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The darkish historical past behind the chief to-do checklist

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The darkish historical past behind the chief to-do checklist

One of the in style productiveness hacks for rating an govt to-do checklist originated from a person with a direct connection to Adolf Hitler. The connection comes from Ivy Lee, who created a way of prioritizing duties so that you just focus solely on the six most vital points in entrance of you, day-after-day, no matter the rest.

The “Ivy Lee technique” has been extensively popularized within the enterprise press. James Clear, who wrote the huge bestseller “Atomic Habits” (Amazon’s No.1 guide for all of 2021, with greater than 7 million copies offered), says “it’s simple, but it works.” Fast Company, Entrepreneur, The Wall Street Journal, and even my outdated employer, Insider, have all lauded the tactic.

The company blogs of corporations resembling Buffer, The Ladders, and the calendar app Tweek have additionally advisable Ivy Lee. An unlimited variety of folks on LinkedIn swear by him. The tactic is a “100-year-old productiveness hack” that may “change your life,” Good Housekeeping once said.

There’s only one downside. Ivy Lee was a paid adviser to the Nazis.

That is the darkish historical past of the Ivy Lee technique, and the way we forgot its creator supported Hitler.

Ivy Ledbetter Lee’s father was a Georgia Methodist preacher and his mom was a self-educated mental who gave beginning to Ivy when she was simply 13 years outdated, solely 12 years after the tip of the U.S. Civil Battle. 

Their son grew to become a good-looking New York Occasions reporter who saved his hair neatly combed, favored three-piece fits, and maintained a Georgia drawl and the courtly manners of the Outdated South. Lee went on to pioneer the rising subject of company public relations within the early twentieth Century. He rose to fame–and wealth–as an adviser to the Rockefellers and their Commonplace Oil empire. He coined the phrase “inform the reality as a result of eventually the general public will discover out anyway.”

The legend behind Lee’s technique goes like this: In 1918, Charles M. Schwab was the president of the Bethlehem Metal Firm and already one of many richest males on this planet. His public relations adviser on the time was Lee. Regardless of his success, Schwab was casting about for tactics to make his Pennsylvania metal mills extra environment friendly. Lee proposed a chance: He agreed to work on the issue for 3 months, with no price, so long as Schwab agreed to pay no matter he thought the outcomes had been value on the finish.

Lee demanded solely that he be allowed to spend fifteen minutes with every of Schwab’s high managers. Schwab agreed. Lee gave all of them the identical recommendation: “Write down the six most vital duties that you must do tomorrow and quantity them so as of significance. Now put this paper in your pocket and the very first thing tomorrow morning have a look at merchandise one and begin engaged on it. Then do merchandise two, and so forth. Do that till quitting time. Don’t be involved if you happen to solely end one or two. You’ll be engaged on crucial ones, at all times. For those who can’t end all of them by this technique you couldn’t have by another technique both.” 

That is the Ivy Lee technique.

On the finish of the three months, productiveness at Bethlehem Metal elevated a lot that Schwab fortunately paid Lee $25,000–about $457,000 in in the present day’s cash.

After I found the Ivy Lee technique, I wished to incorporate it in “Say Thank You for Everything,” my new guide of recommendation for managers. So I researched the historical past of Lee.

Within the late Nineteen Twenties, Lee grew to become an advisor to I.G. Farben, a conglomerate of German chemical corporations generally known as “the German Dye Belief.” Additionally that decade, he met Mussolini when the longer term fascist dictator was only a senator in Italy, to ask him “what ideas he want to get throughout to the US public,” according to the archive of Lee’s personal papers now stored at Princeton.

In 1933, Adolf Hitler grew to become chancellor, abolished democracy in Germany, and made himself an absolute dictator. I.G. Farben grew to become a direct conduit of Nazi financial coverage.

