Have you ever heard the phrase “eat that frog?” I never did until I read the book Eat That Frog, 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, by Brian Tracy.
According to Brian, eating your frog is about tackling your most important, daunting tasks, and getting them done. The concept is similar to how you eat an elephant…one bite at a time. Brian’s main point is that you eat your most ugliest frog first, the next ugliest, and so on, until all your frogs are done. When you “eat your frog,” you feel empowered, happier, energized, and are more productive, i.e., you get more done.
The principles Brian shares in his book are principles he has picked up from 30 years of studying time management and has incorporated into his own life. Brain says that time management is life management, so these principles apply to any aspect of your life, especially your business when you’re just getting started and working on it part time. The idea is to take control over what you do and choose the important tasks over the unimportant. This is a key determinate of success.
Here is a summary of each principle Brian covers in his book.
Principle 1: Set the Table
This principle is about determining what you want to accomplish. It’s about getting clarity about your goals and objectives. One of the biggest reasons people procrastinate is vagueness and confusion about what they want to do. Brian introduces his first Rule of Success: Think on paper. Do you know that people who have clear written goals accomplish 5 to 10 times more than people who don’t?
Brian has a seven step formula for setting and achieving goals:
1. Decide exactly what you want to do (one of the worst time wasters is doing something well that doesn’t need to be at all).
2. Write your goal down. Writing your goal down crystallizes and put energy behind it because it becomes real.
3. Set a deadline on you goal. This gives you a sense of urgency with a beginning and end.
4. Make a list of everything you think you need to do to achieve the goal. A visual picture give you a path to follow and increases the likelihood of success.
5. Organize the list into a plan by priority and sequence. You can draw a map of your plan like a flow chart to help you visualize the steps.
6. Take action immediately. “Execution is everything.”
7. Resolve to do something everyday that takes you closer to your goal. Schedule your activities and never miss a day.
Having clear written goals affects your thinking and motivates and drives you into action. Written goals stimulate creativity, release energy, help you overcome procrastination, and give you enthusiasm. Think about your goals and review them everyday and take action.
Principle 2: Plan Each Day in Advance
This is basically making a to-do list. Just like eating an elephant, you eat a frog one bite at a time. Break you task down into steps. “Thinking and planning unlock your mental powers, trigger you creativity, and increase your mental and physical energies.”
The better you plan, the easier to overcome procrastination, to get started, and to keep going. Brian claims that every minute you spend planning will save as much as ten minutes in execution. So if you spend 10 to 12 minutes planning, you’ll save at least 2 hours (100-120 minutes) in wasted time and effort – very impressive.
Brian’s introduces the Six P Formula for this principle: Proper prior planning prevents poor performance. His tips are: All you need is paper and pen. Always work from a list – if something new comes up, add it to the list. Keep a master list of everything. Make a list for different purposes. Keep a monthly list, which you make at the end of each month for the following month. Keep a weekly list, which you make at the end of the week for the following week. Keep a daily list, which you make as the end of the day for the following day.
The lists feed off each other. Check off items as you complete them. Checking the items off gives you a visual record of accomplishment and motivates you to keep going.
Follow the 10/90 Rule of personal effectiveness, which says if you spend the first 10% of your time planning and organizing your work before you begin, you’ll save 90% of time getting the work done when you start.
Principle 3: Apply the 80/20 Rule
This principle says that 20% of your activities will account for 80% of your results, even when all your activities take the same amount of time to do. The activities that give you the most return on your investment are your frogs. Where you focus your time is the difference between being busy and accomplishing something. You want to eliminate or spend less time on your low-value tasks. Your most valuable tasks are the hardest and most complex, but give you the most bang for you time, so ask yourself if the task is a 20% task. Brian’s rule here is “Resist the temptation to clear up small thing first.”
Once you begin working on your hardest task, you become motivated to complete it. “A part of you mind loves to be busy working on significant tasks that can really make a difference. Your job is to feed this part of your mind continually.”
Thinking of starting and finishing an important task motivates and helps you overcome procrastination. An important fact to remember is that “The amount of time required to complete an important job is the same time it takes to do an unimportant job.”
Principle 4: Consider the Consequences
“The mark of a superior thinker is his or her ability to accurately predict the consequences of doing or not doing anything.” Thinking through the consequences gives you an idea if an activity is important and is a way to determine the significance of a task. Any important task will have long-term potential consequences.
