Why You Should Do The Hardest Thing First: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” – Mark Twain
A “Frog” is that thing that ugly, disgusting, thing on your to-do list that you want to put off until later more than anything else. It’s something that needs to get done, but you have absolutely zero motivation to do it.
Procrastination is probably the biggest detriment to our productivity. Conventional wisdom dictates that the best thing you can do is make that procrastination constructive. When you don’t feel like doing one task, usually one that requires a lot of will- or brainpower, you do another, usually less labor-intensive task.
Recently, though, conventional wisdom has been challenged with something Penn State refers to as “pre-procrastination.” After doing a series of studies in which students pick up and carry one of two buckets, researchers theorized that many people prefer to take care of difficult tasks sooner rather than later. That theory poses the question of whether this pre-procrastination or the more widely acknowledged constructive procrastination is more effective.
Here is a look at whether people should do difficult tasks early or later on to achieve maximum productivity.
Doing Easy Tasks First
One of the hardest parts of working is just getting started. Constructive procrastination eases this hardship because working on easy tasks requires a smaller mental or physical commitment than if you tackled difficult tasks firsts. If one of the foremost deterrents to your productivity is simply getting going, it makes a lot of sense to save the difficult tasks for when you’re in more of a groove.
Based on the above quote from Mark Twain, Eat That Frog encourages avoiding procrastination, even if that procrastination is constructive. Tracy wants you to “eat that frog,” i.e. do your difficult tasks quickly because the longer it’s on your plate, the harder it will become to do the thing you’re dreading. If you have a habit of dreading things, Eat That Frog makes a solid argument to hold off on your easy tasks until later in the day.
Doing Difficult Tasks First
Brian Tracy postulates in Eat That Frog that if you do your difficult tasks first, your other tasks won’t seem so bad. After all, after you eat a frog, even something unappetizing will seem downright delectable.
Tracy also recommends that, if you have to eat two frogs, you should eat the uglier one first. The metaphor is a very easy way to get your head around the new concept of pre-procrastination. If all of your tasks seem somewhat torturous to you, you might be able to ease the pain by getting rid of the ugliest “toads” as quickly as you can.
The primary disadvantage of doing your difficult tasks first is probably that it will make it especially hard to get started on your workday. A lot of people aren’t exactly at their peak performance mode when they enter the office. They need to ease into the workday, maybe have a cup or two of coffee to stimulate them.
If that’s you, doing your most difficult tasks first would probably be a costly mistake. Hold off on “eating those frogs” until you have the willpower and fortitude to choke them down.
1. It creates momentum
OK, you know how amazing it feels when you tick off a task on your to-do list, right? So y’all know that it feels EVEN BETTER when that task is the hardest task you have. It’s such a relief! And the rest of the day feels like a breeze once it’s out of the way. Plus you’re not spending the day in dread, so it’s easier to be in a better mood and so much more productive. Doing the hardest task first will create momentum in your day – and that can be the difference between one that’s good and one that’s not.
2. Develop A Positive Addiction
You can actually develop a “positive addiction” to endorphins and to the feeling of enhanced clarity, confidence, and competence that they trigger.
When you develop this addiction, you will, at an unconscious level, begin to organize your life in such a way that you are continually starting and completing ever more important tasks and projects. You will actually become addicted, in a very positive sense, to success and contribution.
Setting short and long-term SMART goals will help you experience this “hooked” feeling like the satisfaction of accomplishing each task triggers the brain’s reward and pleasure system.
3. It is a Small Win
Getting the ugly thing off of your to-do list feels great. It gives you a sense of accomplishment as you cross that ugly, dreadful thing off of your to-do list and mark a tally in the small win column.
Small wins actually have the ability to give you more willpower. Studies have shown that when we accomplish a small win, our pre-frontal cortex (the area of the brain that we use for willpower) will begin firing neurons. When it does this, it increases our focus, perseverance, and ability to resist temptation. This essentially gives us “free” willpower to use on other tasks throughout the day.
4. It frees you up to do work that you enjoy
Doing productive work is one of the keys to happiness. When we talk about hating our jobs, what we’re really talking about are the frogs! We’re talking about those things that we have no motivation to get done. We’re not talking about purposeful activities that help us become better at our craft. Those are the activities that actually motivate us to do great work!
By eating your frog first thing in the morning, you get to spend the rest of the day doing the work that you actually enjoy doing. The type of work that made you choose your career in the first place. By making this a habit, you will find much more satisfaction and happiness in your daily work.
5. If You Have To Eat A Live Frog At All, It Doesn’t Pay To Sit And Look At It For Very Long
The key to reaching high levels of performance and productivity is to develop the lifelong habit of tackling your major task first thing each morning. You must develop the routine of “eating your frog” before you do anything else and without taking too much time to think about it.
This habit is well-adopted among successful people, it is an essential leadership quality for anyone who intends to accomplish great things.
6. No Shortcuts
Practice is the key to mastering any skill. Fortunately, your mind is like a muscle. It grows stronger and more capable with use. With practice, you can learn any behavior or develop any habit that you consider either desirable or necessary.
What is your “frog?” What is the one task that you despise doing each day? Once you have chosen your “frog” make it a habit to wake up every morning and do that task first.