If you spend any length of time reading productivity articles, you will eventually come across the concept of accomplishing your hardest task first in the course of your day, otherwise known as ‘eating the frog’. The idea is that it is best to tackle the more difficult projects when you are fresh and have plenty of willpower, before the day runs away from you.
Plenty of articles list the benefits of eating the frog first, and for some people diving straight into work can be a great strategy. Even knowing the benefits, it can still be a challenge to implement this strategy for maximum productivity.
One issue with ‘eating the frog’ is that while on paper (or the internet) it can seem like a no brainer; in reality it can be quite difficult to engage with your most challenging project first thing if you have not trained your brain for deep focus. Even if you intend to work first thing on the most difficult task, distractions have a way of creeping into our thoughts and very quickly derailing what was supposed to be an incredibly productive workday.
This is the nature of who we are as human beings. We have evolved to pay attention to our environment, but nowadays it has become negative with consistent vibrations of a smartphone or the tap tap on a keyboard.
To keep distractions at bay, start to develop a practice of focus. This will make ‘eating the frog’ easier to do on a regular basis. You can start to retrain your brain by engaging in simple planning at the beginning of each day. With this in mind, you can ease into the day, otherwise the levels of stress hormones that peak right before waking never quite go down and we are constantly in a flight or fight response, zapping your energy.
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make the Now the primary focus of your life.” – Eckhart Tolle
Plan to spend a specific amount of time at the start of each workday on routine administrative tasks such as email and to engage in batch processing wherever possible. Doing so will keep these tasks from occupying your working memory allowing you to more efficiently switch your focus to big picture project items and effectively manage your time.
Finishing even a small task can also give you a boost of satisfaction at having accomplished something early on in the day because it primes your brain to desire future wins. Otherwise, it may be difficult to settle into a state of deep work when you awake because those small tasks will remain at the forefront of your mind, reducing your ability for creative and innovative thinking.
A simple yet effective plan is to devote the first 15-30 minutes of your day to checking your email/voicemail and make any necessary adjustments to the day. To make sure you do not go over the time you allotted for yourself for these tasks, it’s important you only respond to urgent or important calls or emails first and save the rest for later.
A half hour may not seem like enough time if you typically have an overflowing inbox waiting for you but you can always check it at other times of the day. It’s a huge productivity killer to spend your peak energy hours wading through your inbox instead of making real progress right away. Next, make any necessary changes to your overall strategy for tackling the day.
“My goal is no longer to get more done, but rather to have less to do.” – Francine Jay
If you need to schedule a meeting or cancel an appointment, do so during this period of time. Complete any lingering work from the day before that can quickly be done, and gather any materials you need for the main project of the day. By doing this, you will be more likely to enter into a state of flow once you get started on your more difficult task.
After completing these tasks, you can more efficiently transition to your more difficult or time-consuming projects for the day by temporarily silencing the push notifications of your brain. If you need to set an alarm on your computer or phone to get you to disconnect from these more administrative tasks after 15-30 minutes, do so. It’s a small change, but over time will pay dividends especially by reducing the urge to multitask, the ultimate productivity killer.