Dr Edward Banfield, from Harvard University, concluded that “the long-time perspective is the most accurate single predictor of upward social and economic mobility in America” (a rare trait in our instant gratification world). Your attitude towards time has an impact on your behavior and choices. Thinking about the long-term impact will help you make better decisions, thus, one of Brian’s rules: “Long-term thinking improves short-term decision making.”
Having a future orientation (5, 10, 20 years out) will allow you to analyze choices and will make your behaviors consistent with the future you want. Ask yourself, “What are the potential consequences of doing or not doing this task?”
Brian’s follow-on rule is “Future intent influences and often determines present actions.” The clearer you are on your future intentions, the better clarity on what to do at the present moment. Having a clear understanding of your future intention helps you evaluate a task, delay gratification, and make the necessary sacrifices in the future. Be willing to do what others aren’t so you can have what others want later…greater rewards are in the long-term.
Dennis Waitley, a motivational speaker says, “Failures do what is tension-relieving while winners do what is goal achieving.” Make important tasks a top priority and start them now. Time is passing anyway, so decide how you will spend it and where you want to end up. Thinking about the consequences of your choices, decisions, and behaviors is the best way to determine your priorities.
Principle 5: Practice the ABCDE Method Continually
The ABCDE method is a priority setting technique to help you be more efficient and effective. The premise behind the technique is that the more you invest in planning and setting priorities, the more important things you will do and do faster once you start.
You start by listing everything you have to do for the day and categorize everything into A, B, C, D, or E.
An “A” is something that is very important that you must do or there will be serious consequences (this is your frog.) A “B” is something you should do that has mild consequences (Brian calls these your tadpoles). A “C” is something that would be nice to do but there are no consequences. A “D” is something that you can delegate to someone, which frees up time for you to work your A. An “E” is something you can eliminate because it makes not difference at all.
Discipline yourself to work your A and stay on it until it is complete. If you have more than one task in each category, label the most important A1, the next A2, etc., and do the same for the other categories. Never do a B before an A, or a C before a B.
Principle 6: Focus on Key Result Areas
This principle is about focusing on what you are working towards. Every job can be broken down into “key result areas,” which are results you must achieve and for which you are responsible. For example, the key result areas for management are planning, organizing, staffing, delegating, supervising, measuring, and reporting.
Identify your key result areas and list your responsibilities for each. Then grade yourself on a scale of 1-10 in each result area. Where are you strong? Where are you weak? Are you getting results or under performing? Brian’s rule for this area is “Your weakest key result area sets the height at which you can use all your other skills and abilities.” Essentially, your weakest area limits your overall performance.
This leads to another reason people procrastinate-they avoid things where they have performed poorly in the past. Procrastination doesn’t usually happen in an area you’re good in. Ask yourself, “What one skill, if I developed and did in an excellent fashion, would have the greatest positive impact in my career” (or life, or business)? Ask those around you. Then set a goal to improve in that weak area.
Principle 7: Obey the Law of Forced Efficiency
“There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important thing.” Brian’s rule that applies here is “There will never be enough time to do everything you have to do.” (That’s a hard pill to swallow and something we probably subconsciously know but don’t accept.) A fact Brian states in his book is that the average person is working at 110-130% of capacity, which means you will never get caught up. So that means you need to stay on top of your most important responsibilities.
People create more stress for themselves when they procrastinate and put themselves under the pressure of a deadline. When you’re up against a deadline, you tend to make more mistakes. The questions to ask yourself on a regular basis are:
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?
The answers to these questions will identify your biggest frog at the moment. “Do first things first and second things not at all.”
Principle 8: Prepare Thoroughly Before You Begin
This principle means preparing and having everything you need ready before you begin your task. Have everything you need readily available in front of you. Remove everything that’s not going to help you. Create a workspace you’ll enjoy working in.
Principle 9: Do Your Homework
“Learn what you need to learn so that you can do your work in an excellent fashion.”
Other reasons for procrastination are feelings of inadequacy, lack of confidence, and lack of competence in a key area of a task. To overcome these issues, work on your development. Professional development is one of the best time savers there is. Brian’s rule here is “Continuous learning is the minimum requirement for success in any field.” Keep on improving your skills.
Principle 10: Leverage Your Special Talents
Identify your unique skills and commit yourself to becoming good in these areas, then apply your knowledge and skills (no one can ever take those away). Ask yourself, “What am I really good at?” “What do I enjoy the most about my work?” “What has been most responsible for my success in the past?” “If I could do any job at all, what job would it be?” Focus on your best energies and abilities.
