Eat the Frog: How to prioritise your work tasks
Scheduling is the bane of any business.
While it’s easy to set dates in your calendar, it’s even easier to find yourself derailed throughout the day by client requests or the simple time miscalculation of challenging tasks.
While there are several tools to help with your work, sometimes modifying your approach can be the most important step towards making positive, sustainable change.
So, how can eating a frog help you start the day right?
And how can you set about prioritising your work more effectively?
What does ‘eat the frog’ mean?
One of our favourite metaphors, ‘eating a frog’ simply means getting your most demanding or draining task completed at the start of the day.
It allows us to better manage our time and prevent the ‘mission creep’ familiar to larger tasks that are started mid-day or toward the end of a shift.
The quote actually comes from the American humourist Mark Twain, who wrote: “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.”
Put simply, he goes to the core of scheduling best practice; that it’s often essential – and just common sense – to get the ‘worst’ task of the day behind you as early as possible.
This assertion was picked up by leading self-development writer Brian Tracy, who wrote a motivational book titled: ‘Eat That Frog: Or Get More Important Things Done’.
In it, he outlines a number of important, and simple, tips and tricks to make sure the most important tasks on your list get done sooner rather than pushing them through to tomorrow, next week, or an undetermined point in the future.
This helps avoid logjams, burnout and crippling analysis paralysis while you deal with multiple tasks simultaneously in a short period – producing low-quality work that leaves you physically and emotionally exhausted.
What are some common ‘frogs’?
While everybody’s ‘frog’ is different, there are several factors that are common to difficult professional tasks. These include:
Significant complexity: If a task requires a lot of effort and checking for accuracy, it can take up an excessive amount of time. Examples might include cross-referencing more than one document, applying complex process steps or just being hard to manage.
High effort: One of the most common issues, tasks that require significant physical or mental exertion can leave you struggling to manage them. It can lead to a lack of mental clarity or losing momentum when disrupted by calls, desk chats or emails.
Limited time: Rushing can lead to paralysis, and having insufficient time to complete a project will often lead to significant delays. That can often result in you ‘changing the shape’ of the work to fit the allotted timeframe, culminating in it being returned for review which in turn causes further frustration. It may also require additional effort to get the job done.
Low familiarity: Even the simplest task takes significant time for an individual unfamiliar with how it works. That can be due to a lack of competency, or excessive checking and validation to confirm all elements have been included.
Contact dependency: Being unable to complete a task without an individual’s input can be frustrating. It can prevent you from starting other tasks due to the threat of interruption and can significantly disrupt your day.
How to identify your ‘frog’
Chances are, if you’ve got this far, you’re already thinking about your least favourite task or are even reading this to learn how to address it.
However, it’s worth considering if it ‘actually’ is your frog or are there more pressing elements in your schedule that ought to be prioritised?
To help identify your frogs, answer the following questions:
- Which task takes the longest to finish?
- What are the likely ramifications if the job is not done on time?
- Is the task high on a list of priorities and, if so, why?
- How many other individuals are dependent upon you finishing it?
- Does your current skillset map over to the task well?
- Has this task taken long to finish in the past?
- How much are you dreading doing it?
Once identified, it’s important to figure out steps to help break down your work.
It can allow you to segment something into bite-size chunks that would otherwise feel insurmountable.
Doing so also allows you to get a better sense of the genuine effort required while at the same time providing reassurance that you’re starting the day with the right task.
What steps are involved?
With your frog figured out, it’s important to put in place a plan to make sure that it is finished in a timely manner.
That means following some, if not all, of the following steps:
Making a list
Take time on a Friday afternoon or Monday morning to assemble a list of your regular tasks.
At this point, you should include everything as a brain dump.
Once complete, review it and cull, or combine, duplicate tasks until you have comprehensive overview of repeated tasks for each week.
If you’re pressed for time, it’s worth talking to your boss and line manager to confirm what you’re doing and why.
Taking time to review your workload can help you operate more efficiently, reduce stress and allow you to pass skills on to other employees – any good leader will be able to see the benefit in taking an hour out for optimisation.
Once you’ve reviewed a list, it’s time to break your work down into four distinct quadrants.
These help you organise your priorities.
Quadrant 1: This section contains tasks you don’t want to do, but
have to. They are most often ones that combine mission-critical
responsibilities that are difficult or time-consuming to finish.
Quadrant 2: This holds tasks you want to do, and also need to. It can be something that you personally enjoy such as designing a new web page, contacting clients or polishing content you’ve already created.
Quadrant 3: These are tasks that you want to do, but don’t need to. It could be something that is due in a couple of weeks’ time, but not essential to complete now, something that’s enjoyable but adds little value to your current work or a passion project that doesn’t meet current established goals.
Quadrant 4: Finally, these include tasks that you not only don’t want to do, but also don’t need to. One of the most common situations to encounter, these are repetitive actions or tasks that require significant effort but don’t add value to your work.
Once these have been properly reviewed and organised, it’s important to place tasks in Quadrant 1 at the top of a list of priorities for things to get done first thing.
Quadrant 2 can then be deployed as a ‘reward’ of sorts once you’ve got your unpleasant task out of the way, ensuring you have the maximum amount of time possible to spend on activities that you actually find rewarding and serve a strategic purpose for your business.
Quadrants 3 and 4 then become key subjects for review – with actions that are not necessary to complete.
These can potentially be pruned, streamlined or automated through the use of software platforms or systems.
Once the work has been completed, it’s helpful to reflect on the changes that have been made.
Did they provide significant benefit? Have they improved efficiency?
Or has your analysis highlighted a weakness in your process that needs to be addressed in order to drive efficiency and prevent burnout?
Using a software solution or time-tracking software can also help you capture hard metrics that can map against your work.
For example, this can let you see the actual time you’re spending on subjects versus their perceived difficulty and establish options to help you with your work, offering efficiency at points where it matters.
If you want additional assistance with your scheduling work, our team at Practical Software are here to help.
With many years’ experience working across a range of industries, we can ensure that your productivity goals are addressed and efficiencies improved.
You can review our list of services in full from here.
Or, if you need any additional support, please do not hesitate to contact our team directly and let us know what specific elements of your daily routine are proving insurmountable for you.