“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 is Brian Tracy’s inspiration for the Eat the Frog to-do list method and allows you to focus on your top priority(s) for the day.
He suggests that if you have an important task for the day, start with that - ‘eating the frog’ - and if you have more than one important task for the day, start with the biggest, hardest and most important task first. And make sure you complete your first task before you move onto the second.
The idea is that by starting with your biggest hurdles, doing them as early as you can in the morning, and making it a habit out of it, you’ll achieve what you set out to do in the long term. Many of us are constantly busy making phone calls, sending emails and flitting from project A to project B without actually completing the tasks that are going to make a difference to our working lives and future careers.
The Eat the Frog method is similar to the Most Important Tasks (MIT) and the Big Rocks productivity methods, and all our tips below can be interchanged between the three. The MIT method helps you to focus on your two or three most important tasks for the day whilst the Big Rocks method focuses on these tasks over the course of a week, interspersing smaller tasks (pebbles) where necessary, however they all help you define a way of getting the important stuff done.
But how do you decide what’s important?
1. Consider what you want from your career in the next year.
What do you want to have achieved over the following year? Is there certain experience you would like to have? Are there certain areas where you feel you can progress and make a difference? You can also apply this to projects outside the home if you’ve a challenge you want to set yourself and a goal you want to achieve.
2. Make a master list.
How are you going to achieve your goal(s)? Break down your goal(s) into all the tasks you’ll need to do to get to where you want to be. You may have to take some actions first over others. You’ll probably end up with a very long list! You can also have more than one list if your workload is also split up into a number of different projects.
3. Quarterly and monthly milestones.
What actions do you need to take over the next quarter to get closer to your goal? What actions do you need to take in the first month to move closer to your goal?
4. Weekly milestones.
Once you’ve determined what your month is going to look like, you can then divide up your actions into weeks so that you’ve a consistent amount of work that can fit around your other commitments that can move you closer to your goal(s).
5. Eat the frog.
You can then get to eating the frog by writing down specific actions for each day that you can commit time and energy to, and that will give you a feeling of accomplishment on completion.
6. Review your plan.
Every month and quarter review how well you are doing at moving close to your goal(s). It may be that you now have a better understanding of how long actions take so that you can add more to your day, or perhaps you are struggling with the workload and need to cut back a bit.
8 Tips to Ace your To-Do Lists
1. Break down your frogs.
If a frog seems like a big commitment, especially if it’s going to take you a few hours, break it down into more manageable pieces. For example if your frog for the day is to write the monthly newsletter, you could list the articles that need to be written before you put it together.
2. Prepare your frogs the night before.
To get ahead in the morning, clarify what frogs need to be eaten in advance. This means that when you wake up you’ll start straight away rather than dilly dallying over deciding what you should be doing and wasting precious time.
3. Be flexible.
Your plans might not always go the way you hoped and don’t be too harsh on yourself if so. You could always plan to have one or two fewer items on your weekly plan so that you always manage to complete your list. You could then have a couple of bonus items for you to complete if you are racing ahead and getting things done that week.
4. Get to your frogs first thing.
Getting to your frogs first thing means that they are out the way bright and early and you are available for whatever life throws at you. It also means that you’ll feel positive about what you’ve accomplished in the evening when you sit down and relax.
5. Stay specific.
For example, rather than saying 'send emails’, you should say, ‘send email to Rebecca about the new tiles for the kitchen, send email to Rachael regarding the received letterheads, and send email to Emma with the presentation amends.’ That way, you’ll know exactly what you need to do when you see your list which stops procrastination in its tracks.
6. Write your frogs down.
There’s nothing more satisfying than ticking them off once you’ve completed them, plus you’ll have the ability to look back and see how much you’ve achieved.
7. Time your frogs.
By working out how long each type of tasks takes you, you then get a better understanding of how and where you use your time, which can help you plan better in the long run.
8. Keep it simple.
Don’t overcomplicated your frogs. If necessary, break them down so that the commitment doesn’t overwhelm you.