Principle 11: Identify Your Key Constraints
Limiting factors affect how quickly and how well you get your task done. They are the critical path or choke point to achieving your goal. Identify your limiting factors by asking yourself what is holding you back, then focus on alleviating those factors as much as possible. Getting rid of those limiting factors usually brings more progress in a shorter time than anything else.
The 80/20 Rule applies here too-80% of the constraints are internal, only 20% are external. Those constraints can be as simple as a thought or belief. Accept responsibility and get rid of your constraint.
Principle 12: Take it One Oil Barrel at a Time
A saying about tackling anything is “by the yard, it’s hard, but inch by inch, it’s a cinch.” Taking an “one oil barrel at a time” is the same concept. Brian talks about a trip in Algeria through the Sahara Desert. Because of the vastness of the desert and the lack of landmarks, the French had placed empty oil barrels on the road as markers. The barrels were placed 5 kilometers apart, so you could always see the next barrel. So the meaning of this principle is to go as far as you can see, and when you get there, you can see farther. Step out on faith, have confidence, and the next step will become clear.
Principle 13: Put Pressure on Yourself
The intent behind this principle is to take charge of you life before you end up waiting for a rescue that will never come. Be a leader, someone who can work without supervision, which according to Brian is only about 2% of people. Set standards for yourself higher than you would for others and go the extra mile.
This is all about self-esteem, which is your reputation of yourself, as defined by psychologist Nathaniel Brandon. Everything you do affects your self esteem. Push yourself and you’ll feel better about you.
Principle 14: Maximize Your Personal Powers
Physical, mental, and emotional energies make up your personal performance and productivity. So guard and nurture your energy level. Rest when you need to. When you’re rested, you get much more done.
A general rule is that productivity tends to decline after about 8-9 hours. Identify the times you are at your best and use that time to work on your frogs. Take time out to rest, rejuvenate, eat well, and exercise.
Principle 15: Motivate Yourself Into Action
This principle is about controlling your thoughts and being your own cheerleader. Coach and encourage yourself. How you talk to yourself determines your emotional response.
How you interpret things that happen to you determines how you feel. How you feel can motivate or de-motivate you. Become an optimist and don’t let setbacks and negativity affect your mood.
“In study after study, psychologists have determined that ‘optimism’ is the most important quality you can develop for personal and professional success and happiness.”
Brian identifies 3 behaviors of an optimist.
1. Look for the good in every situation.
2. Seek the valuable lesson in every setback or difficulty.
3. Look for the solution to every problem.
When you visualize your goals and talk to yourself positively, you feel focused, energized, confident, creative, and have a greater sense of control and personal power.
Principle 16: Practice Creative Procrastination
This is a personal performance principle about putting off doing smaller, less ugly frogs. Ultimately, you can’t do everything (remember Principle 7, Obey the Law for Force Efficiency?), so procrastinate on low value activities (bonus: you get to choose which ones).
This is a matter of setting priorities, something you do more of and sooner, and setting “posteriorities,” something you do less of and later. The rule that applies here is “You can set your time and your life under control only to the degree to which you discontinue lower value activities.”
Say “no” to low value use of your time and life and say “no” early and often, because you don’t have spare time. Thoughtfully and deliberately decide what things you are not going to do right now. Avoid the unconscious tendency to procrastinate on the big, hard, valuable, important tasks.
You are responsible for evaluating your activities and identifying those that are time-consuming with not real value. Get rid of them or delegate them (um, sounds like Principle 5, Practice the ABCDE Method). Practice “zero-based thinking.” Ask yourself, “If I was not doing this already, knowing what I now know, would I get into it again today?” If you get a yes answer, it’s an “E.”
Principle 17: Do the Most Difficult Task First
This is the hardest, most difficult principle because you’re “eating your frog.” Brian outlines 7 steps to gain this skill (these steps are a nice summary of the some of the principles we have already covered):
1. At the end of the day/weekend, make a list of everything you have to do the next day. 2. Review the list using the ABCDE method combined with the 80/20 rule. 3. Select you A1 task, the one with the most severe consequences. 4. Gather everything you need to start and finish the task; get it ready to start the next morning. 5. Clear your workspace so you’re only ready to start your A1 task. 6. Discipline yourself to get up, get ready, and start the task without interruptions before you do anything else. 7. Do this for 21 days (creates the habit).
