Eat that frog later?

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” — Mark Twain

The “frog” in the Mark Twain quote above has been adopted by the business community and productivity advocates to represent the one task or activity you’re least looking forward to completing over the course of your day. The idea being that once the unappealing task is done, the rest of the day is a breeze in comparison.

It’s an interesting idea for sure. But let’s consider a minor alteration: is there a benefit to eating the frog second, or even third?

In May 2011, the Harvard Business Review published an article entitled, “The Power of Small Wins.” In it, author Teresa Amabile describes something called The Progress Principle:

“Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.”

Amabile and her colleagues conducted a study in which they asked people to record details of a “best day” and “worst day” at work, in terms of motivation. The results were interesting. The days labeled as a “best day” were those during which progress was made on a project:

“If a person is motivated and happy at the end of the workday, it’s a good bet that he or she made some progress. If the person drags out of the office disengaged and joyless, a setback is most likely to blame.”

I’ve noticed this tendency in myself. For that reason, I like to set myself up for early wins with one or two quickie successes early in the morning.

For example, if know I have to sit down at the computer and write a proposal, I might clear a few emails from my inbox first, tackle another small to-do item (like returning an object to a coworker), re-read an article related to my proposal, and then begin writing.

I find that if I clear a few easy items off of my “to-do” list, I experience some of the benefits described in the Progress Principle above, and I can use that momentum to tackle the big project of the day — the frog. A couple little successes can go a long way.

3 Comments for “Eat that frog later?”

  1. posted by Remy C on

    A more reasonable interpretation of the Twain quote might be that you can always come up with something to do that’s substantially worse than would otherwise happen. The point of the quote is that nobody actually needs to eat a frog; anyone who would do so in order to make the rest of their day better is so obsessed with things going well that they fail to realize that things would have gone precisely the same minus one eaten frog.

  2. posted by Pat Reble on

    I use a different quote to get through daunting tasks. Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One bite at a time! It reminds me that no matter how overwhelming the job may first appear, by breaking it into small steps it can be done. It makes a good visual!

  3. posted by Shanna Swendson on

    I find that my “frogs” aren’t necessarily the big, complicated tasks. They’re more likely to be the kind of unpleasant little things that are easy to put off, and then putting them off just makes them worse. Things like doing any task involving dealing with a bureaucracy, returning or making a call to a difficult person, filling out a complicated form, etc. So if I make a point of doing these things first, I get the satisfaction of a lot of little accomplishments, plus the weight off my shoulders of getting the dread out of the way so I can focus on the bigger tasks without that nagging awareness of things I’m going to eventually have to do.

Comments are closed.