The U.S. Congress regarded the rise of the Nazis as a disaster and imposed a boycott on German items getting into America. Needing recommendation on the menace to its enterprise, I.G. Farben raised Lee’s retainer to $4,000 a 12 months and gave him an extra price of $25,000. Lee’s Berlin-based son was granted a $33,000 wage, in line with The New York Occasions archive. In in the present day’s cash, that may be value about $1,378,827.

In January 1934, Lee was launched to Hitler by I.G. Farben officers. They “had been anxious for me to fulfill him simply as a private matter, simply to measurement him up,” Lee later stated. Lee additionally met propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels and Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s minister of international affairs, in line with historian Scott Cutlip’s account of the early days of PR, “The Unseen Power.”

The persecution of Jews had begun. There have been arbitrary arrests and assaults on synagogues. In Could 1934, the Home Un-American Actions Committee performed an investigation into People who supported Germany, and Lee was interrogated. Beneath oath, Lee admitted he was advising Berlin. “I’ve informed them that they may by no means on this planet get the American folks reconciled to their remedy of the Jews; that it was simply international to the American mentality, and will by no means be justified within the American public opinion, and there was no use making an attempt,” he stated.

When the testimony was unsealed, the lead story on The New York Occasions entrance web page was “Ivy Lee, as Adviser to Nazis, Paid $25,000 by Dye Belief”. The New York Mirror went with: “ROCKEFELLER AIDE NAZI MASTER MIND”.

By that point, Lee had been recognized with leukemia. He handed away in November 1934. These near him imagine the strain of the hearings contributed to his demise.

After the warfare, I.G. Farben’s high executives had been prosecuted at Nuremberg. A part of their protection was “that this exercise of the late Ivy Lee in the usA. is unobjectionable and didn’t within the least have the tendency and the scope the prosecution needs us to imagine,” Cutlip wrote. 13 of Lee’s German purchasers had been sentenced to jail.

Amazingly, it isn’t clear that Ivy Lee truly believed he was serving to the Nazis. From his viewpoint, Lee felt that if he may persuade I.G. Farben–and Hitler– that their actions had been abhorrent to the remainder of the world, they could reform themselves.

Lee’s son defined his father’s logic to Cutlip in 1991: “They considered hiring the world’s main worldwide advisor [Lee,] and Hitler would pay heed to what he stated. Naive, sure, however the fact. … if his recommendation had been adopted, the world might need wound up a distinct type of place.”

Cutlip wasn’t prepared to let Lee off the hook: “To present such recommendation to a German big already enmeshed within the Nazi warfare machine carries naivete to the purpose of absurdity.”

Time handed. Within the Sixties, a collection of self-help writers found the story of Bethlehem Metal and Lee’s six-point to-do checklist, re-branded it “the Ivy Lee technique,” and apparently forgot in regards to the warfare crimes. The tactic is rediscovered each few years by private success gurus.

To state the plain: Nobody who recommends the Ivy Lee technique is in any means endorsing the Nazis. The tactic is merely widespread sense. It has completely nothing to do with Hitler, per se. Very, only a few folks keep in mind the complete historical past of Ivy Lee. 

Nonetheless, the information that this massively in style technique of rating your to-do checklist has a direct hyperlink to Hitler could go away you queasy, if, like me, you’re a believer in to-do lists.

So right here is a few excellent news: There’s a totally different however equally efficient rating technique you should utilize as a substitute of Lee’s. On this system, you rank your duties based mostly on whether or not they’re “vital” or “pressing,” favoring significance over urgency, thus:

1. Pressing and vital.

2. Necessary however not pressing.

3. Unimportant however pressing.

4. Unimportant and never pressing.

That is known as the “Eisenhower Matrix.” It’s named after President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who deliberate the invasion of Normandy in 1944, which gained World Battle II. 

Jim Edwards is the writer of Say Thank You for Everything: The secrets of being a great manager — strategies and tactics that get results.

The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary items are solely the views of their authors and don’t mirror the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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