Psychology syllabuses.

Not done: Class charts for yr 7 and 8 not updated (still need to add student data  to my seating plan). Psychology club introductory activity.