Have you ever had that one pesky project that just kept hanging around?
You’d open up the file, take a look at it, maybe make a little progress…then move onto something else for a while. Unfortunately, you run out of time and it’s still on your plate the next morning, except now you’re frustrated and bored with it too.
The project keeps taking a back seat until it starts to become a problem and finally, under intense pressure, you get it done. In the meantime, you’ve wasted your week feeling grumpy and distracted, all because you were avoiding an annoying task that, nevertheless, had to get done.
Doesn’t sound very fun or productive, does it?
We all do it sometimes – some of us more than others – but the good news is that there’s another way. In this post, we’re going to talk about a whole new attitude you can take towards your work to help you break through those unpleasant tasks to make your work more enjoyable and dramatically more productive.
It’s called Eat the Frog.
What in the world does it mean to “Eat the Frog?”
“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first”
– Mark Twain
When Mark Twain wrote these words, I don’t think he was worried about the plight of the modern day office worker. And yet, there’s something timeless in this wisdom that we can all use to figure out the best way to get through our days. Mark Twain didn’t want to eat a frog, and I don’t want to fill out a TPS report for the thousandth time, Ludberg, but we can all learn how to take the hardest part of our week and get it over with first.
The reality is that there are going to be some things in our jobs that, for better or worse, need to get done, even if we’d rather do anything else in the world. We can argue until the cows come home about whether that’s a good reason to do them or not, but in the real world, we all have responsibilities to tend to, so the focus of this post is going to be how to make it a little easier to live up to our obligations.
Let’s be real: every job serves up tasks once in a while that we just don’t want to do. If it has to get done, I think Mark Twain would agree with us that it’s best to just get it over with.
That’s what performance coach and self-help author Brian Tracy thought when he decided the idea was worthy of a whole book about the idea, and we have to admit he was on to something. If there’s something on your to-do list that HAS to get done, put it at the top of the list.
However, Tracy’s most powerful insight was this: if something has to get done, and it’s unpleasant – better yet, if you’re dreading it – make that task #1.
As Mark Twain (supposedly…) said, if there are two frogs to eat, eat the biggest one first.
The big idea that you should take away from all of this talk about eating frogs is that, if there’s something that needs to be done, a pain in your back, that you really, really, don’t want to do, that’s the thing you should do first; 8am, Monday morning.
That doesn’t sound like it’s about frogs…
It’s not! It’s about confronting the most unpleasant tasks on your to-do list first and foremost, and how getting them out of the way ASAP can change your work life.
After all, if they’re not going to be any fun, why not get them out of the way?
If you’ve consigned yourself to life as a mindless worker-bee, this might not be for you. But if you’re like the rest of us, and sometimes, something at work just gets you down, read on to discover a radical strategy for getting a lot more satisfaction, happiness, and productivity out of your work week.
So let’s get into it: why would you schedule the worst part of your work day to come first?
Don’t Break the Chain
When Jerry Seinfeld was an up and coming comedian, long before he made the most successful syndicated show of all time and built his kids a private baseball field, he stumbled upon a simple but brilliant idea – consistently writing and performing new jokes to see what worked was more powerful than any of the comedic geniuses who had come before him.
And that can work for you too – consistency, in most fields, is a lot more important than smarts, so anything you can do to keep yourself producing new ideas on a regular basis will give you a leg up, even over the most brilliant people in your field.
Jerry stumbled upon this idea when he made a simple commitment to himself. He would just make sure he wrote and performed a new joke every day, and if he stuck at it long enough, he’d have enough material for his first set, and then his first hour, and eventually, his first comedy special. This let him get out of his own way, and remove the pressure to create something magical during his first at-bats, which gave him the room to develop the material that turned into a billion dollar comedy empire.
You can make that same commitment to yourself. If you simply resolve to do the hardest, most unpleasant part of your job first-thing every day – even when it SUCKS – you’ll be amazed by the effect it has on your attitude and the pressure it removes from the rest of your week.
Don’t just do it for one day. Take it from Jerry and make your most unpleasant, but important, task the first thing you do every day.
It’ll help you build the habit of setting priorities, tending to your responsibilities, and giving the things that matter most in your work the best part of your day. More often than not, you’ll be shocked how much mental bandwidth you’ll have left for the rest of your week, instead of subconsciously wasting half your time worrying about something you could have banged out in a few hours of focused work.
Practice Builds Discipline
It would be nice if practice made perfect, but at least practice can help us develop discipline. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Even if practice can’t make us the best at what we do, there’s no better way to build a consistent habit of producing great work than committing to a schedule and sticking to it. And committing to Eating the Frog and devoting your Monday, or your mornings, to handling your most unpleasant, most important task, is a great way to accelerate your progress.
