Start your day by eating a frog

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by Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

This post was first published on January 13, 2009.

“Eat a live frog every morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” -Mark Twain

My husband is currently reading a classic business tome called Eat That Frog. The basic idea is that if you do the worst thing on your plate first thing in the morning, the rest of the day is a cake walk.

So if your least-favorite chore is the laundry, and it’s one of the items on your to-do list today, then tackle it first. That way, you can spend the rest of your day knowing you’ve done the most irritating task.

Sure, there might be some more annoyances or tediousness – the dishes, the cooking, the helping with the homework – but in knowing you’ve accomplished the laundry, you’ve got fuel and motivation to do the less painful items.

I’m working on this in my own life right now. It’s an obvious concept, but it’s rather new to me – so I’m experimenting as I write this.

For me, my frog right now it’s not a chore – it’s simply working out. I love the after-effects of working out, and I even love the adrenaline rush and the glow of sweat once I get started. But that one hump – the actual starting it – is something I simply dread. I’m not sure why.

So I’m doing my best to tackle my frog-eating — the worst task of my day — first thing in the morning. And right now, it’s exercise.

What Not To Do First

It stands to reason that if you should do your least-favorite task first, that means you should avoid doing your most favorite task – or at least your easiest task – first.

We’ve all had those mornings where we start with great intentions of cleaning the house, running errands, balancing our checkbooks, or menu planning – but then we first check our email or see what Al Roker’s up to. Two hours later, and your enthusiasm is gone, along with valuable time you could have used getting stuff done. Somehow, this sets a tone for the rest of the day, and we approach our tasks reluctantly, with a poor attitude, or simply with less passion.


Photo by kbcanon

What To Do Instead

1. First, create something that outlines your tasks for the day.

You can use the Daily Docket, or you can use the back of an old receipt. Whatever works for you, just do something. Fill out a detailed to-do list for your day.

2. Narrow down your list to ten items.

You shouldn’t reasonably expect to do more – though if you find yourself having done ten things, you can simply add more items. By starting with a ten-item checklist, you’re not as daunted, and you feel more accomplished to get seven whole things crossed off in one day. Seven out of ten is more impressive than seven out of 34.

3. Out of those ten things, pick three Most Important Tasks (MITs).

These are the things you really need to do today; those tasks of which accomplishing them means a successful day. Write those separately up top.

4. Out of those three things, pick the worst one.

Do that task first. Make that your frog.

5. Out of your list of ten, pick your favorite or easiest item.

For me, it’s usually checking my email (it’s not my easiest, since I get tons of email, but it’s certainly a task I usually enjoy). Whatever you do, make sure you don’t do that task first. In fact, if you’re daring, don’t do that task until you get all three MITs done. Make doing that task your reward.

So I’m doing this as I go – and so far, it’s working. In fact, I’m slowly starting to enjoy working out more. I’m not sure it’ll ever be my favorite task, but perhaps I’ll eventually go back to starting my day with the dishes.

What’s usually your least-favorite task? Your favorite? How have you experienced the frog-eating theory in your own life?

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Comments

  1. Good post! The “eat the frog” concept (particularly in reference to your working out ‘frog’) reminds me of something a roommate once said to me years ago when I was hemming and hawing one evening about whether or not to go out for a jog. He said, “Putting on your running shoes is the hardest part of going for a run”. And he was so right! Once you’ve got those shoes on and cleared the “will I jog?” hurdle, the jog itself is (usually) a very enjoyable! But the dithering I do beforehand, about whether or not I have time, am too tired, the weather is too unpleasant etc etc, is actually the hardest part in many ways.
    .-= Kate´s last blog ..Upon the loss of a child =-.

  2. I always do the unpleasant task. If I sit down at the computer I’m lost for way too long! If I get the unpleasant one done first then it actually gets done!
    .-= Andrea @ The Train To Crazy´s last blog ..A bitty dress =-.

  3. Tsh! This is one of my ALL-TIME favorite Simple Mom posts and I am so glad you are running it again today. It’s such powerful wisdom. I needed a refresher!
    .-= Megan@SortaCrunchy´s last blog ..Steady Days winner! =-.

  4. I don’t know if I’ve ever commented on your blog, but I’ve been a reader for over a year now. When I read this post last year, it changed my outlook so very much. This week, I’ve been trying to get back to a better routine. This re-post is just what I needed to kick me back into shape… Thanks, again!

    P.S. I guess I should save my blog reading for later in the afternoon… :-P

  5. This is brilliant! (Says I who is checking her email very first thing in the morning-lol.)

    Great food for thought.
    .-= hillary´s last blog ..flowers13: @JupiterSinclair lol. =-.

