How To Be More Productive At Work: Eat your frogs in the AM (not literally)

Eating Frogs In A Business Sense

Here’s a solid-ish quote from Mark Twain:

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

Anyone with a brain in their head would realize this was eventually going to be co-opted as a business/organizational quote, and lo and behold, it has!

From Fast Company:

Mark Twain once remarked that if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, nothing you do the rest of the day will be as bad by comparison. Although I can’t recommend eating live amphibians, the gist is clear: Don’t put off the most daunting tasks. Do them first.

The more you put something off that you already don’t want to do, the less likely you are to do it later in the day as fatigue sets in. So tackle the tough stuff while you’re still feeling fresh and energized.

That’s from an article on “5 Strategies For A More Productive Workday,” which secretly no one really wants — because a productive workday reduces your ability to run around screaming about how busy you are, deliverables, bandwith, and a bunch of other bullshit buzzwords.

I wrote about this a little bit once in the context of “mise-en-place” as relates to corporate goals: I don’t understand why people start their day in such awkward, weird ways. Your body pretty much has “bandwith” or energy to be successful for about 3.5-5 hours max. Your afternoons are totally shot, for most people. (Even the hard-charger types, who are mostly just fake it till ya make it.) Yet most people I’ve ever worked with come in for the morning and hit it up like this:

  • Small talk
  • Log on
  • More small talk
  • Check e-mails
  • Respond to e-mails
  • Start on a project or attend a meeting
  • Rinse and repeat

You probably know a lot of people in your office or previous offices like that too. That’s horribly ineffective.

If you believe in this Twain “eat a frog” stuff, here’s the real deal: you shouldn’t even check your e-mail until you’ve eaten one frog. E-mail is awful. It basically murdered true productivity in the face of some consultants screaming “But now everyone is on 24-7!” You should avoid it as much as possible if you want to actually hit targets and revenue deliverables, because all e-mail does is spin you right round (baby) like a record (baby) when some Director of Such-and-Such wants to know about Project D, but you’re still working on Project N from two weeks ago and had no idea D was a priority. All it does is create rabbit holes. It’s not ROI productivity at all.

When I sit down every day at around 9am, I try to knock out the biggest thing first. Usually I can have some deliverable that takes me until 11:20 or so if I want to really full-out execute on it, you know? I often only casually check e-mail, and maybe reassign things to other folders. I don’t dive deep into that, though. I try to eat a frog.

Now again, I’m a rank-and-file employee, for the most part. You have no real need to listen to me about this. But I do think it would have some value to start each day by thinking about what’s important, as in what do I really need to achieve today? This can be thematic, perhaps; or it can be centered around priorities and people. Whatever the deal is, though, you need to consider eating that frog before the transactional side (meetings, e-mails) takes hold.

Ted Bauer


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