Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on the Career Addicts blog, and contains affiliate links.
I want to play a game.
You’re presented with a plate of fresh lobster tail and garlic butter (or whatever else you particularly love) and a live frog. You have to clean your plate or die (just go with me on this). Which one do you reach for first?
If you’re like most people, you go for the lobster. But that’s a mistake, and here’s why: while the lobster tastes great, and you love it, the experience is completely ruined for you because you become fixated – obsessed – with what you need to do next. With the green, slimy amphibian looking up at you. You won’t enjoy that lobster. You can’t. Our brains don’t work that way.
The Duality of the Brain
In his fascinating book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman explains that our brains are actually made up of two systems – what he’s labeled System 1 (automatic system) and System 2 (reflective system). System 2 helps us focus, concentrate, and get things done. It has the unenviable task of trying, with varying degrees of success, to ignore the onslaught of distractions we face every single day of our lives. There are essentially two main categories of distraction – sensory (the sights and sounds around us, such as a chatty cubicle neighbour) and emotional (the stuff running through your mind 24/7 like worrying about the future, concern over what others think of us, and so on).
The two systems in our head actually work rather closely together: While System 2 allows us to hunker down and push through a difficult task, it is System 1 that automatically gets hung up on the distractions. Until we find a solution to whatever it is, System 1 won’t allow us to fully concentrate on – or enjoy, savour, plan – whatever the task is at hand. It’s a silent, nagging voice that desperately wants – needs – the distraction removed. Immediately.
That’s where the frog comes in.
System 1 won’t allow you to fully enjoy your lobster. The frog on the plate is the only thing that System 1 experiences in this scenario. And it will zero in on it with unconscious, laser-like precision. You’re chewing the lobster, garlic butter dripping down your chin, and your unconscious mind is screaming “Frog! Frog! Frog!”.
So, what to do? Eat the frog first.
Get rid of the unpleasant, disgusting entree and then enjoy the lobster utterly and completely. The frog metaphor – and really it could be anything you dislike with a fiery intensity (for me it would be pickled beets for some reason) – was first introduced by Brian Tracy in his productivity book Eat That Frog!.
Eat Your Way to a Better Day
And how does any of this relate to you and your day? You’re probably not going to find yourself in an “eat the lobster and frog or die” scenario any time soon, right? Fingers crossed.
The eat-the-frog system reminds us of the necessity of doing our most pressing, important, scary, or unpleasant task first. Schedule it for first thing in the morning, as early as your agenda allows. Otherwise, it sits in your System 1 unconscious mind all day, screaming “FROG!” at the top of its metaphorical lungs. You can’t concentrate on anything else. You can’t give 100% to any other task during your day until the frog is gone from your plate. Hate making cold sales calls? Eat that frog. Terrified of making that presentation to your boss? Eat that frog. Dreading that 53-page financial report that you have to read and comment on? Eat. That. Frog.
And as an added benefit, by tackling your “frog tasks” early in your day, you ensure you’re mentally sharp and best suited to take it head on. By default, we all want to schedule the unpleasant parts of our day for later on, pushing it as far away as possible. It’s the worst possible choice. Grab that frog and dig in.
Your whole day is better by simple subtraction. Finish the task that’s keeping you awake at night, and everything else is icing. There’s nothing on the horizon to make you sweat (or cringe, or whatever).
When you start your day by eating a live frog, it can only get better.