In 2007, productivity and time management coach Brian Tracy wrote a book based on a quote attributed to the classic novelist and satirist Mark Twain. His book has been used and quoted by innumerable people since. Mark Twain is supposed to have said:
If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.
Over time the concept of Eat That Frog has become synonymous with quickly performing a difficult or daunting task that we might have been putting off for a long time. It is disputed whether the quote is actually from Mark Twain or not. Quote Investigator has done a lot of research regarding this. According to this, Nicholas Chamfort (1741-1794) can be held responsible for introducing this amphibian in French periodicals “……a man should swallow a toad every morning so that he might meet with nothing more disgusting, during the rest of the day, if he had to pass it in society.”
In 1896, Emile Zola wrote a piece of advice for those embarking on a literary career. He said that the best thing for an author would be to swallow a live frog every morning and nourish it with all the criticism and negativity he encountered.
Both Chamfort and Zola did not use Eat That Frog in the context of productivity and time management as it is used now; neither, perhaps, did Mark Twain. The disputed origin of the quotation and its current interpretation is best summed up by the following lines from a 20th century newspaper quoted by Quote Investigator,
“I think it was Mark Twain who said, and if he didn’t he should have, that if you swallowed a toad every morning you could be pretty sure that nothing worse would happen to you for the rest of the day. That’s why I jog..”
Revolting as it sounds, the concept of Swallow a Toad or Eat That Frog hits the issue of procrastination spot on. I am no expert, but in my personal battle against postponing and laziness I have discovered some simple techniques that really work.
1.Dismember the Frog: cut it into pieces.
I know that sounds yucky, but it works. More seriously, breaking a formidable task into components makes it less daunting and far more do-able.
Suppose you are dreading writing a term paper and keep putting it off. Just sit down and write the introduction. Later tackle one or two points. Before you know it, you will have managed the whole of it.Another method is to make an outline, and keep expanding the points a few at a time.
This method works just as well around the house. Perhaps you need to clean out your garage and this is the fourth weekend running that you have put it off again. Just do one shelf this weekend. Keep doing a bit every weekend, maybe you get some time during the week and can do some more. Before you know it, you will have a neat and tidy garage.
Revolting as it seems, it does help to cut up that frog into bite-size pieces.
- Change the Frog’s position: pick a new environment.
This is a good one for students. Maybe sitting in the garden (if you are lucky enough to have one) instead of at your desk makes it easier to eat the frog of tackling your physics home work. If you cannot physically change your environment, then re-locate mentally. It’s all about tricking yourself into doing something you don’t want to. Imagining yourself at the beach or mentally re-visiting that picturesque hillside while sitting in your windowless office can be quite effective.
- Associate the Frog with something fun: positive association.
To borrow a line from Mary Poppins, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”. Substitute frog for medicine.
When cleaning out closets or drawers, I often watch a favourite movie. You’ve Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, has gotten me through many a spring cleaning. I usually choose something that I have seen before so that I don’t mind missing a scene or dialogue if my work takes me to another part of the house in between. Once I even typed out a thesis to Grease, Part one and two. Although John Travolta and Olivia Newton John relieved my tedium, I wouldn’t advise this to younger people for fear of being taken to task by parents and teachers.
The key to this method is that your pleasant association should be just attractive enough to trick your brain into staying engaged and working simultaneously. It should not be so engrossing that you lose sight of the frog.
- Put an hourglass next to the Frog: Time yourself
Set a stop watch for five minutes and begin on that frog. Your frog could, perhaps, be a pile of ironing. At the end of fifteen minutes, the pile will have been reduced by several items and won’t seem so difficult the next time you attack it. But at the end of fifteen minutes you might find that ironing clothes (or doing your accounts or writing that report), is actually not so difficult and you may end up finishing all of it.
- Do something else: Frog Exchange Program
I have found that this works really well for me. This method is based on the human tendency of thinking that the grass is greener on the other side of the pasture. After doing something, anything, for some time, both our mind and body get bored/tired and start looking for distraction. This moment of dissatisfaction with task no. 1 is the time when it will be very easy to pick up that frog that is task no. 2 and swallow it whole.
For instance, you have been putting off cleaning out your desk drawers since time immemorial. Just sit down at that desk and begin doing something equally tedious like typing out a report or filling in forms. Chances are, after some time you will get so tired and sick of doing this that the idea of tidying your drawers will seem quite attractive in comparison. Carpe diem-seize this moment-and you will find that Operation Clean Up gets done quite easily.
- Take care which Frog you swallow/Don’t choose the wrong one: Prioritize.
It is useless to pour blood, sweat and tears into the first random task on your to-do list. Take the time to deliberate just a little. Think whether what you are about to do is the most important thing for you. As the life coaches say, “Work smart, not hard!”
- Disguise the Frog: make it seem less revolting/more attractive.
Now this one is the hardest. You might remember the scene in Mark Twain’s iconic novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, where Tom has been appointed to paint a fence. As his friends pass by, he keeps saying how much fun his task is. He makes the other boys envy him and beg him to let them have a turn at painting the fence. Tom plays hard to get, but eventually lets himself be cajoled into letting them do it in exchange for their prized possessions. Voila! His job is done for him and he acquires a treasure trove of little items dear to little boys’ hearts.
I am not advising you to con someone into doing your hard jobs for you. What I am suggesting is to make your frog seem such a nice thing in your mind that you are no longer put off by it and you put it off no longer. This probably requires a bit of self- hypnosis but I am working on it.
Although most principles apply to most situations because common things tend to occur commonly, be circumspect when you take advice. Don’t take everything at face value and don’t apply every axiom to yourself. Instead, tailor the techniques to your personality and your particular situation.
Do you think any of the above can work for you ? I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.