When you get into the habit of doing the most difficult task first, you’ll double your productivity in less than a month, and you’ll break the habit of procrastination.
Learn to say “Just for today,” as you’re developing your new habit. “Just for today, I will plan, prepare, and start on my most difficult task before I do anything else.”
Principle 18: Slice and Dice the Task
This principle is the “salami slice” approach to getting work done. Do one slice of the task at a time. Psychologically, it’s easier to do a smaller piece that to start on the whole job-like eating an elephant. We tend to want to do another slice when we get done with one. People have a deep subconscious need to bring finality to a task, the “urge to completion.” We feel happier and more powerful when we start and finish a task because endorphins are released-the bigger the task, the bigger the sense of accomplishment.
This approach is also known as the “Swiss cheese” method; you punch a hole in the task by spending a specific amount of time on the task.
Principle 19: Create Large Chunks of Time
This principle is about scheduling time to work on large tasks. To make significant progress on your tasks, you need blocks of high-value, high productivity time. The key is to plan your day in advance and schedule fixed blocks of time, especially for things you don’t enjoy doing. Make an appointment with yourself (sounds a lot like Principle 2, Plan Each Day in Advance).
Eliminate distractions and work nonstop. “Deliberately and creatively organize the concentrated time periods you need to get your key jobs done well and on schedule.”
Principle 20: Develop a Sense of Urgency
The basis of this principle is to be action-oriented. A sense of urgency is an “inner drive and desire to get on with the job quickly and get it done fast.” Take the time to think, plan, and set priorities, then work them. Create a mental state of “flow,” which is the “highest human state of performance and productivity.”
In the “flow” state, you feel elated, clear, calm, efficient, happy, and accurate. Everything you do seems effortless. You function at a higher plane of clarity, creativity, and competence. You are more sensitive and aware.
Developing a “sense of urgency” triggers the flow state. Race against yourself; develop a “bias for action.” Develop a fast tempo which goes hand and hand with success.
When you become action-oriented, you trigger the “Momentum Principle of Success.” You end up using less energy to keep moving than the energy it takes to get started. The faster you move, the more energy you have, and the more you get done. Repeat to yourself, “Do it now!” When you find yourself distracted, tell yourself, “Back to work!”
Principle 21: Single Hand Every Task
This principle is about concentrating single-mindedly on your frog until it’s done, which is the key to high level performance and personal productivity. Hard, concentrated work precedes every great achievement. You can reduce the time to finish a task by 50% or more when you concentrate single-mindedly, according to Brian.
Starting and stopping can increase the time to finish a task by an estimated 500% because you have to get reacquainted with the task and overcome inertia to get started again. When you stop, you break the cycle and move backwards. Develop momentum by getting into a “productive work rhythm.” “The more you discipline yourself to working non-stop on a single task, the more you move forward along the ‘efficiency curve.'” You get more high quality work done in less time.
Success requires self-discipline, self-mastery, and self control. Elbert Hubbard defines self-discipline as “the ability to make yourself do what you should do when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not.” Starting, persisting, and finishing a task is a true test of character, will, and resolve. Persistence is self-discipline in action. You end up liking and respecting yourself better. You shape and mold your character and become a superior person.
There you have it, 21 principles for overcoming procrastination so you can “eat your frog.” As a result of integrating these principles into your work habits, you will be happy, satisfied, feel a sense of personal power and effectiveness, and will become a great success. Fortunately, all this principles can be learned through repetition. As a recap, here they are:
1. Set the table.
2. Plan every day in advance.
3. Apply the 80/20 rule to everything.
4. Consider the consequences.
5. Practice the ABCDE method continually.
6. Focus on key result areas.
7. Obey the Law of Forced Efficiency.
8. Prepare thoroughly before you begin.
9. Do you homework.
10. Leverage your key special talents.
11. Identify your key restraints.
12. Take it one oil barrel at a time.
13. Put the pressure on yourself.
14. Maximize your personal powers.
15. Motivate yourself into action.
16. Practice creative procrastination.
17. Do the most difficult task first.
18. Slice and dice the task.
19. Create large chunks of time.
20. Develop a sense of urgency.
21. Single-handle every task.
I recommend you read the book. Don’t let the number 21 scare you. The book is an easy read and Brian gets straight to the point-no extra fluff. You’ll gain a better understanding of the principles, and the better you understand them, the better you’ll be able to apply them to your business and life. The benefit is you get to successfully “Eat that frog!”