“You cannot eat every tadpole and frog in the pond, but you can eat the biggest and ugliest one, and that will be enough, at least for the time being.”
Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy is one of the best books on productivity and overcoming procrastination. Full of actionable tips, it covers the twenty-one most powerful principles on personal effectiveness. These methods, techniques, and strategies are practical, proven and fast-acting. You can apply many of these ideas to your personal life as well.
Eat That Frog Summary
Your “frog” is your biggest, most important task. It’s the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it.
Develop the habit of eating your frog, first thing every day when you start work. Fortunately, this is a learnable skill that you can get through repetition.
If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first. When choosing between two important tasks, start with the most important one first.
The 21 ways to stop procrastinating and get more things done faster:
- Set the Table. Decide exactly what you want. Write out your goals and objectives before you begin
- Plan Every Day in Advance. Think on paper. Every minute you spend in planning can save you five or ten minutes in execution
- Apply the 80/20 Rule to Everything. Concentrate your efforts on the 20% of your activities that will bring 80% of your results
- Consider the Consequences. Your most important tasks are the ones with the most consequences in your life. Focus on these above all else
- Practice the ABCDE Method Continually. Organize your tasks by value and priority
- Focus on Key Result Areas. Identify the results that you have to get to do your job well, and work on them all day long
- The Law of Forced Efficiency. There is never enough time to do everything. But there is always enough time to do the most important things. What are they?
- Prepare Thoroughly Before You Begin. Proper prior preparation prevents poor performance
- Do Your Homework. Become more knowledgeable and skilled at your key tasks and you’ll finish them faster
- Leverage Your Special Talents. What exactly are you or could be very good at? Focus into doing those specific things well
- Identify Your Key Constraints. Determine your internal or external bottlenecks. These set the speed at which you achieve your most important goals. Focus on alleviating them
- Take It One Oil Barrel at a Time. You can achieve the biggest and most complicated job if you just complete it one step at a time
- Put the Pressure on Yourself. Imagine that you have to leave town for a month. Work as if you had to get all your major tasks completed before you left
- Maximize Your Personal Powers. Identify your periods of highest mental and physical energy each day. Structure your most important and demanding tasks around these times. Get lots of rest so you can perform at your best
- Motivate Yourself into Action. Be your own cheerleader. Look for the good in every situation. Focus on the solution rather than the problem. Always be optimistic and constructive
- Practice Creative Procrastination. You can’t do it all. Learn to deliberately put off low-value tasks so you have enough time to do the few things that really count
- Do the Most Difficult Task First. Begin each day with the task that can make the greatest contribution to your life. Stay at it until it is complete
- Slice and Dice the Task: Break large, complex tasks down into bite-sized pieces. And then just do one small part of the task to get started
- Create Large Chunks of Time. Organize your days around large blocks of time. Use them to work for extended periods on your most important tasks
- Develop a Sense of Urgency. Make a habit of moving fast on your key tasks. Become known as a person who does things quickly and well
- Single Handle Every Task. Set clear priorities and start immediately on your most important task. Work without stopping until the job is 100% complete. This is the real key to high performance and maximum personal productivity
Practice these principles every day until they become second nature to you. When these habits become a part of your personality, your future will be unlimited.
Just do it! Eat that frog.
#1 Set the Table
How to set your goals:
- Decide what you want. Do this exercise alone or with your boss. Don’t stop until you are crystal clear about what is expected of you and in what order of priority
- Write it down. Think on paper
- Set a deadline. A goal or decision without a deadline has no urgency. It has no real beginning or end
- Make a list. Add everything you are going to have to do to achieve your goal. As you think of new activities, add them to your list. Keep building your list until it is complete
- Make a plan. Organize your list by priority and sequence. Decide what you need to do first and what you can do later. Even better, lay out your plan visually in the form of a series of boxes and circles on a sheet of paper. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to achieve your goal when you break it down into individual tasks
- Take action on your plan immediately. Do something. Anything. An average plan vigorously executed is far better than a brilliant plan on which nothing is done. Execution is everything
- Take action every day. Build this activity into your daily schedule. Never miss a day.
Review your goals daily. Every morning, start with your biggest frog to achieve your most important goal at the moment.
