Mar 29, 2018
Mark Twain apocryphally said that if the first thing you do each
morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the
satisfaction of knowing that it’s probably the worst thing that is
going to happen to you all day long. Sound advice for those of us
who fight procrastination. Since it’s unlikely we all get
everything done that we intend to every day, it’s safe to say
everyone deals with some level of procrastination. Plenty of
factors contribute to not getting things done as timely as we want
to. In this episode, I’ll touch on some of the things that
contribute to the challenge, as well as a few approaches that can
help us improve productivity.
Where did the time go?
So we get to the end of the day or the end of the week and we think, “Man, where did the time go? I didn’t get half the stuff done that I wanted to!” Plans are great, but too often we deal with unexpected distractions that take our attention. Breakdowns happen; parts don’t show up for a project we’re working on; the weather doesn’t cooperate, and so on.
Dwight D. Eisenhower developed a matrix to address the challenges he described in his quote: “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.” His matrix has four quadrants—four boxes in which to fit activities. This matrix gives a visual way to categorize what fills our day.
Eat that frog!
Another great resource is a book with the same name as this episode, Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy. His book identifies 21 ways to stop procrastination and get more done in less time. Of those 21, I’ve picked five to share in this episode:
1. Plan the day in advance. Tracy recognizes how effective planning can add to your efficiency. Specifically, plan tomorrow before you end today. By identifying your top priorities before you finish your day, you bring closure to today and get your subconscious working on those before tomorrow starts. Start by identifying just three to five things you must do tomorrow to move toward your priorities. Your task list can use cascading time frames—a master list that collects all the things you want to get done, then breaks it down to what you want to get done this month, this week and finally today.
ACTION STEP: To finish each day, write on a note card three important things that you will accomplish tomorrow. Do this for three weeks and see if you can start a new planning habit.
2. Practice creative procrastination. Earlier I
mentioned we all procrastinate on something because we just can’t
get everything done in one day. Creative procrastination is about
wisely choosing the things you aren’t going to do. Ideally you
should decide to put off the low-value things—the things that can
be done but just aren’t going to move you forward. A few years ago
I heard a talk from an author and professor. He was talking about
focusing on the things that really matter. As an experiment, he
stopped looking at his email for more than a month so that he could
focus on higher-value activities. What he found was that the stuff
which was really important ended up getting to him anyway. If it
was truly important, people would call or stop buy. A vast majority
of things that came up in his email weren’t at all related to
things that were actually important to him.
ACTION STEP: Think about the things you can put off until later—cleaning out the back closet, looking around on the Internet for that hub cap for your classic car...When you put some things off, it makes room for the few things that do really matter.
3. Identify your key constraints. What’s holding you back? Why aren’t you at your goal already? Whatever we want to accomplish, there is something that is in the way or we would have accomplished it already. To manage procrastination, we need to get clear about the hurdles we are going to encounter. Dig in and find the limiting factor to anything you’re working on. Think about the 80/20 rule: 80% of the hurdles that we will face are internal. Take the time to really analyze what internal and external factors keep you from moving forward, and you have a chance to deal with it before it gets you derailed.
ACTION STEP: Ask yourself (and be honest) “What is it in me that is holding me back?” Dig into exploring the question of, “What out there is keeping me from already having this accomplished?”
4. Slice and dice the task. Often a project can
simply seem too daunting. We think about the big, grand outcome,
and we just get paralyzed trying to figure out where to start. You
know the old saying, “How do you eat an elephant?” “One bite at a
time.” You have to break it down so you can feel like it’s possible
to actually take action toward your final goal.
ACTION STEP: Take a big project and carve out one piece of it that feels easily actionable. Focus and work on just that piece. Then keep carving pieces out—and before you know it, the big project is done!
5. Create chunks of time. Communication
technology has made it harder and harder to avoid interruptions.
The smart phone has contributed to our modern attention span
slipping to below that of a goldfish...I’m not making that up! Our
inability to do focused, deep work means we find ourselves just
jumping from one thing to another, just scratching the surface.
A great approach you can apply to help with this is the Pomodoro Method. This is based on setting a timer for a set period of time—around 25 minutes—and shutting out any other interruptions. The name comes from the tomato-shaped kitchen timer the originator used for creating focus time—and in Italian, pomodoro is tomato.
ACTION STEP: Every day, find one subject worthy of your attention where you turn off your phone and the Internet and really get focused. Try it for 20 minutes to start. Your business and your life is worth it!
Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. Brian Tracy. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. 2001. Buy it at Amazon.com
If you have stories or questions, you can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to leave us a review on iTunes. And if you have a couple of friends or neighbors that would benefit from this podcast, be sure to let them know about it. Thanks for listening, and I look forward to being with you again next week!