Sep 01, 2022
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The “Eat the Frog” productivity method is where you pick the most important thing from your to-do list and work on it first. It’s a very simple way to prioritise your work and ensure you are always investing your energy into your most important work.
The phrase was coined in Brian Tracy’s productivity book, “Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time”, and is taken from the Mark Twain quote “if you have to eat a live frog, do it first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day”.
In this article we are going to be looking at the “Eat the Frog” method, how it works, its benefits, drawbacks, and when you should use it to get your most important work done.
The “Eat the Frog” productivity method is where you choose the most important thing from your to-do list and you work on it as a priority above all other tasks when you start work for the day. Often you will see people choosing what they should work on as a priority the night before. They would then write it down on a sticky note and leave it at their desk so that when they arrive at work the next day they can get straight down to work without having to waste time and energy deciding what to work on that day.
The most important thing on your to-do list is likely going to be something that is quite creative or has a high level of complexity and so it might take you a couple of hours to complete. But once that task is out of the way the remaining less important should be easier. As Mark Twain said, “nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day”.
A critical component of the “Eat the Frog” method is to choose the most important task, which is not always going to be the task that is the most urgent. If you are struggling to differentiate tasks that are important from those that are urgent, you can use a simple tool such as the Eisenhower Matrix.
As the name implies, it’s probably going to be difficult to bring yourself to eat the frog. There’s often quite a lot of inertia when it comes to doing important work, it can cause anxiety and it’s easy to slip into the trap of procrastination.
The main benefit of the “Eat the Frog’’ method is that it acknowledges and faces this situation head on to encourage you to embrace the uncomfort and to do the important work.
A second benefit is that the method forces you to do the most important thing as soon as you start work for the day. This means you will be doing your most important work with your highest energy level. This gives you the best possible chance and successfully completing the task because attempting creative or complex work without a high energy level can lead to very different outcomes. This means that the “Eat the Frog” method is an explicit way to match your tasks to your energy because it always prioritises the most important task to coincide with your peak energy level.
Thirdly, the “Eat the Frog’’ method is a form of Interrupt Coalescing because you are explicitly choosing a task that is likely to take a number of hours and blocking yourself off from distractions. This is important because it is very difficult to get into the flow state of deep work if you are constantly pulled out of the zone due to distractions.
There are a couple of drawbacks that you should consider if you decide to use the “Eat the Frog” method.
Firstly, as the method is so simple, it’s probably not going to be the answer to all of your productivity predicaments. In my opinion, there is a lot of value in knowing methods such as “Eat the Frog” or the Pomodoro Technique. Knowing when to use a particular method for a given context is an important skill, but these methods are too simple or too rigid to use as a set and forget system.
The “Eat the Frog” method is good at ensuring you prioritise important tasks, but you still need to deal with every other task and responsibility you have going on in your life. I think it’s unlikely that eating the frog is a silver bullet to solve all of your problems.
A second problem of “Eat the Frog’’ is that it doesn’t help if you’re feeling overwhelmed. I don’t think there’s any denying that you should be prioritising your important tasks first. But if you’re drowning in things to do and you’re feeling overwhelmed it can be better to complete tasks by “shortest processing time” or “earliest due date” to give yourself some breathing room.
And finally, the “Eat the Frog’’ method is not going to be very useful if you can’t set your own agenda. For example, if someone was to put in a meeting with you first thing in the morning, you lose the impetus of the “Eat the Frog” method, whereas a lot of other productivity methods can adapt to a spanner in the works such as this.
So when should you use the “Eat the Frog” method?
I would say if you lack the ability to focus on your most important tasks, the best way to deal with this problem is to face it head on. If you lack motivation or you find yourself procrastinating or delay working on these types of tasks, a method that forces you to work on them above everything else is a good choice, as long as you stick to it.
Secondly, if you find that you are always busy, but you often get to the end of the day and struggle to name anything important that you did, you might find value in the “Eat the Frog” method. When you do your most important task first, you will be guaranteed to end the day with at least one important thing completed.
Finally, if you have tried and failed with other methods such as Pomodoro Technique or Getting Things Done (GTD), you might find more success with “Eat the Frog”. Whilst it might not be the best method for all situations, often using a simple method is better for your productivity than using no method at all.