#2 Plan Every Day In Advance
How do you eat your biggest frog? By breaking it down into specific step-by-step activities and then start on the first one.
“Every minute spent in planning saves as many as ten minutes in execution.”
- Write a list. Detail everything you have to do before you begin
- Work from a list. If something new comes up, add it to the list before doing it
- Plan ahead. Make your list the night before or at the end of the workday. Let your subconscious process it while you sleep. Often you’ll wake up with great ideas to get the job done faster and better than you initially thought
- Update your list. Move unfinished items to your list for the coming day and add everything you have to do the next day
The 4 lists you need:
- Master List: everything you want to do some time in the future. The place where you capture every idea that comes to or every new task or responsibility that comes up
- Monthly List: for monthly planning. Transfer items from the master list if needed
- Weekly List: for weekly planning. Update it as you go through the current week
- Daily List: for daily work. Tick off items as you complete them to give you a visual picture of success
When you have a new project, start by making a list. Detail every step needed to complete the project from beginning to end.
Then, organize tasks by priority and sequence. Lay it out in front of you on paper or on a computer so that you can see it.
Finally, go to work on one task at a time.
#3 Apply the 80/20 Rule to Everything
The 80/20 Rule: 20% of your activities will account for 80% of your results
Often, one item on your list of ten things is worth more than all the other nine items put together. This task is invariably the frog that you should eat first.
“Resist the temptation to clear up small things first.”
Whatever you choose to do, over and over, eventually becomes a habit that is hard to break. If you start your day on low-value tasks, you’ll develop the habit of always starting on low-value tasks.
Instead, choose to spend your time working in those few areas that make a difference in your life and career. Spend less and less time on lower-value activities.
#4 Consider the Consequences
Learn to predict the consequences of your tasks to determine what your next frog really is.
“Long-term thinking improves short-term decision making.”
Successful people have a clear future orientation. Their present choices and behaviors are consistent with the long-term future they desire.
“Future intent influences and often determines present actions.”
Successful people are those who are willing to delay gratification. They make sacrifices in the short term so they can enjoy far greater rewards in the long term.
Review your list of tasks, activities, and projects regularly. Continually ask yourself: “Which one project has the greatest impact on my life?”
Whatever it is that can help you the most, set it as a goal, make a plan to achieve it and go to work on your plan immediately.
#5 Practice the ABCDE Method Continually
The ABCDE Method is a powerful priority setting technique you can use every single day.
Start with a list of everything you have to do today. Place an A, B, C, D or E before each item on your list:
- “A” are tasks you must do. The frogs of your life. If you have more than one “A” task, rank them by writing A-1, A-2, A-3, and so on. Your A-1 task is your biggest frog of all
- “B” are tasks you should do. These are tadpoles
- “C” are tasks that would be nice to do.
- “D” are tasks you can delegate. If other people can do it, delegate to free more time for the “A” tasks that only you can do
- “E” are tasks you can cut. They may have been important at one time but are no longer relevant to yourself or anyone else
Discipline yourself to start immediately on your “A-1” task and then stay at it until it is complete. Eat the whole frog and don’t stop until it’s finished completely.
#6 Focus On Key Result Areas
Key Result Area: the results you must get to succeed in your area of responsibility. An output of your work becomes an input or a contributing factor to the work of others. We can break each job into five to seven key result areas
How to identify the key result areas of your work:
- Write down the key results you have to get to do your job in an excellent fashion
- Grade yourself from 1–10 on each one. Where are you getting excellent results and where are you underperforming?
Your weakest key result area sets the height at which you can use all your other skills and abilities.
“What one skill, if I did it in an excellent manner, would have the greatest positive impact on my career?”
Use this question to guide your career for the rest of your life. Ask your boss, coworkers, friends, and family. When you have an answer, work to bring up your performance in this area.
#7 Obey the Law of Forced Efficiency
You cannot eat every tadpole and frog in the pond. But you can eat the biggest and ugliest one, and that will be enough, at least for the time being.
“There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important thing.”
The 3 questions to ask on a regular basis to keep yourself focused:
- “What are my highest value activities?”
- “Is there something that I and only I do, that if done well, will make a real difference?”