  6. Laundry is definitely one of my frogs!

  7. Laundry is my daily frog and dishes are next in line!
    .-= Amber Jordan´s last blog ..Under the Tuscan Sun-Custom Commission =-.

    • I read a book that gave some really good advice. For all coffee/tea drinkers, when you wake up in the morning, you should start one load of laundry and empty the dishwasher and/or wash any remaining dishes from the previous night before you take your first sip of coffee. The smell and sound of my coffee brewing makes me finish these tasks quickly! My reward is the cup of freshly brewed coffee, and with just a few minutes every morning, my kitchen stays clean and my laundry is manageable.

  8. Great concept! I love it. I think I may try this.
    .-= Sarah´s last blog ..Old MySpace blogs =-.

  9. Oh, that’s such a good reminder for my, Tsh! I totally agree that if I start out doing easy things or things that aren’t as important, it totally steals the steam from the rest of my day and somehow my day just turns out much more unproductive than it could have/ should have been. I’ve heard the “eat a frog” idea before but I often forget about it (hmm… conveniently?). I’m going to try it again. And how did you know that my laundry pile is the daunting thing that I need to tackle first today, huh? :)
    .-= Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home´s last blog ..Steady Days: Book Review and Giveaway =-.

  10. Laundry is my frog also! I do find it’s a little more manageable when I get started right away in the morning and keep at it all day. As you said with your exercising Tsh, it’s getting started that’s the hardest part!
    Opening that inbox is one of my favorites also, I could get lost in there for hours!
    .-= Tashia @ The Household Planner´s last blog ..Kid Memory Binders from Reluctant Entertainer =-.

  11. This is actually a very good idea! especially because each day is different. Today I do not feel like writing posts, but I simply must get them done! :-) Thanks for this… I am shutting down my email program and setting my timer. I figure that if I can write for 30 minutes, I will have accomplished something. :-)

    Kelli
    .-= Kelli @ 3 Boys and a Dog´s last blog ..ReThink What Matters with Bare Escentuals =-.

  12. After reading Friday’s post, I created my own weekly docket over the weekend, designed to suit my particular work and home needs. The first thing I did this morning was fill it out (I love organizing!) but now, it is 11:20, and I still have not worked on my MITs. One of them, I have been putting off for days. And now I’m reading blogs instead of doing it. Auughghgh!!!
    .-= Jessica´s last blog ..Sleeves Rolled Up =-.

  13. Wow did I need to hear this! I just printed off your daily docket last week and now it just got better knowing that I should work on my MITs first and try to get those done before anything else. Very challenging. Thank you.

  14. I LIKE this idea! I’m going to start eating frogs first thing in the morning. ;)
    I loved this post so much I’m putting a link to it. thanks!

  15. Thanks for sharing this and the previous post as well. I will definitely integrate some of these tips and ideas in my still a work in progress planning.

  16. Hm. I’m not quite at the point where I’m identifying MIT and daily frog yet. Working on simply identifying my to-do’s and keeping the list less than 10! So far so good! I love being able to look at the list partway through the day and remind myself that I’ve gotten this much done, and have this much more to do!

    • I love to write lists but sadly rarely stick to them. don’t forget to take a moment add what you HAVE achieved at the end ofthe day and cross that out! Cheating I know buthighly effective and helps you realise what itis you actually do and also reminds you that life is what happens in between the plans you make and that is
      what it is about!

  17. These are great tips! I will be sure to eat my vacuuming frog first thing in the morning!
    .-= Vanessa´s last blog ..How To Curb Those Pregnancy Blues =-.

  18. Wow…that post hit home. I didn’t even look at things that way, and when I didn’t finish certain things at the end of the day, chalked it up to not having enough time. Which is true to a point, but I definitely put my frogs off to the last minute…often not finishing them when I should.
    What a fantastic way to view it and conquer it! Love this post!
    http://thepursuitofmommyness.com/
    .-= The Pursuit of Mommyness´s last blog ..The Pregnancy Sign Mind Game: Saturday Confessional Part 1 =-.

  19. You inspired me. :-) I did shut my email down this morning (and my TweetDeck) and got busy on posts… I actually wrote 2 1/2 posts in 30 minutes this morning. :-) I was amazed at how much I got done when I wasn’t getting side-tracked,. :-) I can see me doing this every morning.
    But, I thought you might be interested to know that I spoke of this post this morning:
    http://3boysandadog.com/2010/01/menu-plan-monday-eating-frogs
    .-= Kelli @ 3 Boys and a Dog´s last blog ..ReThink What Matters with Bare Escentuals =-.

