Eat Your Frog


As you know being a project manager requires a lot of skills. There are technical project management skills (planning, risk management, organization, etc.) as well as soft skills like being a good communicator or having good emotional intelligence.

Project management is about getting things done so that projects can be delivered on time, with quality and within budget. All of this requires the project manager to handle a lot of different tasks and to have a deep understanding of the project. A good PM cannot be just good at planning/scheduling or managing risks, it is equally important for the PM to understand business analysts if they work with them as well as architects or more technical profiles like developers. It is important to understand the project in its entirety and not be the person that only creates Excel spreadsheets and asks people what is the progress percentage. In order to help the team, the PM will sometime take care of specific tasks which are outside of their perimeter and hence must have the ability to learn new things.

What does this mean? This means that the day-to-day activity of the PM is full of different tasks in different knowledge areas. Some tasks can be small, others need more time to be tackled. Some tasks have low priority whereas some tasks have to be treated quickly. And sometimes there will be new tasks popping up during the day that need an immediate attention.

Each PM must be the king of the organization. But more than that a PM needs to understand the priorities and be able to focus on specific tasks at a given moment, and perhaps most of all, be able to keep a high level of concentration and motivation while multitasking. As an example, a developer will be able to focus on one specific task during the day, coding whole day long. Something like that is impossible for a PM.

The best way to keep their concentration, stay motivated and prevent procrastination during the day is to plan the day and first tackle the biggest tasks or most annoying ones in order to free their mind and release the brain from things that they do not want to do. The PM has to eat the ugly stuff first.

Being a big fan of Brian Tracy, I read some of his books on motivation and concentration. In his book "Eat that frog", he gives actionable advice on how to fight procrastination. He explains the mechanism of procrastination, why we procrastinate and what solutions exist to fight against it. Brian Tracy listed 21 actions we must perform to stay efficient during the day and continue to be creative.

In this article I would like to focus on some of them as going into the detail of all 21 tasks would be too long. Let's dive into it.

Here is the list of 21 tasks from Brian Tracy:

  1. Define your goals and write them down
  2. Create plans for what you'll work on
  3. Focus on your 20% tasks
  4. Think long-term to make better short-term decisions
  5. Procrastinate on purpose
  6. Use the ABCDE method
  7. Understand exactly what work you're accountable for
  8. When it's time to work, work
  9. Prepare for your work before you start on it
  10. Focus on one task at a time
  11. Develop your skills
  12. Use your strengths
  13. Identify the things that are holding you back
  14. Find your motivation
  15. Make the most of your energy levels
  16. Become an optimist
  17. Don't let technology distract you
  18. Break your tasks down to their smallest possible components
  19. Schedule time on your calendar for eating your frogs
  20. Find your flow
  21. Work on a task until it's complete

I selected 5 of the above tasks which are, in my opinion, the most important to have in mind before starting your day.

1. Create plans for what you'll work on

The first step in proper planning is having a list of tasks you need to complete.

  • a master list of all of your tasks
  • a monthly list of tasks you want to complete that month
  • a weekly list of tasks you want to complete that week
  • a daily list of tasks you want to complete that day

Each subsequent list pulls from your master list. You plan your monthly list at the end of each month, your weekly list at the end of each week, and your daily list at the end of each day. By planning your tasks for the next day at the end of the previous workday, you'll know exactly what your frog is when you arrive at work in the morning and can get started on it immediately.

Fine, we all know the to-do list and we all try to create efficient ones. But to be honest, most of the time we don't have a clear process to manage them and even if we create some items in the list most of the time, we do it halfway and we often don't follow the list, switching to another task that will pop up during the day.

A lot of tools are available in the market that help you build a to-do list. I use Microsoft To-Do which is a simple yet efficient tool. Have a look!

2. Focus on your 20% tasks

I'm also a big fan of Pareto and the 80-20 rule. The Pareto principle states that you tend to get 80% of your results from 20% of your work. It is statistics.
Once you've defined your goals and broken them down into tasks, you start to work on them. And usually, the problem is that you end up spending all of your time on 80% of tasks, often small and low-value, that won't allow you to meet your most important goals.
A big part of making sure you're always working on 20% most important tasks is prioritization. Building the list of tasks is only one part of the job. Always make sure that you don't forget to prioritize them. This will highlight the most important tasks on which you should spend most of your energy to get the best results and keep your motivation.

3. Break everything in pieces and work on one task at a time
Everything starts by breaking one goal into multiple tasks. The more a task seems overwhelming the more you risk procrastinating with it.
Once you have your goals broken down into tasks, you must work on those tasks one at a time.  You must focus on them completely. Focusing on the task means that you must protect yourself from distraction - don’t check your mailbox or let anyone come to ask you questions or discuss with you. Your task must be your number one priority and you cannot be disturbed for any reason.
Monotasking is the key! Multitasking is bad for your mental health; you cannot focus efficiently if you have to ask your brain to focus on multiple topics and a high level of detail for all of them.

4. Stay focused, and don't let technology distract you
This one is directly linked to the previous one. Technology is first designed to make you more productive. However, if you use it the wrong way it could have the opposite effect. If you spend most of your day checking your email or notifications or instant messages instead of accomplishing important tasks, it's time to change your habits.
Avoid technology distractions!
When it is time to work, switch off your phone or allow incoming calls only in case of emergency. You really don't need to check every email and message from your friends. If something is urgent, people will manage to call you.
One good way to understand and have a clear vision of how often you use your phone is to install a time-tracking app that will tell you the truth about how much time you stare at your phone! How much time you're spending on things like email, chat, and social media? And you know this is a pure waste of time...

5. Schedule time on your calendar for deep work sessions
To make good progress, you need to be sure that you have the right environment to deeply focus on your tasks. This can be done by booking large blocks of time to focus on them. But finding large blocks of time to focus on specific tasks needs some organization in order to make sure that nobody will steal them and ask you to do something else.
The idea is to schedule time for focused work. Schedule time on your calendar during the day or at the end of every workday for working on the most important tasks for the next day. You can also schedule recurring meetings every day to make sure you always have time blocked for the most important tasks. This way nobody will be able to invite you to a meeting or call you to discuss one topic.

In conclusion, I invite you to go through all of Tracy's 21 tasks that could help you to get your work done. The 5 tasks I explained above are, in my opinion, a good start to change your habits and start eating your frog. Once you get a hang of those you will be able to add the other ones from the list step by step. It is much easier to change your habits one step at a time instead of trying to implement all of Tracy's pieces of advice all at once. Start small and be sure that you are consistent within a month before adding new techniques.

The main concept is to fight procrastination in your day-to-day work, ease your life and be more efficient. The most important thing is that you will also reduce your mental load by being more focused and efficient.

So, start eating your frog and eat the ugliest frog first!

Stephen Casciana