I just finished reading "Eat That Frog!: 21 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time" by Brian Tracy. It's a book about productivity, and therefore, it's a book about planning.
I'll summarize my three favorite parts of it here to share with you, and I encourage you to try them out!
Tracy has done a tremendous amount of research on the habits of the most productive people and the book contains tips about identifying your strengths, your highest-value activities, and ways to improve your skill set, energy level, and mood, so if that's interesting to you, I recommend reading the book or listening to the audio version.
For this blog post, I'm going to skip to the 3 tips that I found the most useful and that I've been applying in my daily work life.
1. Work from a list
2. Prioritize your list
3. Eat the biggest frog first.
All of these steps are planning to do the work before you get started. You might argue that taking the time to plan is wasteful because you could have used that time to actually accomplish something, rather than planning to accomplish something, but Tracy says that any time you spend planning will save you 5 times as much time in the long run. The reason is that if we fail to plan, we often spend our time on tasks that aren't contributing to our highest value. So, let's dive a little deeper into my three favorite parts of this book.
1. Work from a list
Tracy says to always work from a list, which I already do. He suggests a master list, a monthly list, a weekly list, and a daily list.
I use Asana to keep track of master and monthly lists, but each week I transfer these tasks and anything new that has come up into my paper notebook and I work from there.
Now, if a task on your list has multiple steps, list them individually so you can more accurately plan, and more importantly, give yourself a feeling of accomplishment when you finish.
For example, If you're trying to write a book, don't write "write the book" on your weekly or daily to-do list. Doing this allows you to procrastinate until you have enough time to write an entire book in one sitting, which you'll probably never have. And if you ever do sit down and write for 3 hours, you still won't be able to mark "write the book" off your to-do list.
So do yourself a favor and break it down into manageable steps. If you're writing a book, you might list "write 25 pages" on your daily to-do list. Or "edit chapter 1," or "compile table of contents."
These should be tasks that you can accomplish in 30 or 60 or 90 minutes. If it's going to take you longer, then break it down into smaller pieces. For example, last week's blog post about the hardware you need to get started with Shopify took me about 2.5 hours to finish. However, that was about 90 minutes of writing, 30 minutes of adding links, and 30 minutes of creating the graphics.
So, each week, I open a new page of my notebook (I'm currently using a Baron Fig sketchbook journal), and on the left, I write out everything I want to accomplish that week. I make sure to include items from last week that were left unfinished, too.
Then I create a column for each workday. If there's a day where I know I won't be in the office, for either a day off or a day of meetings (I like to schedule all my meetings on one day, if possible), I create a column for it, but I don't list anything there. That way, if something comes up that I NEED to squeeze in before a meeting, I can. And I like seeing the visual spacing of all 5 days in a week.
For each day, I list the tasks I need to accomplish, in no particular order. I even list things I do each day, like answer emails or go for a dog walk, just to give me the satisfaction of crossing it off when I'm done.
My weekly list, broken down into daily lists.
2. Prioritize your list
Once you have your list laid out by weekly and daily, it's time to prioritize. I should note here that sometimes there are things on your list that aren't your highest value activities. Sometimes, especially if you work for someone else, you're charged with accomplishing a task that could be better suited for someone else. If you find yourself in this position, first read the book, then talk to your boss about how you can provide more value to your company by focusing on higher-value tasks.
If you're self-employed and finding that your tasks aren't of your highest value, it's time to look at where you can delegate and focus your skills.
But if you know that what's on your to-do list are your highest value activities, let's move ahead and prioritize them.
Tracy suggests the ABCDE method.
This method involves writing a letter beside each item in your list.
A tasks are the highest priority -- tasks you MUST complete or else there will be serious consequences.
B tasks are things you should complete, but the consequences would be mild.
C tasks are things you'd like to do, but there are no consequences if you don't.
D tasks are items that can be delegated to someone else.
E tasks can be eliminated as they don't really need to be accomplished at all.
After you assign a letter to each item on your list, delegate the D tasks, and cross off the E tasks. You're left with just A, B, and C.
Now, if you have multiple items with As, Bs, or Cs beside them, it's time to number them to prioritize even further. So A1 would be the MOST important task (that would have the most SERIOUS consequences if you don't accomplish it). A2 would be the next most important, then A3, and so on. Then, move on to numbering your B tasks and C tasks.
Then it's time to move on to step 3.
3. Eat the biggest frog first.
The title of the book, "Eat That Frog," refers to a quote that is often attributed to Mark Twain, although there's some debate about the accuracy of this linkage.
Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.
or, the variation:
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 quote or not, the concept is the same. Your frog is the most important thing you have to do each day. We've named this A1. If you have two important things (A1 and A2), do the most daunting one first.
This concept seems simple until you actually sit down with that daily to-do list, which, Tracy says, you should always prepare the day before.
For me, it's really tempting to tick off smaller, easier tasks just to make my list shorter, or because those tasks won't take very long and I'll feel accomplished.
Or worse, I sometimes sit down at my computer, open my email, and spend an hour or more with not just replies, but getting lost on tangents, links, and great shopping deals that feel very important at the time. Meanwhile, all while my actual work -- the work that will make me money, fulfill promises to my clients, and/or inch me closer to my goals -- sits waiting, patiently, while I waste time on these C tasks.
So I've been making a concentrated effort to eat my A1 frog first thing in the morning. And it's helping.
I use toggl to keep track of the time I spend on each task. I do this because I like having an idea of how long it takes me to write a blog post, write a proposal, build a website, etc., But also, once I turn on my timer, I'm WORKING.
I don't want to have that timer run while I shop online or while I look at my phone. In fact, before I turn on my timer, I put my phone in the other room, on silent, where I can't even hear it vibrate.
Our minds bring us more than enough distractions all on their own. Help yourself out by minimizing the distractions you allow into your workspace. Turn off desktop notifications, work with only one browser, and focus and work until the task is done.
Although I rarely get through an entire day's list of A, B, and C tasks, just knowing that I accomplished the A tasks makes me feel like my day's work was fruitful.
Tracy says that while there's not enough time to do everything, there is enough time to do the most important things.
And the important things are what will help you reach your goals, keep promises to your customers, and make you money.
I've only scratched the surface on the productivity tricks that Brian Tracy shares in "Eat That Frog," but for me, it has made a big difference. I jump right into the biggest task I have to do each day. Then, when something else comes up, I know I've accomplished the most important task of the day.
What's your favorite productivity hack? Share it with us in the comments.