  20. Hooray! Somebody else whose frog is vacuuming – it’s mine, too! How I loathe it. Yet – unlike most of the others – I actually *like* doing laundry! Something about breathing in that nice sun-fresh smell of clean clothes (and because the washing machine does most of the hard work for me). But handwashing, stain removal and ironing are not my fave parts of the overall laundry process, I must admit.
    .-= Kate´s last blog ..Upon the loss of a child =-.

    • I actually like laundry, too. But I also like vacuuming. I feel like I’m attacking the dirt. :)

      But my chore frog is DEFINITELY dishes. Can’t stand doing them.

  21. Laundry is not one of my frogs but folding it is!
    Are you a mom with a plan? Thousands of moms are now working from home and so can you! Work At Home Jobs For Moms.

  22. I have only recently started following along with your blog and I have to admit, the title um, concerned me a bit at first. ;)
    I’m glad I read on because I was very intrigued by what you had to say. It is definitely food for thought and I now have a lot to chew on. Er, oh wait, yeah.

    ~traci :D
    .-= Traci´s last blog ..Multitude Monday =-.

  23. Oh I love this idea. The image of eating a frog just makes me laugh and that alone makes my least favorite task a little bit better. I’m off to find a frog icon to add to my task list.
    .-= No More Clutter´s last blog ..How can I sign up for AboutOne? =-.

  24. As a work-outside-the-home Mama, I’ve been trying to do this as I come home from work. If I give myself a “break” and put off my chores until later, I never get them done. I feel so much better and am much more productive when I do the hardest thing first!
    .-= Emily´s last blog ..Project Life {January 17-23} =-.

    • I completely understand getting to the chores as soon as you come home. When my mother is visiting, she always reminds me that I still have my work clothes and shoes on. She always wants me to change my clothes and then get started, but I explain that if I get comfortable I may never get the chores or dinner done.
      .-= Tia´s last blog ..Spilled Macaroni =-.

  25. So funny that you’ve posted this topic this week. My first grader has been having trouble concentrating at school – puts off doing the hard work, then pays the penalty when everybody else is playing and she’s still stuck with her work. Last week, I tried to explain “swallowing the frog” to her (Do the work you don’t want to do or is hardest first so you can move on to the fun stuff) and it’s helped a little. Do you or maybe some other posters have some ideas on how to translate Swallow the Frog for kids?

  26. @Debi, it’s like dinner first and then dessert. : )
    .-= Jane´s last blog ..How to help on a budget. =-.

  27. Yes and double yes! Choosing your MITs and making sure you work on those first is the key! Love this post!
    .-= Meredith from Penelope Loves Lists´s last blog ..Big Ideas Notebook: a new favorite and our first GIVEAWAY =-.

  28. I agree in general with this post. But sometimes find when I have a VERY LARGE frog to do (wash the dog, go to the DMV, etc), I work myself into a tizzy just to avoid doing it. Then I feel I can excuse off the frog because I washed all the floors in the house, did 4 loads of laundry, took the kids to the park, cooked a fancy dinner, and cleaned out my car. Obviously, this won’t work forever and eventually I have to do the frog, but I really enjoy the results of my avoidance in the meantime:)

  29. LOVE this post, so I linked it to my blog.
    .-= Natasha´s last blog ..Mod-Podge of Great Posts =-.

  30. I just wanted to say that this is SO TRUE. When I do the worst thing first thing, the day just doesn’t seem so bad.
    When I don’t do it at the start, the day seems to be filled with dread and anxiety, and that totally stinks! I end up giving my least favorite thing so much more energy than I needed to.
    .-= tiffany´s last blog ..Win the Laundry Battle AND a One Year Supply of Detergent (GIVEAWAY!!!) =-.

  31. I love this and started doing it daily. I found it funny you mentioned laundry as the “icky” chore because that’s the one I hate the most. Thank you so much for all your helpful ideas – you have no idea how you’ve inspired me!
    .-= Marie´s last blog ..Hello world! =-.

  32. I love this. Eat the frog. Gotta make a sign for my sons and me. I remember eating the frog when I was in middle and high school. I always did my math homework first and my English last.
    Now a days, I guess my frog would be laundry (well the folding), at home, and checking papers, at work. I have a hard time sticking to a task that calls for me to stay still in one place for an extended time, except for reading.
    .-= Tia´s last blog ..Spilled Macaroni =-.

