Mark Twain once said: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
Now, although the prospects of eating an actual live frog are daunting, we can interpret these “frogs” as the tasks we dread.
Brian Tracy, the author of the book Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, used Mark Twain’s quote to name this time management technique “Eat that Frog”.
What is the “Eat that Frog” technique?
“Eating that frog” means you have to do the worst or extremely important task first thing in the morning, before all other tasks. Once you have “eaten” your “frog”, you can rest assured that the worst is behind you, so you’re likely to take on a positive approach about the rest of your day.
An extremely important task is a task you should focus all your attention on: this may be a phone call to a demanding client, or cost estimates you have to create for an elusive project.
A worst task is a task you keep putting off because it’s difficult, demanding, or simply boring: this may be an extensive research for a project, or filling out a lot of paperwork.
How “eating that frog” works?
So, we’ve concluded that focusing on a “frog” first thing in the morning is the best practice. But, what if we are faced with two or more “frogs”? Well, as one task is always more important than the other, and that one frog is always “uglier” than the other, we have to prioritize.
As Brian Tracy advises, you should eat the “uglier” frog, i.e. tackle the more daunting task, first. Then, you should focus your attention on the other, somewhat less problematic “frog”. After you have dealt with the “frogs”, you can start working on the rest of the “regular” tasks for that day.
Tracy states that you can prioritize your “frogs” and “regular” tasks by using the ABCDE technique.
First, you create a list of tasks you have to do the following day. Then, you label them with letters:
- “A” – your most important task, the one most likely to have serious consequences if you don’t finish it.
- “B” – the next most important task, the one not as serious in terms of consequences, but still important.
- “C” – the task that you could do, but it wouldn’t have any real consequences if you didn’t do it.
- “D” – task that you can delegate to someone, to free more time for doing the “A” task.
- “E” – task that you don’t really have to do, so you can eliminate it.
The important matter is that you don’t move on the “B” task, or any other task, until you’re finished with the “A” task.
Useful “Eat that Frog” apps and tools
There are several apps that are designed to help you “eat your frog”.
On iTunes, you can find Eat that Frog! (iOS), an app which allows you to track your progress with your “frogs” and establish dates for their completion. To ensure you stay on track and follow the rules, you are allowed to choose only one “frog” at a time.
Another app that supports the “Eat that Frog” premisse is Toodledo. In this app, you can define and collect tasks and projects. You can also plan your to-do list and organize your tasks in such a way that you focus on your “frogs”.
You can also apply the “Eat that Frog” time management technique in Clockify.
When naming tasks in the Project’s section, make sure to implement the ABCDE technique and mark tasks in order of importance. Once you have a clear list of your tasks for that day, you can select the “A” task in the time tracker and start working on it, before starting work on the “B” task.
You can leave the “C” task for later, delegate, or assign the “D” task to other members of your team in the project’s Task tab, and simply delete the “E” task.
Why should you “Eat that Frog” first?
If you’re aiming at being more productive, chances are that, everyday you wake up, you make up a schedule for that day.
You neatly list everything you have to do, all the meetings, all the research you have to conduct for that important project, all the phone calls you have to make, all the half a dozen tasks you should ideally finish until the end of the day.
And, by the end of the day, you actually do finish 5 out of 6 tasks. Yet, despite all that, you feel a dark cloud of failure looming over you. Why? Well, you forgot to eat your frog.
The phenomena of “eating” or “not eating your live frog”, in terms of productivity, means the following; although you have finished 5 out of 6 tasks for a day, you still didn’t tackle your most important or worst task, so you lack that feeling of achievement over finishing the other 5 tasks.
What is worse, you know this 1 task will be waiting for you the next day, and the next day, and the day after that…. And, until you finish it, your “5 out of 6” score will always leave you indifferent.
Theories that support “eating that frog”
A couple of theories support the premise that you should do the most important task first, as is advised in the “Eat that Frog” technique.
The Serial-position effect claims that people, when they have to remember items on a list, are more likely to remember the first and last items better than the middle ones. Also, according to the Attention decrement hypothesis, people are more likely to pay attention to information they hear first, than the information that follows.
