Have you ever felt so overwhelmed with a project or task that you don’t even know where to start? This often leads to procrastination. But if you sit down and think about the project, writing step by step what you need to do, things become clearer. How can we make this process habitual?
Brian Tracy answers this question in his book, Eat That Frog. Each of the twenty-one short chapters is jam-packed with prompts for introspection and useful tips aimed at giving you tools for improving performance.
“The ability to concentrate single-mindedly on your most important task, to do it well and to finish it completely, is the key to great success, achievement, respect, status, and happiness in life,” he writes.
So, why call the book Eat That Frog? Mark Twain supposedly said that, “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.” By this he meant start your day by doing the hardest or most important task first. People often delay working on their major projects and tasks because they require hard work. And the more one delays, the longer he looks at the frog, and the harder it is to swallow.
Eat That Frog advocates choosing to focus on the vital few tasks over the trivial many. Tracy calls this the Law of Forced Efficiency: “There is never enough time to do everything, but there’s always enough time to do the most important thing.”
Tracy proposes some rules to enhance our efficiency. One is, “Long-term thinking improves short-term decision making.” Others include continually upgrading your skills and maintaining your fitness level by eating well and exercising regularly.
He also suggests questions to ask yourself for achieving maximum productivity, such as:
- What are my highest-value activities?
- What can I, and only I, do that, if done well, will make a real difference?
- What is the most valuable use of my time right now?
If you habitually ask and answer these questions, you’ll see results.
Tracy also highlights the relationship between achievement and pride. If you develop the habit of focusing on the most important tasks until they are completed, he asks, what would that do to your self-esteem? It would likely skyrocket. Your professional reputation as a person who gets the important things done would spread fast.
But what about tasks that are too big or complex to complete in a single sitting? Tracy suggests you cut those up like “salami slices”; lay out the task in detail, writing down every step in order, and then resolve to do one slice of the job at a time. But always be working toward completion, so that you can exercise that “difficult task” muscle on a daily basis.
Despite publishing his book in 2001—before smartphones, notifications, and endless disruptions demanded our attention—Tracy had the foresight to suggest we turn off our electronic devices one full day a week to “detox” in order to clear our minds. This has worked wonders for me.
Although the book is heavily weighted toward career, its lessons are applicable to other aspects of life. One example comes from the question, “What are your three most important family or relationship goals right now?” This prompts one to zero in on life’s essentials. Although many people consider their career to be the central purpose of their lives, most recognize that there are many other important facets of life. Tracy also asks readers to answer the above question as it relates to their financial, health, and personal development goals.
Tracy concludes with his outlook on human potential:
Every great achievement of humankind has been preceded by a long period of hard, concentrated work until the job was done. Your ability to select your most important task, to begin it, and then to concentrate on it single-mindedly until it is complete is the key to high levels of performance and personal productivity.
If you apply even some of these principles, you’ll likely see immediate results, which will make your life more enjoyable. For best results, I recommend doing a quick read-through of the book, and then carving out time each day, for twenty-one days, to answer the exercise questions at the end of each chapter. If you dedicate three weeks of your life, you can make significant progress toward maximizing achievement.