I love this phrase:
“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” — Mark Twain
Honestly, it’s an incredible lesson that I think we often overlook. I’ve spoken previously about the power of to do lists and this goes right along with it. It’s a maxim that I live my life by and it has fundamentally changed the way I work.
I’ll get to the psychology behind this in a minute, but for a moment, think about the things you have to do tomorrow or even today – you’re likely putting off a task – a hairy, ugly, task I’ll bet. Well if you’re listening to the wisdom of Mr. Twain, then rather than putting that task off, it should be the very first thing you do the first moment you are able to do it. Similar to the 3-second rule of starting conversations (article forthcoming), the longer you procrastinate, the more dreaded that task you’ve been avoiding becomes. Not only have you made the chore harder by putting it off, but now you may have to rush through it to meet a deadline or communicate back to a customer whom you should have spoken to much earlier… But here’s the real killer – you’ve sacrificed part of your cognitive ability by holding on to the thought that you “have to do this thing” and now all of your other work has suffered.
The neurology behind procrastination
Your neocortex – the part of your brain responsible for your conscious thoughts – is basically hijacked. Think of having one of your hands tied behind your back or one of your feet nailed to the floor – the neocortex, this wonderful system of neural pathways is now forced to operate in a diminished capacity…
Now, here’s the real danger – every task that you hold hostage (by putting it off) is actively taking up anywhere from 11-20% of your cognitive ability (your “thinking” brain can only hold 7 (+/- 2) pieces of information at one time). EVERY TASK! Think about that… Now think about how much easier it is to just EAT that big ass frog first thing in the morning and FREE up your brain to crush the rest of your day.
Check out this article on to-do lists where I discuss a framework to avoid this mental takeover.