One of my favorite books on productivity is Eat That Frog (review) by self-help guru Brian Tracy. The main idea behind the book is that if you do your most important task (MIT) first thing in the morning, the rest of the day is going to be easy in comparison. In the book, Brian Tracy calls it “eating your frog” and he got that from the 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!”
Your frog is the most important task. Once you get that out of the way, the other tasks are going to be easy to finish. Plus you set the tone for the rest of the day that work will get done. Now he mentions it in the context of beating procrastination. I like that approach a lot, and I have used this method with success. By doing the task that you will most likely procrastinate on first, it is relatively simple to do the other tasks because they aren’t as bad in comparison to that task you first did.
But I want to take this method to the next level by saying that the first thing you should be working on, is the task that will get you closer to achieving your big goal.
Brian Tracy briefly mentions this in the book, but from my experience, the concept is better geared towards achieving goals than simply trying to beat procrastination.
The Habit of Most Important Tasks First
It is a very simple habit, but extremely powerful if done every day. In the podcast Productivity As A Habit, we briefly mentioned eating your frogs. By working on your biggest opportunity first every single day, it is inevitable that you will achieve the success you desire. Especially if you can commit your focus and energy on your most important tasks, you will get success a lot faster than you might imagine. This is a habit that a lot of successful people have and a common theme among people we consider successful. It is easier for most people to get work done in the morning for several reasons:
- You have the most energy in that period of time (especially if you have had a good night of sleep).
- There are few or no distractions.
- You are more focused.
By doing first thing you do every day, you also take away the pressure of having to complete it later in the day. It can be every stressful when you realize at the end of the day that you still have to do X, Y and Z. Thus by completing them in the morning, especially when you have the energy and focus, you will prevent that stress on your body.
The problem most people have with frog eating is identifying what they should be focusing on. To get that handled, you should get started on goal setting. Some great books on goal setting are Goals! by Brian Tracy and The Power of Story by Jim Loehr. If you work in an office environment, ask your manager or boss what your main focus should be.
Remember in what is productivity, we defined productivity as “the time you spend on working towards your goals”. Thus in order to be productive, you have to actively spend time on working towards whatever you want to achieve in the future. Preferably you want to achieve those goals in the shortest amount of time possible.
You can also look at it this way: you want the highest return on investment on your focus, energy, and work. By getting the most leverage at the most productive time of the day on your most important tasks, you are being the definition of productive.
I Don’t Have Time In The Morning!
I understand this dilemma. You wake up every day at 7 and you show up at work at 9. Where are you supposed to find time to work on your personal projects? Simple: you wake up earlier.
Plenty of people have done this with success including those of us at Asian Efficiency. Another great example is Leo Babauta of Zen Habits where he recently wrote an awesome post on the spiral of success around habits, and he says that he wakes up earlier as part of one of his success habits.
Even waking up just one hour earlier can get you very far. Remember, compounding results eventually add up to be a lot over time. Like Einstein said, “the most powerful force in the universe is compound interest.” By starting today, waking up earlier and working on your most important tasks you can achieve your big (and scary) goals.
The key to waking up early is figuring our your sleeping schedule. How many hours of sleep do you need? Schedule your bedtime around that time as we have detailed in our sleep & productivity article. Let’s say right now you go to bed around midnight, wake up at 7 and show up at work a 9. Try to wake up at 6 without compromising the hours of sleep you need, which means you need to be in bed by 11pm.
Transition To Office Life
The idea of frog eating can of course, also be applied at your job and in the office. As soon as you walk into work, start working on your most important tasks first. This doesn’t just work for your personal life. Even if you have eaten the frog of your personal projects, it is now time to do the same thing for your work.
I used to have a 10-6 office job, and I would wake up every day at 6am to start working on my personal projects. From my experience I would be too tired at the end of the day to work on personal projects (plus often I had social obligations), so I made a commitment to work on those in the morning. One of the best decisions I’ve made.
In the morning I would go to the gym because I wanted to get in shape and when I was back I would work on some personal projects, like Asian Efficiency and other web properties. By the time I showed up at work, I had already felt like I’d done a great deal of work. The trend would be set forth by making sure I did the frog eating for my role at the office, so the first two hours I would focus on my biggest opportunities.
By the time noon hits, I would grab lunch with my co-workers and right after check my email. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but don’t check your email first thing in the morning. It’s such a productivity killer.
Here is how you can use this technique right now.
1. Write down a list of tasks you are going to do tomorrow that will get you closer to your goals (do it for your personal life first and repeat later for your job). You can ask yourself these questions:
- What are my highest value activities?
- What can I and only I do that if done well will make a real difference?
- What is the most valuable use of my time right now?
2. The answer to the last question is your biggest frog. That will be the first task you are going to do tomorrow.
3. Set yourself for the next day for completing that task. Plan how you are going to complete that task tomorrow morning. Get all the necessary tools ready and in place.
For some that means getting up earlier or getting in the office earlier. Do it if you think that will increase the likelihood of having no distractions so you can focus on your most important tasks.
4. At the end of your work day, repeat step #1. Every single (work)day.
It takes less than 5 minutes to do the above steps every day, but it can dramatically change your life. Let us know in the comments below how this simple productivity tip is working out for you.
If you want to know more about Eat That Frog, click here to grab a copy.
(Image courtesy of Joe Buckingham under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 generic license.)
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