The 6 Most Important Things List

6 most important things
What are the six most important things you are going to do today? Do you have a plan? Did you write it down?

You’ve probably heard this story before, but I think it’s worth my re-telling it.

Back in the early 1900’s, Charles Schwab was the head of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. Consultant Ivy Lee offered to increase the productivity of Schwab’s people, and he would let Schwab decide what the results were worth. Schwab agreed.

Lee taught each executive to sit down at the end of each day, and create a list. The list must contain only the six most important things to be completed the next day. Each morning, they should start the day by working on the first item on that list, and not move on until it is completed.

After a few months of seeing results, Schwab sent a check to Lee for $25,000. That’s about $500,000 in today’s dollars.


  • Not thirty-six things. Not urgent things. The Six Most Important Things.
  • Each “thing” is not an entire project, but is a do-able task.  
  • At the end of the day. Not in the frantic scramble at the beginning of the day .
  • Daily. Every day. Every day. 

The Mary Kay organization believes in this enough that they make space for it at the top of their consultant date books.

It’s a good habit to develop, and one I want to redevelop. I think I’ll go add it to my Joe’s Goals list. 

This article is part of the Small Biz 100, a series of 100 practical hands-on posts for small business people and solo entrepreneurs, whether in a small town, the big city, or in between. If you have questions you’d like us to address in this series, leave a comment or send us an email at Get the whole series by subscribing to Small Biz Survival.

Photo by Becky McCray.
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About Becky McCray

Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband own a retail liquor store in Alva, Oklahoma, and a small cattle ranch nearby. Becky is an international speaker on small business.

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  1. says

    We have been using this method in our office for the past six months with great results. I agree that the key is sticking with it, and some days are better than others. Another key is to keep you longer list of future items accessible so you can feed it to your daily list of six when you have an opening.

  2. says

    I like the concept and used to have a rundown in TV. I would edit one item at a time and it helped to keep me focused.

    I think I will use this in business as well.
    Thanks for the reminder.

  3. says

    Cool to see this post go a little viral today!

    Bradford, love that it is actually working for you.

    Chris, the rundown list from TV is a great analogy. I’ll be using that idea!

    Carlos, I’m sorry it hurt, but I hope it helps make change.

  4. says

    Someone sent this to me today, and it’s the second time in the last 5 hours that I’ve heard about a 6 things list. Incredibly. I think I’m supposed to start making a 6 things list every night for the next day, ya think? :)

  5. says

    This sounds like a great idea – I’m definitely going to implement this – I actually made a list of the things I need to accomplish last night, so I’ll work on those this morning.

    I’d love some suggestions for how to best manage my HUGE to-do list – I’ll pull my daily six from this list. I’m a solopreneur so most tasks fall to me, and I’m not sure how to best manage my monster list.

  6. says

    I have a write-on board a work where I list the important things to accomplish each day, usually not more than six. I love being able to erase them before I leave each day, and the *volunteers* get to see what they accomplished. It’s become a great way to build self-confidence in those who don’t feel that they have much to offer. And it helps me stay on task in an often chaotic atmosphere.