Yes, that is the title I meant to choose for this blog!
And no, what follows isn’t sponsored by television favourites I’m a Celebrity or Planet Earth II! It’s about procrastination – the fine art of delaying the things we don’t want to do until we absolutely have to do them. And true to the spirit of this topic, I’m going to leave the frogs to one side for a while, whilst we first look at why procrastination is not good.
At work, each day brings a varied range of tasks – some of them are known to us in advance, whilst many others will present themselves unannounced, often at the most inopportune time. On any one day, we may spend so much time dealing with the unplanned events and the day’s diary that the non-urgent stuff has to get parked – effective time management in action if it’s as a result of a considered review of deadlines and requirements. But sometimes it’s tempting to park other stuff, things that we simply don’t want to do – addressing the persistent lateness of a colleague, broaching something unpopular with the boss, writing a talk etc. This is procrastination at its best – these tasks still need doing, and in fact the underlying issue grows the longer it is left untackled.
Which is where the frogs come in, and frogs (as you may not know) are no friends of procrastination!
Instead of putting things off for another day, write down a list of everything you know you need to do, large or small, work or home, urgent or blue-sky. Now imagine that each item on your to do list is a frog – the quick wins, fun things and easy tasks are brightly coloured tree frogs. They look appealing, so you’d usually turn to them first.
But these frogs can wait.
At the other end of the scale are the difficult jobs, the awkward conversations and the lengthy projects – the big fat toads. So, the new you is going to pick the ugliest, fattest and most putrid smelling toad first. Close your eyes and gulp it down – the thought of it, the weight of it sitting in line, these are worse than the thing itself. Once it’s gone you’ll feel a whole lot better and can move onto the next one.
(Parents may recognise a similar technique successfully employed by children at the dinner table – some eat the sprouts first, leaving all the tasty things to enjoy at leisure. Others cry and push the loathsome vegetables around, hiding them under the knife and deploying delaying tactics of considerable ingenuity. But ultimately, it’s all to no avail – the sprouts remain resolutely on the plate. And as we all know, you can’t get down from the table until your plate is clean!)
Perhaps you’re an action-oriented, facts-and-figures kind of person, who needs some practical structure to the metaphorical art of eating frogs? If so, try these simple tips to combat procrastination whenever it appears:
- Identify a reward to enjoy when you’ve tackled a certain task (a chocolate bar, a 10 minute break, a proper coffee etc.
- Ask a colleague to check up on your progress
- Think about the consequences of not taking action
- Break the project into smaller, manageable steps and tick off a couple of the smaller ones first to give you a sense of achievement
- Use the Eisenhower Urgent/Important principle to help you identify which tasks really do need to be undertaken first
In a 1954 speech, former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower noted: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” Thinking about the nature of each task on your to-do list, you’ll see that the priority order in which they need to be approached naturally forms itself:
- Important and urgent (chasing lab results for an imminent theatre case)
- Important but not urgent (completing your tax return – essential, but not in June)
- Not important but urgent (buying more tea bags when the staff room tin is already empty!)
- Not important and not urgent (choosing new pictures for the office)
So next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by the weight of things to do, list them out (you’ll probably find there aren’t as many urgent things as you thought) and assign a frog to each, leaving the pretty ones to the end. Eating the large toad first removes much of the total weight, and the unpalatable taste is soon gone. Honestly!
Bon appétit mes amis!
If you would like to take control of your life and career, my online personal development programme MyLifeStrategy can help you to overcome the personal and professional challenges you face on a daily basis and learn practical skills and techniques to make a real difference to you and your life.
I’ve developed the Time Management for the Time Poor module to help you to get the most out of your time. It will show you how to manage yourself and your behaviours, how to optimise your time, how to prioritise, delegate, stop procrastinating and put yourself back in control of your life and your time.