Eat that frog: How to achieve the things that matter each day

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Do you feel like you have too many tasks to do it gets overwhelming? Or that you never seem to complete anything? Or you don’t move forwards on your goals as too many things get in your way? Or you’ve spent the day being very busy but unsure what you’ve accomplished by the end of it?

After many years of experimenting with all sorts of productivity tips and software and reading many books, I came to a simple conclusion: It’s not possible to do everything on your list.And if that’s the case, perhaps my list-making needed looking at. I realised the prioritising was absolutely key. But in order to do that well, you need to know what your goals are in life so you can make sure you’re prioritising those items that are going to move you forwards on the most important tasks.

Eat That Frog! (What does it mean?)

This ethos is explained very nicely in a favourite book of mine called ‘Eat That Frog’ by well-known personal development guru Brian Tracy. It’s a phrase I say to myself almost every day when I start work.

But just what does it mean?

It means that if you tackle the first, most important thing on your plate right away, your day can only get easier. It’s based on a saying by author 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”.

In this blog, I condense the key learnings from the book that you can apply to help you become more productive, and of course, it’s worth a read if you want to really dig into the topic.

As the book says, “You can get control of your time and your life only by changing the way you think, work, and deal with the never-ending river of responsibilities that flows over you each day.” He advocates for stopping doing some things so that you can spend more time on the few activities that can really make a difference in your life.

He boils it down to one ‘simple truth’: “The ability to concentrate single-mindedly on your most important task, to do it well and to finish it completely, is the key to great success, achievement, respect, status, and happiness in life.”

Clarity on your goals

First, you need clarity on what your goals are (I’ve written about my detailed process for setting goals here). These goals should be written down. Having clear goals can help you to avoid procrastination or a lack of motivation that can come when you’re not clear about what you’re trying to do.

The ability to figure out your most important task by having ‘clarity’ on what your goals are to drive the right selection of actions can enable an “average person … to run circles around a genius who talks a lot and makes wonderful plans but who gets very little done”.

That biggest, most important task is the one task that can have the greatest positive impact on your life and results.

The book also suggests identifying the three things you do in your work that account for 90% of your contribution and using them as guidance for your work goals.

Tying to a long-term vision “improves short-term decision making” can help improve your chances of success. As he says in the book, “Successful people are those who are willing to delay gratification and make sacrifices in the short term so that they can enjoy far greater rewards in the long term.”

The example he gives of this is those people who focus on the short-term pleasure of socialising with co-workers, coming in last minute, reading the paper will not do as well as those motivated to spend spare time taking courses to improve their skills, focusing on high-value tasks, coming into work earlier”. I’d like to think we can do both – socialising is an important way to improve cooperation and your own happiness so long as you aren’t wasting time and you combine it with focus on the right things and the action required to move forwards.

Through his book, Brian Tracy also offers an exercise for identifying and grading your key skills that are required in your career and to help you achieve your goals and recognising that each key skill (even those you don’t like or aren’t so good at) should be improved continually for high performance. He puts emphasis on the fact that everything is ‘learnable’, and you need to continually be looking to upgrade your skills, which you can do through dedicated reading each day, taking courses, listening to audio training in the car (check out my guide to my favourite podcasts and books for self-development here).

But he also suggests you identify those things that might be holding you back, either as a company, a family, or within yourself. When you can identify those constraints accurately, you can then work to solve them, which might be your most important ‘frog’ of the moment.

Develop discipline to take action immediately and persist

When you’ve identified the most important task, discipline yourself to begin immediately and then persist until the task is complete before you go on to to something else. If it looks too big, break it down into bite-size tasks.

“Resist the temptation to start with the easier task. “The key to reaching high levels of performance and productivity is to develop the lifelong habit of tackling your major task first thing each morning… without taking too much time to think about it.” He points to studies showing those with the quality of “action orientation” are more successful and effective in their careers.

Elbert Hubbard defined self-discipline as “the ability to make yourself do what you should do, when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not”.

