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The strong motivation to do something is key to achieving high-performance levels and consistently being productive (in life and business). You know you should be working on your most important task, but learning how to recognize it and focus on it is a skill you must develop. In this article, we will share the critical success factors you need to identify your most important task and finish it every day.

Eat That Frog

Asian Efficiency founder, Thanh Pham, is often asked what his number one productivity tip is. What is the one thing you can do that can transform your productivity? His answer is, “Eat your frog first thing in the morning.”

He bases his response on a simple but powerful principle attributed to author and speaker Brian Tracey. Brian wrote a book about it that we highly recommend, Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time.

A quote from Mark Twain inspired the name.

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

So, What is a “frog”?

The “frog” is the most important item on your to-do list. It is the one thing you can do right now that is the best use of your time. It is something that checks all of the boxes of importance, high-priority, and high-value. So why does Tracy refer to it as a frog? The answer is that some things are easier said than done.

First, you may not know how to identify your frog. Frogs are good at hiding in a disorganized to-do list. Without clear goals and well-defined priorities, the frog is just another task waiting to be done someday.

Second, you have to overcome distractions and procrastination to get it done. It is easy to stay busy doing good things that steal your time, attention, and energy from eating the frog.

Frogs may be hard to eat, but they also have the potential to have the most significant positive impact on your life and work. Fortunately, you can take some practical steps to be successful in eating your frog on a consistent basis.

1. How to Find Your Frog

The first thing you have to do is find your frog.

Aim at the right target

Matthew Emmons is an Olympic gold-medalist sharpshooter. He was considered to be the best in the world in his discipline when he entered the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. In fact, he won the gold medal in his first event. Emmons was expected to win a second gold medal, but a tragic error in the final round of competition cost him the victory. He aimed at the wrong target.

Your to-do list is full of targets. There are more things to do than can be done. To be successful, you have to aim at the right target. You have to find your frog.

The problem for most people is a lack of clarity. Tracy says, “clarity is perhaps the most important concept in personal productivity.” To find the frog, you need a clear to-do list that is organized according to your highest priorities based on your most important goals.

1. Get clear on your goals.

You have to start with clear goals.

Most people have too many goals. Every good thing cannot be a goal. In his book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, author Jim Collins said, “Good is the enemy of great.” He continues, “Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.” When you consider every possibility, what are the truly most incredible goals you can have for your life or business? Think of it like mining for gold. You are looking for the few goals that represent the best for your life and business.

Take an inventory of your current goals. Write them down if you have not already done so. Then ask yourself which 3-5 are the most important. Use those goals as a basis for establishing your priorities.

2. Get clear on your priorities.

Something will be the first thing you do each day. The principle of Eat The Frog is based on doing the most important task first. Ask yourself, “After my morning routine, what is the first thing I did today?” Was it the most important thing you could have done? Every activity in your day is a choice you make about spending your time, attention, and energy. Those are limited resources. The more you use, the less you have. For this reason, it is  important to align your activities with your goals and priorities. It is the only way to find your frog.

Setting priorities based on your most important goals is like creating a bridge between your to-do list and your goals. It helps to define the path you need to follow to reach your goals.

For example, if your goal is to lose weight, you might have a priority to exercise. If your goal is to own your home, you might have a priority to save money. If your goal is to be an entrepreneur, you might prioritze to network with other business owners.

When you have clarity about your most important goals and highest priorities, you will be in a position to make the right decisions about organizing your daily to-do list.

3. Get clear on your tasks

Tracy recommends asking yourself three clarifying questions to determine what tasks you should be working on each day.

  1. What are my highest-value activities?
  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?

2. How to Eat Your Frog

Once you have a sound system to identify your frog, you need a plan for how to eat it. Here is what we recommend.

