Something I keep stumbling across is the idea of eating a frog for breakfast. It really isn’t as bad as it sounds. At home we even have a poster above the breakfast table that is a big picture of a frog with the caption “What’s your frog today?”.Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time being a whole book on it, well reviewed on Amazon. All of this is based on an old saying:
“If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long!”
Thankfully there are more than frogs to eat in a day. Understanding the types of things that need to be done creates powerful understanding, that results in effective action. Tasks are a multidimensional problem space, but you can start by examining just two key dimensions of a task :
The desirability of the task - do you want to do it? The necessity of the task - do you need to do it?
Placing tasks across each axis gives four quadrants - boy, do I love quadrants - or types task:
- 1. Things you don’t want to do, and actually don’t need to do.
- 2. Things you don’t want to do, but actually need to do.
- 3. Things you want to do and actually need to do.
- 4. Things you want to do, but actually don’t need to do.
Each one has it’s own particular challenges.
1. Things you don’t want to do, and actually don’t need to do. These are easy, don’t do them! These are ‘Gnats’, don’t get pushed into doing them by others. Squash them, bat them off, just say no! This is usually easy to do, because we are motivated to stay away from them and can see that they don’t need doing. It is generally other people that pressure us to do these things, or we accidentally commit ourselves to them. Remember that a fast ‘no’ is much better than a ‘yes’ that really means ‘no’. It avoids guilt for you and disappointment for the other person.
2. Things you don’t want to do, but actually need to do. These are the ‘Frogs’. The ugly, distasteful things that need to be done, but tend not to. You aren’t motivated to do them, leaving them victim to procrastination. Frogs need structure around them to ensure that they actually get done. Create the motivation to make them happen, either by transforming them into something desirable or by making them subordinate to a strong habit. Eating your frog at the start of the day is just such a habit, but it is even better. Making sure frogs are the first thing that gets done leaves you free to do the things that you enjoy doing. The habit creates an inherent reward. Either way, give yourself a reward for eating the frogs, otherwise they will just sit there watching you and croaking! “If you have to eat a live frog, it does not pay to sit and look at it for a very long time!”
3. Things you want to do and actually need to do. These are the ‘Gems’. They always appear more rare than they should be, but they are there. If you’ve eaten your ‘Frogs’, then dig out your gems. Make sure that you are being honest - are they things that really need doing? Or are they…
4. Things you want to do, but actually don’t need to do. The ‘Butterflies’. You want to do them, because they look like fun. You chase them, because they are pretty. The challenge is that time spent butterfly chasing is time that isn’t being spent doing the things that really need doing. They are a self-justified form of procrastination. Butterflies are pretty, it is easy to see them as gems. Understand that they most certainly are not. They don’t help you with what really needs doing.
I am finding that in quickly identifying the nature of the beast before starting helps in using time effectively and it leads to a shorter to-do list, because things get crossed off.
- Brush-off the gnats quickly, just say no and let them go.
- Eat the biggest and ugliest of the frogs at the start of the day, then it is done.
- Mine the gems and revel in the fun and effectiveness.
- And if you find yourself chasing butterflies, catch yourself and get back to mining those gems or eating that frog.
Have a great day, right after you’ve eaten that frog for breakfast!