Saturday, July 13, 2019

The #1 Rule to Increase Productivity - Eat the Frog

Since January last year, I was put on a very exciting new project at work. It's a highly demanding, yet exciting project involves lots of cross functional partnership internally, as well as managing lots of external agency partners. It's also very fast-paced - it's not uncommon for me to progress 4-5 different sub-workstreams simultaneously within one week, and have multiple deadlines to meet.

It's challenging sometimes for sure. Yet the last 18 months taught me some great lessons about increase productivity and improve time management that I'd like to share with everyone. Today I'm sharing the most important one:

Eat the Frog Early in the Day

It is so simple, almost cliche, yet extremely powerful. By "eating the frog" I'm really talking about prioritization, and being very disciplined about it. Let me explain why it's powerful and how I approach it.

I had an epiphany moment on this subject while listening to an episode from the WSJ Secrets of Wealthy Women podcast. It was an interview with Angie Hicks - the co-founder of Angie's List. When Angie's List started off, Angie had to make sales calls everyday to reach out to and get new customers. As somewhat an introvert, it's the least favorite part of her job. But she gave herself a quota everyday and made herself do these calls "first thing in the morning". "

She said:"I usually like to do things I don’t like to do early in the day...I treat (selling) like math because I’m a math geek. I have to make 20 calls, and out of the 20 calls, one or two will be successful.”

That - do things one doesn't like to do early in the day - makes a total difference, especially mentally. Have you had this experience: you keep putting off that thing you don't feel like doing (or most accurately - afraid of doing). But as you go through your day, it's always on your mind. It's a constant reminder that eventually, you'll have to come back and deal with it. It's mentally exhausting.

What I also find true is that "the task that you don't like to do" could very well be the most important task (MIT). In Angie's case, it's selling and acquiring new customers. For me, it's usually thinking through some very tough strategic questions that guides the project on the right path. We have to do it, and prioritize it first thing.

By getting it done early, the rest of day feels like a breeze. By 9 or 10am, you already have a most productive day because you get the most important task out of the way. What can't you do next? :)

How I Do It:
  • Every night, I look at my to-do lists, and ask myself, what is the task that's strategically important, yet I have an inkling of wanting to put it off. That will be my "frog". I bump that on top of my list.
  • At the beginning of practicing this, I literally add it to my Outlook calendar. So when I check my schedule for the day in the morning, it's right there to remind me.
  • I usually prioritize doing it for first thing in the morning. Usually it gets done before 9:30 or 10am, depending on when I start the day. This is when my mind is the freshest.
The last thing I'll say is be really disciplined about it. Research suggests it takes 66 days to form a habit, not 21 days. So being deliberate and disciplined about this is very critical, especially at the beginning. Then it will feel almost automatic.

Give it a try, and let me know how you like it!

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