Why you should “eat the frog” – A breakdown of helpful productivity euphemisms

Mark Twain once said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” 

While I definitely don’t see myself consuming amphibians any time soon, I can say Mr. Twain makes a good point. “Eating the frog” is completing your most important and oftentimes most difficult task before doing any of your others. 

As a recovering professional procrastinator, I’d say this piece of advice has been extraordinarily helpful to me. When you have a lot on your plate, a large task staring you in the face and several other assignments on your to-do list, it can be easier said than done. That’s why I’m going to help you spot and conquer your frog. 

Spotting the frog among tadpoles

I’m guilty of putting my frog in a box and ignoring it until the last minute. The problem with procrastination is that you think you’re cranking out good work under pressure when you’re really just working quickly to produce a product that’s just OK. When you’re pressed for time, you end up making uncharacteristic mistakes, leaving out important details or just missing the point of the task completely. That’s allowing the frog to eat you. 

If you want to work efficiently, check out your to-do list. What is the one task you’ve been purposefully ignoring or waiting for the right moment to start? That task is your frog, and according to Twain, you need to identify it and finish it before you start doing smaller, easier tasks. Once that one task is done, the momentum and a sense of accomplishment from finishing will help your productivity rate for the rest of the day.

For a better understanding on how to identify and prioritize your tasks, divide them out into  four categories: things you don’t want to do, but need to do; things you want to do and need to do; things you want to do, but don’t need to do; things you don’t want to do, and don’t need to do. The thing that you don’t want to do, but need to do is your frog. 

Prepping your meal

If you’re not a breakfast person, now’s the time to become one ‒ even if it is just metaphorically. Mornings usually have fewer distractions. If you can eat the frog first thing in the morning – when you’re fresh and most attentive – the rest of your day will be easier by comparison. 

Sometimes starting the project is the hardest part. As Brian Tracy says, “If you have to eat a live frog at all, it doesn’t pay to sit and look at it for very long.” The more you sit and think about the project you have to work on, the less motivated you will be to do it. The key is to dive right in, swallowing the frog whole, if you will. It’s tough, but it will be so worth it in the end. The progress you make on your big project will create momentum and ultimately grant you the consistency to follow through. 

A new diet

Once you’ve eaten the frog, you’re on your way to a solid workflow. However, it’s easy to fall victim to old practices. Once you’ve eaten the frog, it’s up to you to make it a consistent meal. To help you get in the habit of eating the frog, write out your tasks daily and ask yourself: “What is the most valuable use of my time right now?” The answer is going to have something to do with your frog. 

Set yourself up for success by starting your day early, getting all the necessary tools ready and in place for you to have a productive workday. Check your to do list, find your frog and get to work. Once you’ve conquered the frog, you can say goodbye to procrastination and hello to a less stressful, more productive work week.