As a registered and certified cynic on all things ‘self-help’ and even ‘personal development’, I have recently been force-fed huge helpings humble pie. The wisdom and power of the principles presented in many books in these categories are becoming harder to ignore. Someone close to me recently started a book club in Lagos, Nigeria (ask, if you’re interested!) and these young men and women read one book a month, discuss it as a group and find helpful ways to apply the lessons learned.
The book for the month of March was titled “Eat that Frog!” by Brian Tracy. A rather strange title for a book on personal effectiveness but as I read, I regularly found myself nodding in agreement, yes, this does makes a lot of sense. This book is written to those who feel they could and should be doing more with their time whether in their personal or professional lives (all of us, I think). If you are looking for motivation to take your work and life from mediocrity to high performance, this review is for you, and so is the book.
Before diving into the principles, here is one disclaimer I have found to be very true: Reading this book will not change your productivity, in much the same way that sitting in class does not make you a professor. Instead, consistent immersion in and application of these simple ideas is guaranteed to produce incredible results and satisfaction. For those old (and young) enough to remember Captain Planet, “the power is yours!”
You might be wondering, what on earth does all this have to do with eating frogs? Brian Tracy describes a “frog” as your “biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it now. It is also the one task that can have the greatest positive impact on your life and results at the moment”. His philosophy is simple: if you can identify and eat your ugliest frog first thing in the day, then you can enjoy the rest of the day knowing that that is probably the hardest thing you will have to endure all day. And what if you have two frogs? He says, “Eat the ugliest one first”. And because these ‘frogs’ are the tasks that yield the highest level of satisfaction and results when complete, we need them for that accomplished feeling and personal reward that further motivates us to achieve. I’m sure I am not alone in experiencing feelings of sluggishness or lack of accomplishment when I have a big task hanging over my head uncompleted being carried over from one day to the next. According to Brian, this attitude to work will stand in the way of performing at our highest possible level, whether in career, family, faith, hobbies, sports or all!
“One of the keys to your living a wonderful life, having a successful career, and feeling terrific about yourself is for you to develop the habit of starting and finishing important jobs.” – Brian Tracy
All the great values expressed in the book are summed up in that phrase and wrapped up in the highlighted key words.
Develop: The process of becoming a “seven-star performer” as a good friend used to say begins only with you. Maybe your motivation is dissatisfaction with the way things are in your business, in your relationships, in society. Maybe you see what others are doing and wonder why good things seem to come to only certain people. Maybe you’re wondering how those people got where they are. Whatever your motivation is, the desire to improve begins with you. Clarity, Tracy says, is the most important concept for you to grasp if you want to be productive. With no overarching goal, plan or vision, every activity you engage in or effort you put into your work life, is a random brush stroke on a painting with no purpose. I think most of us feel the same about paintings that have no discernible definition worth enjoying. To gain more clarity, one practical step offered is to think on paper. Write everything down, your goals and what you need to do to get there. Write down what you want to do today, this week, this month and this year. If you’re like me and struggle with the yearly plan that never gets done, then it is essential you write down smaller plans for the day, and the week. With clarity, there is less room for paralysis and inaction.
Habit: The Free Dictionary defines habit as “a recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behaviour that is acquired through frequent repetition.” And even “an addiction”. If indeed a habit is like an addiction and can become something we need to do, it lies with us to develop good habits that noticeably increase our effectiveness. I used to habitually take long ‘tea breaks’ at work as a time to catch up with friends, have a laugh and relax before properly starting work. The result? Far less was accomplished by the end of each day due to procrastination. I’m a firm advocate of taking things one step at a time. Maybe your first step will be to write down a to-do list every day for the next month starting with your ugliest frog. Whatever it is, your habits are uniquely yours to make or break. Start small, start today.
Starting: No, really, just start it. There’s no magic formula here, sit down and start the task once you know what it is and what you need to do. Just start. Pearl S. Buck once said “I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work”. Really, one step at a time, just start.
Important jobs: Permit me to deviate and answer the question: what exactly are ‘important jobs’? According to Brian Tracy, “One of the very worst uses of time is to do something very well that need not be done at all”, hear ye, hear ye! Have you recently decided to meticulously clean and reorganise your office space instead of calling that important client to address their concerns or seeing your boss about a challenge you’re facing? ‘Creative procrastination’ allows you to do things that ‘seem important’ but yield little reward in the grand scheme of things. Tracy offers simple rules for determining the few, most important tasks that produce the highest benefit. Only when you can successfully identify and complete these do all the other principles come to life
Finishing: Finally, I think this principle is where the magic of this book lies. Inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell once said “Concentrate all your thoughts on the task at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” When you start to eat your frog, don’t stop until you finish. In many ways throughout the book, Tracy emphasizes the need for focusing on one task at a time. This flies in the face of the popular belief in the importance of multi-tasking, and the particular skill of us women in doing this. I believe there will always be need for some degree of multi-tasking in life, (how else can we balance our myriad life roles? Mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, mentor, employee, employer, leader etc. women do it all) but Tracy’s philosophy works so well because it eliminates the danger of half-done work and therefore a false sense of achievement. Half-excellent work does not exist, if it’s only half-done, it is not excellent.
There are many more jewels this book offers and probably many more tips you practice that are not mentioned here. Why not comment below and share? If you’re looking to improve your life performance and use your skills in the best way possible, make use of available resources, books, book clubs, mentors, seminars and the like. Let us no longer be content with mediocrity and average performance, every woman has it in her to excel in her sphere of influence, both inside and outside the home. I highly recommend this book; start today, Eat that Frog!