- “What is the most valuable use of my time, right now?”
#8 Prepare Thoroughly Before You Begin
You just need one small mental push to get started on your highest value tasks. It’s like getting everything ready to prepare a complete meal, such as eating a big frog.
Clear off your desk or workspace so that you only have one task in front of you. If necessary, put everything on the floor or on the table behind you.
Set up your work area so that it is comfortable, attractive and conducive to working for long periods
When you’re ready to go, assume the body language of high performance. Sit up straight, sit forward and away from the back of the chair.
Then, pick up the first item and get to work. Keep going until you finish the job.
#9 Do Your Homework
Become a “Do-It-To-Yourself” project. Be a lifelong student of your craft. The better you become at eating a particular type of frog, the more likely you are to just plunge in and get it done.
One of the most helpful of all time management techniques is for you to get better at your key tasks.
What are the key skills that can help you the most to achieve better and faster results? What are the core competencies that you will need to have in the future to lead your field?
Set a goal, make a plan and begin developing and increasing your ability in those areas. You can:
- Read in your field for at least one hour every day
- Take every course and seminar available on key skills that can help you
- Attend the conventions and business meetings of your profession or occupation
- Go to the sessions and workshops. Sit at the front and take notes
- Listen to educational audio in your car
Refuse to allow a weakness or a lack of ability in any area to hold you back. Everything is learnable. And what others have learned, you can learn as well.
#10 Leverage Your Special Talents
Some things that you can do (or can learn to do) make you extraordinarily valuable to yourself and to others. This is your ability to eat specific frogs faster and better than others. Commit to becoming great at them.
How to identify your special areas of uniqueness:
- What am I really good at?
- 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 starting and completing those key tasks that play to your strengths. Because of your unique talents and abilities, you’ll make a significant contribution.
You cannot do everything but you can do those few things in which you excel. Those are the few things that can really make a difference.
#11 Identify Your Key Constraints
Identify your most important goal in life today.
“What one goal, if you achieved it, would have the greatest positive effect on your life?”
Once you are clear about your major goal, ask yourself, “What sets the speed at which I achieve this goal?”
Whatever you have to do, there is always a limiting factor that determines how quickly and well you get it done.
Your job is to study the task and identify the limiting factor or constraint within it. If it’s not obvious, make a list of every step in the process. This will help you determine exactly what is holding you back.
Now, focus all your energies on alleviating that single chokepoint.
#12 Take It One Oil Barrel at A Time
To eat a large frog, take it one bite at a time. Discipline yourself to take it just one step at a time. Your job is to go as far as you can see. You will then see far enough to go further. The next step will soon become clear to you.
Make a list of all the steps you will need to take to complete the task. Then, just start and complete one item on the list. And then one more, and so on.
You can achieve financial independence by saving every single month, year after year. You become healthier by eating a little less and exercising a little more, day after day.
#13 Put the Pressure on Yourself
Form the habit of putting the pressure on yourself, and not waiting for someone else to come along and do it for you. Choose your own frogs and then make yourself eat them in their order of importance.
The standards you set for your own work and behavior should be higher than anyone else could set for you.
If you had to leave town for a month, what would you absolutely make sure got done before you left? Whatever it is, go to work on that task right now.
Set deadlines and sub-deadlines on every task. Once you’ve set yourself a deadline, stick to it and even try to beat it.
Write out every step of a major job or project before you begin. Then determine how many minutes and hours you will need to complete each phase. Schedule blocks on your daily and weekly calendars to work only on these tasks.
#14 Maximize Your Personal Powers
The raw materials of personal performance are your physical, mental and emotional energies. To be productive and happy, guard and nurture your energy levels at all times.
A few guidelines:
- We all have specific times during the day when we are at your best. Identify yours and use them to work on your most important and challenging tasks
- Take one full day off every week and regular vacations each year. This includes both long weekends and longer breaks
- Go to bed early five nights a week
- Be careful about what you eat. Feed yourself as you would feed a world-class athlete before a competition
#15 Motivate Yourself into Action
To perform at your best, you must become your own personal cheerleader. You must develop a routine of coaching yourself and encouraging yourself to play at the top of your game.
