According to author Brian Tracy in his time management book, Eat That Frog: 21 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and get more Done in Less Time, your "frog" should be the most difficult item on your things to do list, the one you're most likely to procrastinate on; because, if you eat that first, it'll give you energy and positive momentum for the rest of the day. But if you don't, and you let it sit there on the plate and stare at you while you do a hundred unimportant things, it can zap your energy and you won't even know why. From my observation that frog can grow daily until he becomes Godzilla, and eventually inhabits not only your days but also your nights and even your sleep. So, how might we go about eating that frog? Here are a few suggestions that I have found helpful.
first, prioritize your tasks
It is not enough to just make lists! List making can become yet another form of avoidance. An important rule of life management is called the “Pareto Principle” attributed to economist Vilfredo Pareto, who wrote about it in the late 19th century. According to Pareto, and cited by numerous social scientists to this day, 20 percent of our tasks usually account for 80 percent of the value of what you do. Think about it, with proper planning you can complete two tasks that yield more valuable results than another eight jobs that you might have undertaken. Therefore it is important to not only list our tasks, but prioritize them.
In order to prioritize it is important to categorize them and determine what is most important and valuable to you. At one particularly low point I decided that I was going to regroup and reorient my life. I decided to focus on activities that promoted spiritual and physical wellbeing, and relational health. This does not mean that these are the only important activities in my life, but I am adamant that I will no longer let them get shoved to the bottom of my massive “To Do” list or worse still, be left off completely.
second, don’t get distracted
Once you have determined what is most important to you, don’t allow yourself to get sidetracked. It is way too easy to avoid the frog. The 80 percent less-important tasks can easily pull us away, especially since we would rather do anything than eat that frog. The truth is that we are usually just plain terrified of messing up what matters most. There is also the simple matter of the “tyranny of the urgent” to contend with. Author Stephen Covey in his seminal book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, points out that everything that demands our time can be divided into the important and the unimportant, and also into the urgent or not. According to Covey we should focus our best energy on those things that are important yet not urgent, before they become urgent and even critical. It is best to prepare our taxes well before April 15th, and it is even more important to spend quality time with our kids before they go into crisis. Unfortunately much of our time is eaten up by those people and events that demand our time in the moment, even if they have not made our 20 percent list. Remember the old adage, “it is the squeaky wheel that gets the oil.” A phone call during the family dinner demands our attention in much the same way that the endless text tones from our smart phones do. Fortunately phones can be silenced or shut off. We can make a decision not to take our laptops on family vacations …and we do not have to buy into the insanity of those who are in constant crisis. When we are already occupied and our time is demanded, it is reasonable to ask if the issue needs to be addressed right now. If it does not, then schedule the conversation for the future and get back to your reptilian meal. If you show that you value your time others will as well.
Just thinking about starting and finishing an important task should motivate you and help you to overcome procrastination. Time management is really life management, personal management. It is really taking control of the sequence of events. Time management is having control over what you do next. And you are always free to choose the task that you will do next. Your ability to choose between the important and the unimportant is the key determinant of your success in life and work.
Effective, productive people discipline themselves to start on the most important task that is before them. They force themselves to eat that frog, whatever it is. As a result, they accomplish vastly more than the average person and are much happier as a result. So belly up to the table and eat that frog!