There aren’t a lot of people who have the courage to start their day, and their week, with the worst thing on their to-do list, but if you’re willing to be one of them, you’ll be giving yourself a big advantage over your competitors. The reality is that human nature drives us to avoid the boring, difficult, unpleasant things that life has placed on our plate, but the good news for you is that everyone’s in the same boat. If you’re willing to face those challenges head on, you’ll be giving yourself a big leg up, just for having the courage to put the tough stuff first.
If you decide to eat the frog first every Monday, or at least every morning, you’ll be shocked how much energy you have left for your other responsibilities the rest of the week.
How to Spot the Frog
So how do you know which tasks to put at the top of your list? Or to put it another way, how do you know which tasks are driving you mad? If you take a few minutes to sit down with your to-do list, especially if you’ve been paying attention to the Eisenhower Matrix, you should have a pretty good sense of which things on your list are urgent, and which things are important.
If you look at a cross section of the tasks that are urgent and important, but that you really don’t want to do, for one reason or another, you’ve found your frogs. That’s nothing to be ashamed of! No one likes doing their taxes, either. There are just some things in life that happen to be urgent, or important, chores, but we have to get through them anyways. Those are the perfect kind of things to soldier through early in the week, and early in the morning, so you can get on with the rest of your life.
There are a million reasons to stall and avoid them as long as you can – pressure, stress, fatigue – but the brilliance of committing to eating the frog is that you get those tasks out of the way before they can mess up the rest of your week. If you’re willing to bite the bullet and get the worst part of your week, or day, done first, you’ve gifted yourself hours of stress-free time to work on the rest of your life.
How to Eat the Frog and Make Your Work More Enjoyable
Eating the frog isn’t a complicated idea, but it isn’t always easy to execute at first, especially until you build up the habit of doing your hardest task first everyday.
But we’ve put together a simple guide for how to get started “eating the frog” to make the most of your work week.
1. Decide on your frog the day before
If you show up to the office, or your laptop now that the whole world has changed, without a good idea for what you’re going to do with your day, you’re going to fall victim to distraction. This makes it much more difficult to make progress on the most important parts of your to-do list.
Let’s be honest: productivity is hard sometimes, especially when you’re trying to make something complicated or do something you haven’t been asked to do before. Fortunately, you can give yourself a hand by getting into the habit of trying something new, or doing something hard, first thing in the morning, especially on Monday mornings.
Humans are uniquely susceptible to habits, but the good news is that applies to positive habits too. If you make a practice out of trying something hard, or taking a stab at something new every morning, you’ll rapidly find yourself more open to learning new things, and more efficiently than before.
Take some time every afternoon to decide what tomorrow’s “Frog” will be, and schedule a few hours on your calendar to make sure the hardest part of your day gets the time it deserves so that you can move freely on to the rest of your list in the afternoon.
2. If it takes more than a few hours, split it in two
If you’re trying to book a time for your Frog, but it doesn’t fit into one morning, you’re probably not thinking about it clearly. That’s the reason a lot of seemingly normal tasks turn into insurmountable problems for us in the first place.
If you haven’t broken your challenges down into tasks that can be solved in a few hours of focused work, you still have some self evaluation left to do. In fact, that lack of clarity might be why your tasks turned into Frogs to begin with.
When there’s a task on your list that looks like it’s going to take more than a few hours, and especially if it looks like it can’t be accomplished in a normal morning on a normal work week, that’s a sign you need to drill down further. Give yourself the time to better define what it’s going to take to move that goal forward, before you worry about putting it on your calendar.
You’ll just be doing yourself a disservice if you set goals for yourself that you can’t realistically achieve.
3. Start your morning with The Frog and don’t break until it’s done
If you’ve taken the time to identify a worthwhile task that you’re not necessarily thrilled about, but needs to get done, make that your top priority for the next morning.
But don’t give yourself a break if it doesn’t get done. If you’ve set unrealistic expectations, that’s one thing, but after going through this article, you know better. You should have found the most important, and most unpleasant, task on your list and made it a priority so that you could have some energy to spend on the rest of your week.
If you’ve gotten your priorities straight, spend your Monday – and your mornings – knocking out the most unpleasant parts of your work ASAP so that the rest of your week has some room to breathe. Once you accept that there will be some parts of your work you don’t love, and make it a priority to get them out of your way as fast as you can, you’ll unlock an enormous amount of time to focus on the things that really matter to you and move the business forward.
Eating a frog is never fun, but it only gets worse the longer you put it off. If you can develop the discipline to get your most unpleasant tasks out of the way, you’ll be amazed how much time you have left over for the work you really enjoy.