There are universalities we experience as humans. No matter where we live on this planet humans are humans with similar thoughts, ideas, emotions, plans, dreams, goals, and many other experiences we all share. Because we all share these experiences I believe that when I am experiencing a difficulty other people have experienced that as well. There are probably people having the same challenge as me at the same time in their lives.
One of these persistent challenges is productivity. We all know that we don’t have enough time during the day. There is always a list that is way too big and a day with not enough hours. We want to get more done. Being more productive is an aspiration we all have in our lives. It is also something we have all failed at. I will be the first to admit that I experience that failure, and frequently.
When we have an issue in our lives that is causing friction within ourselves we try to fix it. When I thought about how I could be as productive as I wanted to be, or at least more productive than the current state of affairs, my first idea was just to buckle down and try harder. It makes sense. If you want to get more done, start doing more. I found out it is not that simple. If it was, none of us would have this problem.
Through some reading a research I believe I discovered why. Why we can not just try harder to get more done. At least for a sustained amount of time. There is no doubt that if we put in more effort right now, today, on some task, we will be productive. However, the long-term success and gains depend on the being productive day after day. The reason why we can’t sustain the increased effort is the interaction between our willpower and the decisions we make. We need to decide to work harder. We need to have the willpower to make those decisions over and over. The problem is, as we progress through our days and weeks our willpower gets used up. It is a resource that gets depleted as we make more decisions and get tired. It is the reason we eat the sugary foods and snacks at night. We have spent all our mental capital during the day at our jobs and we just don’t have that strong willpower anymore to turn down the treats. One of my favorite bloggers James Clear discusses this in more detail on his blog.
So, if we can’t sustain the willpower approach what is the next best option? Systematize and organize. We have to find a system that allows us to take the decision-making out of the equation. That way we don’t have to rely on our willpower that we know is unreliable.
There is a book I have finished a while ago that is called Eat That Frog, it was written by Brian Tracy that outlines some great tools and strategies specifically designed to help systematize and be more productive. There is one sentence in the book that does a good job of boiling the thesis of his book down to one idea, he says…
“The ability to concentrate single-mindedly on your most important task, do it well and to finish it completely is the key to success.”
The book is filled with strategies and tactics that help to get you more productive, increase output, and systematize your decision process so you can conserve your willpower for when it is truly needed. So you can stay focused on the one task that will get you to your goals.
Before we get to the goods, we need to talk about the title and what that means. Eat that frog will become a saying that you will start to repeat to yourself when you have a big task list to complete. If you ever find yourself taken as a prisoner and threatened at gunpoint to eat a plate of live frogs to gain your freedom, what would be the best way to get that task done? Clearly, it would not be pleasant. But it is also something that you must do. So the best way to do it would be to pick out the biggest, ugliest frog and eat that one first. Then the next biggest and ugliest. After a while, all the frogs will be eaten up and they will have become marginally easier each time to eat.
The frogs are our tasks. We have all made a to-do list with the things we need to get done. We write them down and start to tackle the list. If you are like I used to be I would pick the task that was the fastest and easiest to get done first. I would pick the littlest and prettiest frog to eat first, and it tasted pretty good. Little did I know there was a huge flaw with this tactic. My big frogs would build up over time. The big frogs are the things that, if completed, would be the most beneficial to my success in life. Yet here I was avoiding them and also learning in real life the lesson of the book.
The ability to choose the most important task AND start working on it right away AND do it until it is completed is vitally important to my success.
So, I had learned my problem and discovered the solution to my problem. I now needed some tactics to help me move forward. The very first action steps Mr. Tracy gives to get going are the following…
- Decide what you want
- Write it down
- Set a deadline
- List everything that needs to be done to get to the goal
- Organize the list
- Act immediately
- Don’t miss a day
Admittedly this is a big list. It also seems pretty high level and not very relevant at first glance. But it can be implemented with our everyday actions and goals. For example, I can use it to help me finish a blog post. First, what I want is to have a good article for the rally post on Friday. Then I put it on my to-do list for the day with all of the rest of the items on the list that need to be done. Third I know my deadline is Friday at 3:00. I also know that I didn’t make it my deadline today. What can I say, I am a human like everyone else. Then I made a list of sorts, an outline. It was everything I needed to say to finish the post. Lastly, I started to put words on the screen.
Hearing this strategy seems like a “no duh” idea. But, actually seeing it written in a book and implementing it one step at a time really put a shift in my mind. It solidified my understanding to a much deeper level and helped me change my habits.
The next action steps that were most impactful to me were step 6 and 8. I stacked them on top of each other to maximize their benefits in my life.
Action step 6 is extremely simple. It just asks you to take your daily to-do list and rank the items from the most important to the least important. That’s it. Just give them all a grade A, B, C, D, E or 1, 2, 3, 4 etc… The criteria for ranking are to put them in order of what is most important for you to do to reach your goal to least important.
This strategy mixed with action step 8 combine for a potent system of productivity. Step 8 is even more simple. Once you have your list, cut it down to only 3 tasks. Eliminate everything else and only focus on completing the top 3 tasks IN THE ORDER you listed them earlier. This helps immensely with focus. It keeps your mind on the most important items and helps you avoid the distractions and siren call of switching to chowing down the prettier frogs.
These have been the easiest steps for me to implement and the have been noticeably impactful. I have been making my list every day with only 3 items and numbered 1, 2, 3 from most important to least important. Some days I don’t get through all 3 tasks depending on their scope. Sometimes I am done before lunch. When the later happens I just remake the list again with the next most important tasks. Working in 3 task intervals makes them all more manageable. It makes the frogs just a bit prettier.
The book has a total of 21 steps. Some of them are more relevant than others. Not all are to be used everyday or for every situation. However, I am trying to implement as many of them as I can over time. I am trying to be the master of my time and my calendar. I am still human and still a work in progress, but I have begun to eat frogs.
I would love to hear any good strategies you have to get more done if you have any to share.