Yesterday I found a frog on my path. Well, actually it was a toad, stoically refusing to move out of the way. The immovable toad reminded me of a book I came across recently, ‘Eat that Frog’ by Brian Tracy. It’s a book about procrastination and how to get more work done. The theory in the book is more or less centered around a quote by the writer Mark Twain: “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.”
Procrastination is no stranger to me. If you love to create new things like I do, it’s no problem at all to work hard on your creative projects. But unfortunately there are other things that need to be done, like taxes, administration and all kinds of logistic stuff. I like to push these chores as far ahead as possible, only to have them bite me in the behind because I have left them too long.
How to get these awful chores done?
In ‘Eat the Frog’ Tracy argues that you should do the thing that you dread most the first thing in the morning, aka eat the biggest frog first. In the morning your energy levels are at their peak, ideal for a difficult task. And if you have finished the task, you will have a sense of victory and this positive experience will affect your mindset the whole day.
Not all frogs are alike, what is a huge wart riddled toad for one is a nice plate of French Cuisses de Grenouille for someone else. So the first thing you should do is identify your biggest frog, the thing that you dread the most. Is it marketing? Your administration? Cleaning?
Ideally that task can be precisely described with clear targets, like calling the dentist to make an appointment or to follow up on a specific lead.
Do I enjoy eating frogs for breakfast?
The argument for using this method is that you get the thing you are dragging your feet to do out of the way, leaving the rest of the day open for all the things you like to do. Would you postpone the thing you dread to the end of the day it will loom like a threatening cloud in your mind, possibly demotivating you and hampering your productivity.
Eating the frog first thing in the morning sounds like a very effective method to get the tedious chores out of the way and fight procrastination, but somehow it doesn’t seem to work for me. In the morning, after an hour getting up to speed I am at my best around 10 o’clock. Should I use my peak time to eat my ugliest and most horrid frog, I would be spent and deflated for the rest of the day, and lack the energy or the enthusiasm to work on my projects.
Blocking time for creativity and deep work
There is another theory that says instead of eating that frog, you should block one to three hours for uninterrupted work in the morning, or deep work as it is sometimes called. In that time block you fully focus on your creative project, like writing your book, work on your painting or work on new concepts. Turn off your phone, do not watch the news and wait with answering emails and social media prompts until after this time block.
I have to say this method helps me to make the most out of my productive peak time. It allows me to concentrate only on my projects and therefore I can create more and form new insights. Should I eat that wretched amphibian first, I would miss my peak time and wouldn’t be able to do as much as I could.
Mount Doom of Dreaded Tasks
Although it helps to get the creative juices flowing and boost productivity in relation to my projects, this method doesn’t help to get the dreaded tasks out of the way. I read a blogpost by Detlef Reis who was also no fan of eating frogs in the morning, and he suggested that maybe you should batch tedious jobs and do them all consecutively to be done with them for a while.
But this doesn’t work for me either, because then the chores become the Mount Doom of Dreaded Tasks, and impossible to conquer even with a magic ring. Reis also suggests outsourcing, a good idea for things like taxes and stuff, but unfortunately not all tedious chores can be easily outsourced. And he added that sometimes, if you wait long enough, the problem solves itself and the frogs magically disappear.
Chopping up large frogs in bite sized chunks
I would love to believe that all the tedious jobs would magically disappear over time. Maybe it’s me, and am I the fly that attracts all the toads, but somehow that doesn’t happen to me. So how do I handle the stoic frogs that won’t move out of the way? For me it helps to chop up the tedious jobs in really small tasks.
My experience is that these small tasks shouldn’t take more than half an hour to accomplish. If it is a bigger chore like cleaning out the storage space or writing a business plan, I chop them up into smaller bits so that each task takes up a maximum of 30 minutes of my time. For instance, I only sort out one box in the storage or only write down the definition of my target audience for my business plan.
For each tedious job I then create a flowchart consisting of a string of connected 30 minute mini tasks. And instead of writing down the mini tasks in my calendar or on my to do list, I block 30 minutes before and after lunchtime to work on those mini tasks, and tick them off in the flow chart.
Start and finish the day with a creative project
Somehow making it visual in a flowchart helps to make tedious jobs manageable. The flowchart visualises what needs to be done, and in one glance I can see what the goal is and the next step I should take. With the finish line in sight tasks are done quicker and with less aversion. And the tasks only take half an hour to do, so it’s bearable to start working on them. Sometimes, if a task is completed faster than expected, I even do the next task in the flowchart. And after doing the second block of unpleasant tasks after lunch, I can spend the whole afternoon working on my projects again.
I think the reason this method works for me is partly because of the visual aspect and the bit sized tasks, but mostly I think it works because I start and finish the day with something I love to do. The day starts and ends on a creative note which feels satisfactory and makes me happy.
And that frog? I will have him for lunch, fried in a bit of butter and garlic, just like the French.