Perhaps you’re not moving forwards on those big, important things through fear – of failure or rejection. For motivation, the book quotes Emerson: The only way to overcome your fears is to “do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain”. And hockey player Wayne Gretzky, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

You also need to know when to say ‘No’ and say it often. As he says, “Continually review your duties and responsibilities to identify time-consuming tasks and activities that you can abandon with no real loss”. He suggests procrastinating on, outsourcing, delegating or eliminating those activities that don’t make much of a contribution to your life.

Use lists

Brian Tracy recommends planning your day in advance and creating lists to work from (I’m somewhat obsessed with my lists! A habit I picked up from my long-time business partner Andrew Delaney nearly 25 years ago).

He suggests writing your list the night before so your subconscious can work on it overnight. This isn’t something I do on a regular basis, mainly due to time by the end of the day but also because I really enjoy focusing on my list and prioritising when I’m fresh each morning. But I quite often will think of the most important task (or three) I want to achieve the next day as I get into bed, which I hope has the same effect!

Turn this approach into a habit

As with everything in life, if you want to make a change to become more productive and move forwards on your goals, you need to use motivation to get started, and continue to work like this consistently each day for it to turn into a habit.

This will enable you to prioritise in the right way, overcome procrastination and just get on with it!

It’s essential that you find your own motivation and drive to push yourself to perform: “To reach your full potential, you must form the habit of putting the pressure on yourself and not waiting for someone else to come along and do it for you.”

For me, I know I always feel immeasurably better when I focus on ‘eating the frog’ first thing.

I spend a lot of time reviewing my lists, reprioritising, checking back in with my written goals, and reprioritising again. But when it comes down to action for the day, I almost always tackle the biggest, most important task first and I sometimes surprise myself how much I can get through in a day. It might be a tough project for a client that I know is going to be hard or that I’m perhaps not enjoying. Or it might be pushing myself to think through and make a start on something that I know is the most important thing I could do to move my business along but that looks big and scary and could quite easily be put off as I have other ‘pressing’ things to do. More often than not, repeating the ‘Eat That Frog’ phrase is enough to push me to make the ‘right’ decision each day.

That said, there are days (or times during a day) when I feel more mentally exhausted than others and I’ve become much better at recognising those times and accepting them. On those days, tackling the big, important tasks just isn’t going to get me great results. And instead of trying to push the boulder up the hill, I shift focus and look at tasks that might be easier to complete but would clear a backlog off my list. These can be very satisfying too. And on occasion, it might be that taking a break is the most effective thing I could do. But I make sure I don’t do that too often as it would be too easy and I would stop making progress.

Don’t lose sight of the reason why

What I like is that the book does offer perspective and reminds us to think about what we want to be more productive for. “The main reason to develop time management skills is so that you can complete everything that is really important in your work and free up more and more time to do the things in your personal life that give you the greatest happiness and satisfaction.” To achieve this you have to continually work at getting balance in your life, which is something I completely agree with.

Rule: It is the quality of time at work that counts and the quantity of time at home that matters.

Three Questions for Maximum Productivity

Brian Tracy suggests asking yourself these questions on a regular basis:

  1. What are my highest-value activities [that will] make the greatest contribution to your organisation? to your family? to your life in general?
  2. What can I and only I do that if done well will make a real difference?
  3. What is the most valuable use of my time right now?

Steps to creating a positive mental attitude and achieving success, according to Brian Tracy

  1. Control your inner dialogue
  2. Develop optimism (apparently, the most important quality you can develop for personal and professional success and happiness), by looking for the good in every situation, seeking the valuable lesson in each setback, looking for solutions to problems, thinking continually and visualising your goals
  3. Don’t be addicted to technology time sinks and waste too much time on your phone / in social media / on email
  4. Delegate!
  5. Don’t waste time
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    By prioritizing your tasks according to these criteria, it’s easy to differentiate what’s noisy and urgent in your life from what’s actually important and meaningful. It’s impact-driven : Tracy is all about spending your time on the things that will have the greatest positive impact on your life, whatever that may be for you. We all only have 24 hours in the day, and it’s a shame to waste all that time on things that don’t matter. Thinking of it this way, it makes it much easier to say “no” to things that might seem urgent but aren’t actually important.

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