1. Prepare in Advance

Tracy advocates that you plan every day in advance. There is some science to support your subconscious mind working on your list while you sleep. When you wake up the next day, you can start the day in a state of preparedness. As a minimum, your preparation should include the following:

  • Identify your frog for the next morning
  • Write it down
  • Schedule the time on your calendar

2. Focus

“All of life is the study of attention; where your attention goes, your life follows.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti

Do you feel pulled in a million directions? It is impossible to give your best if you feel like everyone is always demanding your time and attention. Today, I work from home, but in the past, I had to close the door to my office and put a sign on the door that said (in a nice way) that I cannot be disturbed because I am working on my most important responsibilities for today. It is harder to “close your door” in our digitally connected world, but not impossible. With intentionality, you can create an environment for yourself that promotes the work you need to get done.

  • If you use a shared calendar, mark this time as busy or unavailable.
  • Consider using the Do Not Disturb setting on your phone to reduce the number of distractions, notifications, and interruptions.
  • Use a technique like the Pomodoro to structure a time of focused work

3. Do it first

Always start with the frog.

The number one enemy of eating frogs is procrastination.

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, procrastination is to intentionally put off something that should be done. When faced with eating a frog, procrastination is the voice that tempts you to give your time, attention, and energy to something other than your most important task for the day.

Avoid These Two Procrastination Traps

Procrastination Trap 1 – Email and Social Media

How much of your time is being consumed by your digital devices?

Once you enter one of your social media accounts – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or TickTock – it is challenging to overcome the power of the infinite scroll. One thing leads to the next thing without end.

If you need extra accountability to avoid this procrastination trap, an application like Freedom is a great cross-platform solution. If you are a bit more disciplined, you could try something as simple as turning off your phone while  working.

Email is even more tricky because you can usually justify email as a work activity. The difference is that responding to email is not the frog. In his book, Tracy quotes a journalist from *Fortune* magazine who said, “I realized that, just because somebody sends me an e-mail, it does not mean that they own a piece of my life.”

One strategy that can help you avoid this procrastination trap is to schedule a block of time to respond to email. In fact, a time-bound limitation for email will make you more productive in how you process it.

Procrastination Trap 2 – The small things

Tracy warns to resist the temptation to clear up small things before you start (honestly, this is my biggest struggle). All of those little things can add up to more time than you think. They are using your resources of time, energy, and attention that should belong to the mission of eating the frog. Resist. Resist. Resist.

“Low-value tasks are like rabbits; they multiply continually… Since you must procrastinate anyway, decide today to procrastinate on low-value activities.” — Brian Tracy

4. Start

Take the first bite.

Eating the frog is about action. You have to do it. Ask yourself, “What is the next step you can take towards accomplishing your most important task?” If it seems too big, break it down into smaller steps. As a writer, my first steps might include opening my computer, opening Ulysses (my favorite writing app), creating a document, placing the title and date at the top of the page, and writing my first 200 words. That is a long way from finishing an article, but it is enough to create momentum. The first bite leads to the second bite. Each small action you take to eat the frog creates the momentum you need for the next one.

Next Steps

Here is how to make it all work starting today.

On a piece of paper or in your favorite task manager, write down one task – only one task – that will be your frog for tomorrow. Don’t worry if you have not mastered all of your goals and priorities yet. You will get better at that each day. For now, just start. Schedule a block of time in the morning to eat your frog. Say no to procrastination and distraction. Keep working until you eat your frog.

  1. Choose one important task to be your frog for tomorrow
  2. Write it down
  3. Schedule time to eat your frog
  4. Resist all distractions
  5. Eat your first frog

Invitation

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  1. Thank-you so much for sending this article that is very motivating and on target. I have the book and never picked up on some of the things you mentioned. SOOO tomorrow I am answering your questions and away I go.
    Deborah Dahms

  2. Thank you Mike for this wonderful post! I really love the simplicity in how you present the idea of Eat That Frog.

    I guess the whole notion of Eat That Frog could be summarised in one question you mentioned in your blog post, “What is the one thing, if done, would make the rest of the things easier or unnecessary?” I believe this is so true and is so important to building momentum.

    To add on, Eat That Frog reminds me of the 80/20 rule, where the top 20% of your priorities determine 80% of your results. Eat That Frog is definitely such a useful productivity hack and I recommend everyone to use it.

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