Many of us are good at procrastination: putting things off to some unspecified ‘later’. For some, it’s a minor inconvenience. For others it’s a chronic drain on their productivity. One of the many solutions is eating frogs.
Not literally eating frogs, of course. This is a literary allusion. Although it’s not wholly clear where the credit should go. But in its modern form, Brian Tracy popularised the principle of eating frogs. His best-selling 2001 book on personal productivity was ‘Eat that Frog!’ (US|UK).
If you do something unpleasant at the start of the day, everything else you need to do will seem less demanding. Tracy drew his metaphor from a supposed quote from Mark Twain:
‘Mark Twain once said that 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.’
So says Tracy. But like so many quotes that are accredited to Twain, there is no evidence that he ever said it. The principle tracks back to 1790s France, where Nicolas Chamfort credited it to M. de Lassay. Back then, it was a toad, not a frog:
‘Swallow a toad every morning, in order to fortify ourselves against the disgust of the rest of the day’
What is Eating Frogs?
The principle is simple: the frog represents the things you need to do but don’t want to do. You aren’t motivated to do them, so you procrastinate and they remain undone.
The habit of eating a frog first thing makes you productive because the rest of your day isn’t dominated by the frog. And it’s easier to eat a frog at the start of the day. In their book, ‘Willpower’ (US|UK), Roy Baumeister and John Tierney describe how your willpower is at its greatest first thing.
How to Eat a Frog
In his book, Tracy sets out his principles for eating frogs.
1. Identify all the things you want to do. This is the basis of most time management approaches. You need a big old list of things to do.
2. Start your day by eating the frog. Pick the least appealing item on your list, and get it done first. So, everything that follows will seem easier.
3. If you have two frogs to eat, start with the biggest, ugliest one. If you have two unappealing tasks you need to do today, then do the least appealing first.
4. The longer you look at it, the worse it gets. Or, put another way – and borrowing a slogan – just do it. I recommend you know this will be your first task of the morning when you go to bed. Get up, shower, and get it done. Promise yourself the reward of breakfast.
5. Tuck in and work steadily through the frog, until it’s all eaten. Once you start, don’t stop until the task is done.
6. Become addicted to getting a frog eaten each day, as your habit builds. It’s funny, but what you do every day soon seems to be natural and easy. So start every day with a big, important, and maybe off-putting task. That way, you kick-start your productivity. The alternative is to waste time with emails and social media!
What is Your experience of Eating Frogs?
We’d love to hear your experiences, ideas, and questions. Please leave them in the comments below.
To learn more…
The new edition of the Time Management Pocketbook is full of tips, techniques, and tools. It includes descriptions of several popular time management systems. One of them is Brian Tracy’s Eat that Frog.