Eat the Frog First

“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 . . . maybe

Mark Twain is commonly attributed to the saying, above. Incidentally, he is also often quoted for saying, “If the first thing you do in the morning is eat a live frog, you can go through the rest of the day knowing the worst is behind you.” I was not able to find any evidence that Twain actually said either one of these statements, but wherever they came from they still illustrate a powerful principle:

Tackle your hardest task early and the rest of your day will be brighter.

Most days, I wake up with one or more overwhelming items on my to-do list that feel like they’re just glaring at me. It’s like a constant game of chicken going on inside my head–who is going to budge first. I keep staring back at it, hoping that maybe, just maybe, it will eventually go away. But it almost never does. Instead, I find myself having wasted hours… or days… having accomplished very little and with my giant task still ahead of me. In my opinion, this can be one of the worst feelings ever.

Lately, I’ve been feeling like the frogs in my life have escalated to plague-level status. It seems like there are hundreds of tasks requiring my attention and, frankly, I don’t want to do any of them. So this week, I decided to implement a fun, simple strategy to help me embrace the practice of eating my frogs each day.

Step 1: Collect your jar of “frogs”

Normally I would just start a checklist, but this seemed worthy of a little more tangible creativity. So yes, I now have a literal jar of “frogs.” Each piece of paper, folded into the shape of a frog, has one of the big-picture tasks that has been hanging over me–one thing that feels overwhelming when I wake up and see them all staring at me in my head.

I think it’s super helpful to have actual pieces of paper in an actual physical jar. The physicality makes it seem easier to deal with the task. You don’t have to actually fold them into origami frogs… but it really is more fun if you do!

Here’s a couple instructional guides to show you how to fold the frogs. (This is a simplified version of the classic origami frog. A general google search will turn up the more detailed version, but I wanted something a bit easier and less time consuming.)

Start with a slip of paper twice as tall as it is wide. The easy way to get this is take a square and cut it in half. I recommend 2″x 4″ or 3″x 6″ for easier folding, though any size will work. Mine were 1.5″x 3″ and a bit small.

A couple helpful rules of thumb for creating your frog tasks:

  1. Scope your frogs–if you plan to eat one frog every day, make sure the tasks listed are things that can be accomplished in a day (ideally, with time to spare). If you have larger tasks, try to use this as an opportunity to break it into smaller chunks. (e.g. instead of “Write my book,” try making separate frogs for “write chapter 1,” “write chapter 2,” etc. OR make a lot of frogs that all say “write 1000 words” until you have enough to have completed the larger goal.)
  2. Scope your jar–think about how soon all the frogs in the jar will need to be completed. You might need to put a time limit on your jar, like 2 weeks, 1 month, 3 months, etc. You could even make separate jars for short-term and long-term tasks. Just try to make sure something that needs to be done within a month doesn’t get buried under 3 months-worth of frogs.
  3. Consider color-coding to help with prioritizing. Some examples:
    • If you want to include time-sensitive frogs, make them a different color and make sure you choose that color first especially when there are a lot of them.
    • Or you might choose different colors for different types of tasks…. e.g. tasks requiring creativity are green, tasks requiring physical activity are blue, tasks requiring being outdoors are yellow… that way you can pick a frog appropriate to constraints like weather, physical energy, etc.
    • Or you could sort by levels of urgency. Red frogs need to be done right away. Yellow frogs are medium-high priorities. Green frogs can be done less urgently.

The more thoughtfulness you put into creating the frogs now, the less you will have to think about those stressful dynamics later and the more energy you can focus on dealing with the frog at hand.

Step 2: Eating the Frogs

Establish the rules for your battle strategy with your frogs. Depending on the nature of your frogs and your lifestyle, you might need different rules than mine. But here are mine:

  1. Every day I will pick one frog out of the jar and read the task listed on it.
  2. Ideally, I must then accomplish that task on that day.
  3. I will only expect myself to tackle one frog each day. When my frog task is finished, I am free to do other smaller things in my life or to simply call it a day, knowing I have accomplished at least one significant thing.
  4. If, for some reason, I can’t do the frog task I drew, then I can draw a new frog and put the old one back in the jar. I will only allow myself 2 re-draws each day, to keep myself from making lame excuses.
  5. I will keep a few blank frogs available, so on days when some other, specific, time-sensitive frog needs to be dealt with immediately, I will write it on one of the blank frogs and that will be my frog for the day.
  6. Once my frog task is done, I will crumple it up (yes, I think that part is important) and put it in a jar of “dead frogs.” (Seeing the growing number of tasks already completed is a great motivational tool to feel able to handle more.)

Step 3: Reward System

In many ways, the whole philosophy of the “eat the frog first” system is that eating your frog–i.e. finishing the unpleasant activity that will hang over you until you deal with it–brings its own rewards. Feeling free from the emotional and psychological burden these kinds of tasks lay on us is truly an immense gift, which is why it’s so important to eat the frog right away. By eating our frog early, we gain literal hours of our day of NOT thinking, worrying, or stressing about that thing! Whereas, if we save the frog for later, we will end up passing the hours between now and then with a constant sense of dread because we know what’s coming.

That said, if you’re like me, it helps to have some tangible rewards built in as well. Which is why I also purchased a giant bag of gummy frogs…. (available on Amazon)

This way, every day after I’ve proverbially “eaten my frog” by completing an important task, I get to really drive the point home and truly enjoy the satisfaction of destroying my daily frog by actually eating a frog!

So, happy frog-eating everyone! Hope this helps you tackle some of your stress and find a lifestyle with more fun and fewer frogs!

Post your stories of how you tackle the “frogs” in your life in comments below!

Frog Photo by Jack Hamilton on Unsplash

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