95% of your emotions, positive or negative, are determined by how you talk to yourself on a minute to minute basis. It is not what happens to you but your perception that determines how you feel.
So to keep yourself motivated, resolve to become a complete optimist:
- Look for the good in every situation
- Seek the valuable lesson in every setback or difficulty
- Search for the solution to every problem
- Accept complete responsibility for yourself and for everything that happens to you
- Refuse to criticize or blame others for anything
- Resolve to make progress rather than excuses
- Keep your thoughts and your energy focused forward and let the rest go
Continually visualize your goals and talk to yourself in a positive way. You’ll feel focused and energized. And you’ll become more eager to get started and keep going.
#16 Practice Creative Procrastination
Creative procrastination is putting off eating smaller or less ugly frogs. Since you must procrastinate anyway, decide today to procrastinate on low-value activities.
Say “No” to anything that is not a high-value use of your time and your life. Say it early and say it often (see Essentialism)
Practice zero-based thinking on every part of your life. Ask yourself continually, “If I was not doing this already, knowing what I now know, would I get into it again today?” If no, it’s a prime candidate for elimination or creative procrastination.
Continually review your life and work and find tasks that you can abandon with no real loss.
#17 Do the Most Difficult Task First
Start your work by doing your most difficult task first. This is truly “Eating your frog.”
How to develop the habit of eating your frog:
- At the end of your workday, or on the weekend, make a list of everything you have to do the next day
- Review this list using the ABCDE Method combined with the 80/20 Rule
- Select your A-1, your most important task
- Assemble everything you need to start and finish this job and lay it out ready for you to start work in the morning
- Discipline yourself to start on your biggest frog. Work without interruptions
Do this every day for 21 days until it becomes a habit.
#18 Slice and Dice the Task
Two techniques to use when tasks seem overwhelming:
- The “Salami Slice”: lay out the task in detail and decide to do just one slice of the job for now. It’s like eating a roll of salami, one slice at a time. Psychologically, it’s easier to do a single, small piece of a large project than to start on the whole job. But once you get started, you’ll feel like doing one more “slice.” Soon, you will find yourself working through the job one part at a time, and before you know it, the job will be completed
- The “Swiss cheese”: punch a hole into the task, like a hole in a block of Swiss Cheese. You Swiss cheese a task when you resolve to work for a specific time on it. This may be as little as five or ten minutes, after which you will stop and do something else. Once you start, you develop a sense of momentum and a feeling of accomplishment. And this feeling motivated you to keep going until the task is complete
#19 Create Large Chunks of Time
Work at scheduled times on large tasks. Important work requires large chunks of unbroken time to complete (see Deep Work).
Plan your day in advance and schedule blocks of time to work on a particular task. They are like work appointments with yourself. Discipline yourself to keep them. During this block, turn off your phone, cut all distractions and work non-stop.
Make every minute count. Use travel and transition time to complete small chunks of larger tasks.
#20 Develop A Sense of Urgency
When you work on high-value tasks at a high and continuous level of activity, you enter into a state of “flow.” Successful people get themselves into this state far more often than the average.
To trigger “flow”, develop a “sense of urgency.” This is an inner drive and desire to get on with the job quickly and get it done fast. You develop a “bias for action.” Rather than talking about what you are going to do, you focus on the specific steps you can take immediately.
Resolve today to develop a sense of urgency in everything you do. If you a tendency to procrastinate in one area, make a decision to develop the habit of fast action in that area. When you see an opportunity or a problem, take action immediately. When given a task or responsibility, do it quickly and report back fast.
#21 Single Handle Every Task
Single Handling is working on a task without distraction until it’s 100% complete. Urge yourself onward by repeating the words “Back to work!” over and over whenever tempted to stop or do something else. Concentrate single-mindedly on a task and you can reduce completion time by 50%.
The more you work non-stop on a single task, the more you move down the “Efficiency Curve.” You get more and more high-quality work done in less and less time.
Persistence is actually self-discipline in action. The more you persist on a major task, the more you like and respect yourself, and the higher is your self-esteem.
And the key is to determine the most valuable thing you could possibly do at every single moment. And then, “Eat That Frog!”