“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.”

Mark Twain

This quote has forever changed my perspective and productivity levels. While a little gross, metaphorical, and hard to untangle, the impact it has over my productivity is undeniable.

The ‘frog’ in this quote is the worst thing you have to do in a day. For some, it’ll be that killer workout that makes you burn all over and die inside. Perhaps for somebody else, it’s that brain-numbing work report which takes hours. In short: it’s the one thing on your to-do list that makes you want to crawl back into bed and pretend the day never started.

The logic behind this productivity system is simple: by getting the horrible task completed, it’s easier to continue with your day. You might feel lighter, a little smug. It no longer looms over your day like a threatening storm cloud. Not only will completing this task give you momentum, but you’ll be able to ignore it for the rest of your day.

How do I find my frog?

Some of you might struggle to decide which task on your to-do list is this ‘frog’. Perhaps,you’ve got two tasks you hate – or maybe all the bullet points are a drag, but you’re not sure which is worst. Almost daily, there are a few tasks I’d like to tick off, but I’m just not motivated to do it. Before coming across this productivity system, I would leave these horrible tasks later and later.

Not only would my motivation flag by the end of the day, but I was continually looking at these big, problematic tasks – and thinking, “Wow, I’ve still got to do all that.” My days were miserable. Pressure and stress haunted me, and it was impossible to relax.

Now, when it comes to finding your frog, I like to use a system similar to an Eisenhower Square. Instead of placing ‘important’, ‘not important’, ‘urgent’ and ‘not urgent’ on my square, I choose other categories to help identify my frog.

  • Tasks I need to do
  • Tasks I don’t need to do
  • Things I want to do
  • Things I don’t want to do

This leaves us with a square which looks like so:

Your frog? Right there in the bottom left hand corner. It’s the thing you really don’t want to do – but that you really must do.

I have two frogs – how does that work?

First of all, you poor thing. Second of all, do the bigger frog first. There is always one that you’ll find uninspiring – and if it’s still hard to tell, do either first, but do both before anything else on your list. Remember: the longer it takes you to eat the frog, the harder it’ll be, and the more effort you’ll have to put in.

It’s not an ideal situation, but hopefully with time and practice, you’ll get better at eating the frog.

Eat The Frog – Take Action

The bare-bones of this technique is simple: get things done. Starting and taking action is the most important step. The most successful and driven people are those who launch into their biggest tasks, and discipline themselves to develop it as a habit. By working steadily, and with focus, you’ll be powering through your biggest tasks in no time – without batting an eyelid.

In my opinion, one of our worst habits as a society is the ability to feel busy, without being productive. By filling our time with meaningless activities, like checking emails and looking over a diary, we are procrastinating on proper tasks that need doing. Perhaps you see this in your day-to-day life, in a company where meetings and conversations are active, but changes are stagnant and always for tomorrow.

Eat the Frog Daily – Taking it Further

One key step to developing long-term productivity is to start creating a positive addiction. This means that you start to rely on the morning rush of doing your hardest task. The feeling of satisfaction propelling you through the day, and the ultimate pleasure of having killed your worst part of the day.

By creating an addiction to the endorphins released when you eat your frog, it’s easier to continually start – and finish – new, harder tasks which you need to do. In a long-term usage, you can become addicted to this positive feedback, changing your life for the better with every decision you take.

The positive loop can also help through building a habit. Honestly, habits beat discipline every day of the week. It is through automatic action that we see changes – and by building habits, we act more and see incremental change. Another huge benefit of developing habits is the reduced mental exhaustion.

Every day when we make decisions it takes brain power. Our subconscious ticks away at choosing the food we eat, clothes we wear and other menial decisions. Through these minor processes, our ability to decide through the day is reduced. When we have habits, this mental exhaustion goes away a little. By focusing your effort to the tasks ahead – not towards organizing your day randomly – it can be easier to focus, and we can get more done.

Doing It Properly

Shortcuts get us nowhere in life. Proper processes, where we take time to apply effort where it’s due and focus on the hard parts, help us to grow. This technique is no different. Practice is key to mastering any skill, and to become the productive powerhouse that lies dormant inside, it’s important to focus on eating the frog.

With practice, and planning, you can learn any behaviour and turn it into a part of your daily life. By putting the frog at the start of your day, it’ll be easier to work and relax. You’ll probably feel lighter, and able to focus. Plan your frog the night before, and get your morning started right – you’ll never regret it. Remember: if you eat the frog, you’ll be happier, more productive and relaxed throughout the day.

What is your frog? Is it something you need to do daily? If so, write it down and challenge yourself to do it first-thing, every day.

You might surprise yourself.