Eat the Frog

Many people make New Year’s resolutions. Within a few weeks the good intent disappears in the face of the realities of daily life. For millennia our wise elders have told us that forming habits is the most effective way to bring about change.  the Bible, Aristotle, the Stoics, Augustine,  Thomas Aquinas and Ben Franklin. In the last century there have been numerous authors who have written about habits. A few are listed at the end of this post.

A simple and very power habit is called Eat the Frog.  Some say the term was coined by Mark Twain, though there is no evidence of this.

At the end of each day you decide what is the most important thing to accomplish the following day.  The task should be completable in less than 90 minutes… the amount of time most of us can keep focused.

If the most important thing will take more than 90 minutes, identify the next step which can be accomplished in less than 90 minutes. For example, maybe the most important thing is to resolve some sort of financial issue. Experience suggests that this could take many hours. The next step might be to talk to a representative on the phone. The night before I would record the phone number and what hours the agency will receive calls so I can immediate take action the next morning.

In the morning I start with some physical exercise which helps me wake up and then immediately do my Eat the Frog task. I do this before reading email or looking at any media. That way I don’t get distracted or let something else squeeze out what I determined to be most important.

It also gets the day off to a great start. I know that the most important thing has been accomplished. Everything else is “gravy”.

If you struggle with keeping consistent there are a couple of hacks that can really help.

  • Do this with someone else. Either another individual or with a group of people. Knowing someone else is doing this will increase motivation.
  • Harness loss aversion. Using a commitment contract which requires you to pay money to something you dislike if you fail to reach your goal.  Online tools like Beeminder and Stickk can help with this.

Up-level the Nightly Plan

Once you have the habit of deciding each evening what’s the most important thing to do the following day, you can chain several other practices to this. My cluster of activities has been influenced by Greg Mckeown’s 1-2-3 method

  • I looking at the calendar to see what activities are scheduled so I am not surprised for miss appointments.
  • I look at the predicted weather, and factor that how I plan for the following day. For example, if it is suppose to rain, maybe switch from using my bike to other transportation, taking an umbrella, and packing a lunch so I don’t have to go out for food.
  • I look at the due dates of any projects / tasks I am working on to be sure I know what will become urgent soon.
  • Decide what the most important thing is
  • Reflect on the day I just finished and record
    • Did I get done what I planned? If not, why?
    • What I accomplished that wasn’t planned
    • Anything I learned today
    • Something that I am grateful for today

Additional Materials

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit


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