  33. This was SO helpful to me. Thank you for reposting it!
    .-= Misha´s last blog ..Because I Love To Read! =-.

  34. Thanks for this! It is almost exactly what my husband and I do regarding our To Do Sometime list. We call it our Toad List. Hubby went to a stress seminar and the speaker compared unfinished business (in my case, a huge to do list) to toads. All you have to do is lick a toad and be done with it. Eating a frog is even more graphic and it made me laugh out loud. I even forwarded it to him at work!

  35. This was a great post. Dishes always seem to be one of mine, and they just never got ALL done. I started emptying the dishes first thing in the morning while I was waiting for my water (for coffee) to heat up in the microwave. I realized I could empty the dishes in 2 minutes and 20 seconds! Which left it empty all day to put the dishes in. Now I find the dishes are always done and the kitchen looks much better! YAY!! I love the idea of deciding on the three most important tasks. I have plenty of lists of things to do, but prioritizing that list is a great idea. Thanks!
    .-= Jackie Lee´s last blog ..Vegetable Garden Planning =-.

  36. Writing is, at the moment, my biggest frog and as you found with your exercise it’s really a case of beginning. Once I start writing I feel much better and love the process and the glow that comes from having written well. But I have spent hours, sometimes days, dithering and avoiding.

    Like some of the other commenters, I’m in the habit of checking my email first thing in the morning. And that can often lead to reading this or that. Sometimes to a million and one “little things” and so the writing doesn’t get done (nor does the laundry or dishes, lol).

    Speaking of which, I’ve been putting off the dishes-frog all day. It’s the last of my official do-today to-do list so I’m going to go get it done. Then I can kick back guilt free. And tomorrow, eating the frog by writing first. :-)
    .-= Rebecca Laffar-Smith´s last blog ..Reading and Writing: Develop Your Child’s Love Of Language =-.

  37. It is a good theory.,, but what if you dont wana get out of bed because you are dredding the first activity you kno you will have to do? Then there is no motivation to get out of bed. Just a question. but i still agree that once you have eaten the frog the rest of the day is downhill,.. perhaps the first activity you do shouldnt be “eating your frog” but doing something that will motivate you to eat the frog. Then your first thought in the morning isnt so daunting but uplifting. However I supose I should try this before I comment on it. I think im being a little over technical :) ,,,, Delayed gratification for future satisfaction. Thanx

  38. I have just started the “One Bite at at Time” E-book, and this was what I started with. (Love the book, by the way!) I am a former Flybaby (reader and follower of Flylady.net). I’ve learned many things from Flylady, and those things still help me accomplish some day to day tasks. But your topics and ideas seem to help me fill in the holes that Flylady’s system had left open.

    For instance, she teaches never to let perfectionism keep you from doing a chore. In other words, don’t refrain from doing a task just because you don’t have the time to do it perfectly right now….just do SOMETHING. That is an awesome concept, but I’ve let that concept almost give me too much permission, and instead of me taking a baby step towards a bigger goal, I just tend to do a little and leave the rest undone.

    I HATE to wash dishes by hand. So after the dishwasher was loaded each day, I would put off washing the non-dishwasher items…. pots, pans, large stuff, etc… With Flylady’s permission, I would wash only 5 of those big items, and leave the rest undone, for the next day. Problem was, more than 5 a day were accumulating. After a week, I had built up quite a stack of dirty dishes.

    So, that was my frog. I spent at least an hour washing dishes that could only be washed by hand, until every last one was done. Even after that, I was so inpired by my accomplishment, that I cleaned out leftovers from the fridge that needed to be tossed, which created more dishes, which I washed RIGHT THEN. Today (Day 2 of frog eating) I started again and washed the very few items that had accumulated since yesterday – not so bad! I can’t tell you how good it feels to walk into my kitchen now! This frog is already becoming palatable.

  39. My least favorite task? Writing senseless stuff just because it’s work. But hey, it helps pay the bills, so why not? Thanks to this post, I now know what to do about my icky frogs… :)

  40. I was brought up with the saying “always do the worst first” so have spent my life eating frogs!!!It works! However………sometimes (ok most of the time)the chores are so many that they take over. Make sure it is only one frog a day lest you become one!!! By the way, I dream of exercising first thing in the morning (like my pre children life) but the worst always gets in the way…..what is more important? folded laundry/ dusted furniture/clean windows or ahappy, healthy Mum??

  41. I am a little skeptical here. If you have 10 tasks, and one of it is the frog. Taking on the frog sometimes may lead to dead-end or frustration. Instead doing out the simple things first helps you get them out of your to-do list and gives a sense of progress before taking on the frog.
    As far as working out is concerned, it is the first thing people do in the morning anyway.

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