I have recently finished the book Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend you to get through it. No matter what you are doing in life, the book will benefit you for sure. If you are already familiar with the concepts presented there, it will remind you and structuralize them. If you are not, it might even be eye opening for you! And it is quite short, about 100 pages, so you will be able to read it in 3 – 4 hours.
Where does the title Eat that frog came from? Mark Twain once said:
If you eat a frog first thing in the morning that will probably be the worst thing you do all day.
This sentence describes the heart of the book. Focus always on the hardest, most valuable and significant task to progress as fast as possible and achieve the best results. As the title says, the book presents 21 ways to avoid procrastination. I found it very useful to write them all down with a short comment and context. Thanks to that it will be easy to remind myself of all of them and evaluate if they are used properly and if they are even used at all. If you haven’t read the book, do not treat them as a spoiler but as an incentive!
- Set the table
Clearly define goals. Decide on a time frame (half a year, one year) and write them down. Next, check what you need to do to achieve them. You can find out more about writing down your goals here.
- Plan every day in advance
Always work from a list. Every day you should make a list of actions and execute them. Personally, I would even suggest for you to plan a whole week in advance – it gives better context and a bigger picture of your work. For tracking a lot of stuff and maintaining several lists I recommend for you to use mind maps. Here you can find a short introduction to the topic.
- Apply the 80/20 rule to everything
The rule simply says that 20% of your work will account for 80% of your results. An example from the programmer/developer world might be a code cleanup. You can improve existing code for a very long time. However, the initial hours you spend on it will bring the most value. You should focus on key areas to achieve the best results. Time spent on identifying 20% of your key activities definitely pays off. Another name for the rule is the Pareto principle.
- Consider the consequences
Whenever you are deciding to procrastinate or abandon a task always consider the consequences, of doing it and not doing it. While short term ones are easiest to spot, do not forget about the long term. People have a tendency to ignore long term consequences whilst they are very important.
- Practice the ABCDE method
It is all about priorities. Put the letters A, B, C, D and E before each item within your lists:
A – very important,
B – should be done,
C – good to do, not many consequences,
D – can be delegated,
E – can be eliminated.
E issues can be simply deleted, D delegated as fast as possible, and then A, B, C worked in that order. It is a simple method, but powerful, especially for someone who is not used to prioritization.
- Focus on key result areas
Each job can be broken down into a few key result areas. Example for managers might be: planning, organizing, staffing, delegating, supervising, measuring, reporting. The clue is that the weakest area determines the overall performance. It shall be identified and improved. The author proposes one great question that should be regularly answered and used as a guideline:
What one skill, if I developed and did it in an excellent fashion, would have the greatest positive impact on my career?
- Obey the law of forced efficiency
There will never be enough time to deal with everything that you have to. The author defines three questions to help concentrate efforts:
What are my highest value activities? What can 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?
Thoroughly answering these will help to maintain clear priorities.
- Prepare thoroughly before you begin
It is much easier to start and avoid procrastination if all the required setup has already been done. The first barrier will be much lower and easier to get over.
- Do your homework
Always learn about what you are doing to improve skills and productivity. Knowing your work well will help avoid procrastination. A quite critical rule but not only for technicians. BTW, the best programmers spend 30 minutes to one hour every day improving their skills on the technology they are currently working with.
- Leverage your special talents
Everyone is especially good at something (at something what brings value). Find that special talent and enhance and improve it. Start with activities within which you can use it.
- Identify your key constraints
Determine what is usually holding you back. Which skill, factor or trait would have benefitted you the most in your past undertakings if you had had it? And then work on it, learn it or remove it. Identifying it might be a hard and difficult work. However, it will be the one that will push your forward.
- Take it one oil barrel at a time
While working on a big task, focus on small goals and milestones. Thinking one small step at a time is motivating and helps keep pushing forward. Keeping in mind your major goal all the time might be discouraging as it is usually far from being achieved and the amount of work to do is overwhelming.
- Put the pressure on yourself
Push yourself forward constantly. Commit to actions and goals, and then maintain accountability to yourself. Aim to do and achieve more than is expected.
- Maximize your personal power
Pay attention to your personal energy levels. Figure out the time of day when you are the most energized and motivated and utilize that time to work on the most important topics. When your energy levels are low, take care of less significant issues. Do not forget about resting and keep an eye out to make sure you are not overworking. Make sure you are always rested (here you can read more about sleep management).
- Motivate yourself into action
Think positively about yourself and others. Do not complain and criticize, seek value in every setback and difficulty. Thanks to that maintaining motivation is much easier.
- Practice creative procrastination
Procrastinate on low value issues. Procrastinate consciously, maintaining your priorities at all time. Constantly evaluate what you can really procrastinate on without (or with minimal) consequences.
- Do the most difficult task first
As simple as it sounds. Make a habit of performing the most difficult task first in line. Prepare all the required set up a day before, just before leaving the office. And then plunge into the toughest topics every day in the morning.
- Slice and dice the task
Whenever working on a large topic, divide it into small tasks. Then, focus on completing each small issue. Another variation is the “Swiss cheese” method. Take part of a big task and resolve it. Then move on to the next one and the next one, until the main issue is in holes like swiss cheese.
- Create large chunks of time
Each day (or as frequent as possible) reserve yourself a large chunk of time for working on the most valuable and significant tasks. It work best when the same time of day is used. Uninterrupted work every day for 1 or 2 hours will dramatically boost important issues (that we usually procrastinate on).
- Develop a sense of urgency
Develop an inner drive and desire to complete issues effectively and quickly. Be biased for action. It helps you to enter the “flow” and work in a more productive manner.
- Single handle every task
Do not practice multitasking. It works only for tasks that can be performed in a mindless state. Always fully focus on one issue at a time, and push hard to finish it fully (or the part that you planned to finish).
I plan to get through this list every week to check if I am applying the core principles of the book. I will especially focus on a few points that I have the biggest problem with. I encourage you to do the same!