Judging by the comment cards, one of the most popular takeaways from my speeches is the concept of eating the big frog first as a way to conquer procrastination. I thought about it again when a couple of my family members returned to New York from Australia. I’ll explain that connection in a moment.

I first heard about “eating the big frog first” in the mid-1990s from a gentleman named Danny Cox, who spoke at a business conference I attended.

Imagine you need to eat three live frogs. One is small, the second is medium, and the third is large. If you eat the smallest first, it’s bound to be such a revolting experience that the idea of eating the medium frog (and even worse, the large frog) is going to be so objectionable you won’t be able to proceed. On the other hand, if you eat the big frog first, the medium frog won’t seem like such a big deal. And the small frog will seem like nothing.

I know it sounds gross, especially during my speeches when I show a picture of three frogs as I explain the concept, but at this point it’s just words to me. I don’t think about actual frogs any more. It’s just a catchphrase that helps me. I look at my to-do list at the beginning of each day and say to myself, “Eat the big frog first”—do the thing after which everything else on the list will seem easy.

Although I’m good at prioritizing, my to-do list often falls victim to my fears. Certain items feel harder or scarier or less appealing to me. I work hard to make sure I do the most important things first.

We all have things that for some reason we don’t want to do—things we’re nervous about doing and are likely to procrastinate about. I find when I do those things first it gives me an extra great feeling of accomplishment—a terrific way to start my day.

The trip from New York to Sydney, Australia, takes about 22 hours—a six-hour flight from NY to LA, a three-hour layover in LA, and then a 13-hour flight to Sydney. It’s not an easy haul. After that experience, it’s easy to dread the flight home. But, the flight home, my family tells me, wasn’t nearly as challenging. The reason? While this wasn’t a procrastination thing, the experience was analogous to eating the big frog first—in this case, after the 13-hour flight from Sydney to LA, the flight from LA to NY was relatively easy.

Procrastination can serve a purpose: if you’re truly not ready to do a task—if you haven’t convinced yourself to be confident about tackling it, it may be better to put it off. But usually, delaying it just causes more dread and unpleasantness.

As Danny Cox explained when I first learned about eating the big frog, prolonging painful experiences is not something we normally choose to do. Kids don’t slowly sip cough syrup—they gulp it down fast to get it over with. And we don’t slowly pull off a bandage, we rip it off. My mother-in-law, who never procrastinates, puts it this way: “Procrastination makes everything doubly hard—you not only have to do it, you also have to think about doing it.”

Can you think of situations where you would be helped by eating the big frog first? Join the conversation with your comments…

Best regards,

David

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