My Early Struggles

I want to share with you a tool that was probably the most valuable one I used throughout my career. When I first started my career as a project manager, I felt like I was swimming against a tsunami with all the things I had to do. I had a hard time figuring out what to work on next. All I was doing was reacting to the next fire with no sense of direction.

  • Do you feel the same way?
  • Do you have too much to do and not enough time?
  • Do you feel like you’re not making any progress?
  • Are you starring at a desk that resembles a dumpster?
  • What can you do to get out from under your pile of things you need to do?

I started looking for answers and tips on how to get a grip of the pile of priorities and I tried everything I could get my hands on. The solution I found dates back to 1918 and was described in Inc. Magazine. The article described the relationship between Charles Schwab, the steel magnate and the New York business consultant Ivy Lee.

Charles Schwab
Ivy Lee

One day, Lee was visiting Schwab in his office. Schwab started venting to Lee about the massive amount of work he had to do and how little progress he felt he was making. He said that not only does he feel that way but also his executive team also feels overwhelmed.

Lee responded that he believed he had a solution that he could teach Schwab and his team in 15 minutes. Schwab said great and asked how much it would cost. Lee said it will cost nothing up front but if Schwab felt Lee helped him, in 3 months Schwab could pay him what he felt it was worth.  Schwab agreed and set up times that Lee could give his training to Charles and his staff.

These are the 8 steps of The Ivy Lee Method:

  1. Before the end of each day, write down six, and no more than six, things you need to get done the next day.
  2. Review your list of six things and prioritize them with 1 being the most important and 6 being the least important of the six things.
  3. Go home have dinner and relax.
  4. First thing the next day, get to work on #1. Fight off all interruptions (Today, let the calls go to voicemail, ignore your emails, don’t get sucked into the water cooler chat about last night’s game) and focus on #1 until its complete.
  5. Take a break, walk around, and get a water.
  6. Get to work on #2 just like you did with #1. Then #3 and so on.
  7. At the end of the day, move any uncompleted items onto your list for tomorrow. Add more items to get your list to six things, then, prioritize that list.
  8. Repeat this process every day.

The team agreed to give this method a try. After the three months was over, Schwab was so impressed with the results, he handed Ivy Lee a check for $25,000.  That would be $400,000 in today’s dollars.

My Dashboard

The one step that I added was to maintain a list of things you needed to do. I started with a written list for each project I was working on and any non-project related things I was involved in. Today I use an Excel spreadsheet as a single dashboard with all required actions on one page. Each night, a quick review of my list will give me 6 things to do tomorrow. To get a deeper dive into this step I recommend David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. It’s far more involved than my method but a big part of it is maintaining a single list of open action items. Below is a screenshot of a draft of my Excel dashboard.

I’ve been relying on this method for over 30 years and have taught it to a few groups and the people I mentored. It has been a valuable asset for me because it’s simple, allows me to build momentum for taking action every day, prevents procrastination and it creates focus by not allowing me to multi-task.




Three years ago, as part of our preparation for retirement, we downsized. We wanted to simplify our life and reduce our expenses. We went from a 2400 square foot house with a half an acre of lawn to a 1200 square foot condo. As many empty-nesters find out, we ended up with much of our house with rooms that weren’t being used. We would frequently walk though our house and say “we don’t use that room, we don’t use this room”. Their only purpose was to store unused furniture and stuff. We realized that it would be best if we right-sized our life to fit our lifestyle and set a one year goal to find the right home and purge our stuff to fit into that home.

Downsizing, or rightsizing your life can be a huge step towards having a financially secure retirement. It can also be a big part in simplifying your life as you grow older. As a result of our kids moving out many of us are living in a larger house than we really need. To go along with the larger house are the larger costs for utilities, taxes, insurance, landscaping and maintenance, never mind the physical work to clean and maintain it.

Tiny House


What tends to make downsizing complicated is our need to hang on to the past and all it’s relics. We all share the experience of realizing how much stuff we can collect over our lifetimes. There are mementos from trips, gifts from special people and things from important moments of our life. We have attics, basements, and storage units full of things that are too valuable, we think, or too important to part ways with. The emotional attachment is hard to break but the burden of keeping these things grows steadily as time goes on. The cost is financial if you are paying for storage, and physical if you keep having to move piles around. I have a friend that has three full dining room sets in her house. Her set in the dining room, and both her mother’s set and his mother’s set in their basement. It’s time to think of the burden that you are passing down to your family. How many times have you heard the story of the family who had to rent a dumpster to clean out their parent’s house? Our journey is hard enough as we get older; you don’t need to carry around extra baggage.


Part of making our downsizing happen was to get rid of 1200 square feet of things. Some of this stuff included things that haven’t seen daylight since we moved into the house 15 years before. These were easy to get rid off, but probably only represented 10% of what we had to deal with. The other 90% which included a lot our favorite things, was the challenge. They included items that we loved but served little or no purpose and we just weren’t going to have room for them.

Part of what made this hard was the thing that most people our age discover, our kids don’t want our junk. Heck, they didn’t want their old junk that we still had. Younger people don’t want good china or formal dining room sets. They didn’t want my old Canadian flag or the cheap pottery we bought in Mexico. Brace yourself, because not only do our kids not want our stuff, but when you remembered what you paid for things, you assume there is value in them. When you start doing your homework to sell things, you end up being disappointed at what they are really worth.

The process of shedding your things can be emotional. There were many of our favorite things that we have a strong attachment to; my in-law’s old rocking chair, my Bose tower speakers, my favorite chair, and my golf clubs. Music is probably the most important non-human thing to me. So when we decided to downsize, I knew dealing with my wall of CD’s and albums was going to be a challenge. I prized my music collection. But it was a necessary part of the mission to find new homes for my music either by having family and friends take what they wanted, selling some and donating the rest. But thanks to music services like Apple Music, I survived by having access to most of my collection right on my phone or talking to Siri.

Another painful part of our downsizing was dealing with our library. We had hundreds of books.  Just walking by the shelves I felt I was absorbing knowledge through osmosis. But they weren’t going to be read again, and we weren’t going to have a place for them, so even though it was hard we donated the books to our local library book sale and felt good about it.


People want to down size without getting rid of things that are “too important”. They end up paying hundreds a month on rental units to store things they’ll never use again. Now what? What’s going to happen to the stuff now that you’re storing it? Who will end up dealing with it? Our goal was to not store anything. We have a small area under our basement stairs that we store seasonal decorations, our luggage, and a plastic container of photos, that it!

 It wasn’t easy by a long shot. I don’t know which cliché you want to use, “pulling of the band-aide”, or “breaking the seal”, but once we crossed the emotional barrier and began getting rid of stuff, things started to flow out the door. We started by selling the easy unemotional stuff and built up momentum.  My wife became a Craig’s List expert. She was listing and selling everything from a canoe, a lawn tractor, collectibles and kitchen gadgets. We rendezvoused with buyers at the Home Depot parking lot, Friendly’s, and at out local police station to sell things. Our garage looked like a flea market. We’d set up an appointment with someone to buy one item, and they would end up leaving with their arms full. We gave away a ton of stuff. We donated tools to a young area artist, supplies to a teacher, and bags of clothes to various charities. We did keep some of our small favorites and we do regret getting rid of a couple things, but for the most part, we’re very happy with the results.


The advice we have for everyone we share this story with is “don’t wait to start getting rid of stuff”. Even if you don’t have plans to downsize, simplify your life by reducing it’s contents. Look around at what you’re storing. What can you get rid of? What haven’t you used in the past year? Start with the easy stuff and have a goal to find a new home for one good sized thing a week. Your family will be grateful.