This effect and hypothesis support the idea that you should do the most important or worst task first, because you are more likely to be able to focus on it.
Advantages of “eating that frog”
Doing the most difficult, the worst, or the most important task first thing in the morning will have a great positive impact on the rest of your day.
This little achievement will help energize and motivate you, and you will glide through the rest of the day, because you’ll know that all the other tasks that await you are easier.
It becomes easier for you to prioritize
When you start thinking about your tasks in order to find “frogs”, you’ll gain a great perspective about your daily workload.
You’ll be more likely to recognize what tasks aren’t important, what tasks you can discard entirely and what tasks you should really focus on.
In contrast, if you don’t prioritize your tasks, and do your work in random order, you may spend too much time on trivial tasks, and have no time left for your most important tasks.
You’ll have more time for more enjoyable tasks
Everyone has a certain type of tasks they don’t enjoy. Some don’t like creating project estimates, some don’t like writing reports, and some don’t like making phone calls or answering emails.
In any case, if you do these “dreadful” tasks first think in the morning, you’ll actually feel like you have more time for tasks you actually enjoy.
In fact, you’ll have the rest of the day for these enjoyable tasks, because you will deal with the most unpleasant task first thing in the morning.
Disadvantages of “eating that frog”
Difficult start of the day
Focusing on a new “frog” each day can be difficult, because we are essentially labeling out the start of our work day as the time for our worst ghouls, which may be demoralizing on its own.
But, discipline and practice can help you finish these worst tasks faster.
In order to finish these “frogs” faster, you can practice your “ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task”, or “deep work”, as Cal Newport calls it.
When you start this demanding task, don’t shift your focus on anything else until you’ve finished it; you can take breaks, but when you’re working, avoid distractions.
By practicing your ability to perform “deep work”, you’ll finish these important tasks faster, move on to “regular” tasks quicker, and even finish your daily workload earlier in the day.
You’ll have a great sense of progress, which will help you feel more motivated, and your productivity levels will be on the rise.
Too rigid and impractical at times
The rules of the “Eat that Frog” technique state that you must tackle the most important/difficult task first, which can be a strict rule. What if your most important task changes during the course of the day, and you have to focus on something else?
In such cases, it’s best that you act according to your new priorities: you can add the new task on your ABCDE list and label it as “A”, marking all the other tasks as less urgent.
Use the “Eat that Frog” rules as a starting point, and tweak them to fit your needs.
Tips for “eating that frog”
“Eat that Frog” technique is all about planning: you think about your tasks, write them down and prioritize them, so you’ll know what task to do first. You identify your goals and objective for that day, and act accordingly.
It may sound time consuming to write down all your tasks each day, but this actually saves you time. According to Tracy, 1 minute of planning may save you 5-10 minutes of actual execution. As time goes by, creating these lists and prioritizing tasks on paper will become a habit, and you’ll learn to do it faster, which will save you even more time.
Build a sense of momentum
Once you have made your plan, don’t hesitate, just dive right into your work. Focus on what you are doing, and focus on your goals and objectives.
You’ll notice that it’s much harder to start working on a task, than to continue working on it. This is known as building your Momentum: once we start going, we’ll keep going until we are finished.
So, if you feel demoralized at the thought of doing your most demanding tasks first thing in the morning, remember that the first step is always the hardest. It’ll be easier once you gain momentum and really focus on a task.
Parse the tasks into smaller chunks
When working, people love the feeling of reaching their goals, because they love the sense of completion. But, reaching the end goal of a project may seem far from reach, especially when you’re just starting.
In order to get that sense of completion at equal intervals in the project, and not just at its end, you should parse your project into smaller tasks.
This will make your goals seem more manageable, because you’ll be striving for one part of that goal at a time.
For example, your “frog” is a project you have to complete in 2 hours. You put this project on paper, and notice you can parse it into 3 tasks. These tasks are parts of a larger goal (the project), and you can treat them like mini-goals you have to complete.
Once you complete each of the three mini-goals, you should take a short break and reward yourself for your efforts thus far. You’ll feel a sense of completion, and the end of the project will come quicker than expected, at least from a psychological point of view.