I’ve mentioned in posts before that one way to manage time more effectively is by employing the ‘eat the frog first’ rule. By tackling my least favourite or most difficult task before embarking on the rest of the day’s work, I get a great sense of achievement as well as feeling more focussed on the tasks ahead that I know I’m going to enjoy.
Many people I know use this method to increase production and whilst I still rate it as one of the best time management tools there is, I have recently been working on a new approach. I call it;
Sugaring the Frog.
Yes I know, it sounds pretty disgusting doesn’t it?
This came about because I began one day to ponder exactly why it was always the same tasks week in, week out that gave me the sense that I was undertaking some kind of amphibian bush tucker trial every working morning.
Yes, I was eating those frogs and getting them out of the way early on but I knew they’d be back the next day, croaking at me as I consumed cup of tea number four, and sitting there by my laptop like green slimy versions of Jabba the Hut.
So I decided to analyse exactly what it was about said frogs that I found so obnoxious and wondered if I might just kiss one and see if I could turn it into a handsome prince.
At random, I picked a frog and studied it, all the while trying to keep a completely open mind.
This dreaded task was a very specific job I had to do for a particular client four or five mornings per week.
The client himself is utterly lovely. I’m extremely fortunate in that all my clients are great people who have interesting businesses that I enjoy working for.
So I knew it couldn’t be because of any personal dislike or lack of interest on my part.
The task itself wasn’t particularly difficult. Like 90% of my work it involved writing and while the muse sometimes temporarily abandons me, I pretty much love what I do and would even enjoy writing copy on how to open a crisp packet.
So why did I think of this almost daily task as being a frog to get out of the way?
Eventually, I boiled it down (apologies of you are imagining a frog being boiled. Well if you weren’t, you definitely are now) to one thing;
Because I had been doing this task for so long and because it wasn’t too tricky I had fallen into the trap of approaching it in a haphazard way. I’m a bit of a one for lists, and schedules and measurement and spreadsheets but the way I was going about this job was not following any pattern.
The task itself wasn’t the problem; it was the feeling it engendered in me. One of mild panic because I was working in quite a random way that meant I didn’t feel in control. I wasn’t in the driving seat of this one.
Instead of the words and subject matter following my lead, I felt as if I was running to keep up. I don’t mean that I have to be ultra-controlling over whatever I write. Part of the creative process is sometimes to let go and allow the words to pick themselves and that often changes the tone or even entire theme of a piece of writing for the better.
What I mean is that I felt I was flailing around because I had no structure and I had no structure because I’d allowed this task to develop without applying a framework to it. And because I was being super analytical and knew I should be honest with myself, I realised that sinking feeling I had about it was because it made me feel that I wasn’t working with 100% effort and so I was letting my client down.
The frog was me, pretty much.
The beauty of having gone through this process was that once I’d identified what the real problem was I could do something about it.
I spent a day designing a system I could apply that would make all future work on this project flow perfectly. I actually had a plan at last, and because of that I looked at it all with fresh eyes and started getting ideas about how to improve what was already there, as well as unrelated ideas for the client that I thought would really benefit his business.
One less frog to eat. There are still others and no doubt a few more will hop into view at some point but I recommend doing a bit of soul searching if you seem to be eating the same frog every morning, or if you are infested with them.
Of course, all of the above doesn’t just apply to work. At home and in personal relationships, there are those things you just don’t want to face but you know you must sometime.
Having something hanging over you like a sword of Damocles can be annoying at best and at worst can start to affect your health.
By at least deciding whether you need to just get on and eat the frog and get it out of the way, or sprinkle some sugar on it by looking at it from a different perspective could save you a lot of pain. And even if you sprinkle the sugar and it still seems like a horrible task, it will be at least a little more palatable.
(Disclaimer: no actual frogs were harmed during the research phase of this post.)