As writers, most of us love making to-do lists.
And there are plenty of ways to tackle your to-do list. For example, there’s one strategy in particular I’d never heard of until joining AWAI: “eating a frog.”
Eating a frog sounds really unpleasant, and that’s the idea. (Just don’t take it literally.)
The way this strategy works is, you do the absolute worst thing on your to-do list — the thing you’re dreading, or that ties your stomach in knots — first. Once you’ve done that, the rest of your list, and the rest of your workday, should be a breeze.
Some people get nervous about making phone calls to clients, like Christina Gillick. (You can find her article about the advantages of eating a frog here.) For Christina and others, dialing a client for a conversation might be the thing they desperately want to get out of the way, so they start their day with it.
There’s a major psychological advantage to getting the worst thing done early in the day: You won’t have it hanging over your head all day long.
Now, I realize this doesn’t work for everyone. That’s why I want to share a strategy I’ve used successfully when “eating a frog” wasn’t an option.
Not Ready for the Frog? Start with Some Hors D’oeuvres.
My strategy, at times, has been to do the smallest or easiest thing on my to-do list first. It’s the polar opposite of eating a frog, but there are still two major benefits: efficiency and momentum.
I used to wake up every weekday at 5 a.m. and get to the gym by 6:30. Between putting on my gym clothes, grabbing a quick bite to eat, making a cup of tea, and brushing my teeth, there wasn’t much time to work, but I could fit something small in.
When I’d look at my to-do list, I knew I couldn’t draft the spec assignment I’d been putting off, and it was too early to call prospects. But, if I was studying a program, and the next fifteen pages were on my list, I could manage that in my first limited working window.
That first item I finished didn’t have the most direct impact on moving me closer to my writing goals, but it was still important. It was an efficient use of my time. And it made me feel like I had accomplished something. Which brings me to the second benefit…
Take the Quick Win and Go for the Low-Hanging Fruit
By the time I was done working out, home from the gym, showered, and dressed, it was usually around 9 a.m. As I’d sit down to work, I’d look back at my to-do list for the day. There was a huge difference in my mindset if I’d already crossed something off my list.
It didn’t matter that the item that was crossed off was simple — studying a few pages of a program, reading a few articles, or even writing in my journal. The knowledge that I had already accomplished something — and the simple act of crossing that something off my list — made it so much easier to get moving on my most important tasks for the day.
On the other hand, knowing I still had to do everything on my list, and feeling like I was obligated to start with the hardest item, added unnecessary stress that only held me back.
The bottom line is, there’s no right or wrong way to get through your to-do list. Eating a frog is a great, proven way to handle your business. (And you’ll have to eat it eventually, anyway.)
But, if you’re like me, and either your schedule doesn’t permit you to start big… or you get a jolt of momentum just by getting that first little thing crossed off your list, try going for the quick win first. Get something done. Then eat that frog once you’re already rolling.