Eat the Frog or Take a Bite out of the Elephant?

How do you know which to do? I find myself with more To Do lists than I have time “to do”. How do you conquer it with so much “left to be done”?

As Mark Twain once said “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 …”

I have always understood this analogy as it is best to take on the largest or least attractive tasks first thing in the morning when you have the energy and are fresh. Most of the time the “frogs” that are awaiting us are in addition to the work that has to be completed to keep things afloat. By focusing while you are fresh you can more optimally eat the frog allowing you to get back to those other tasks. The easier and therefore more common thing we do is to start off the day believing that if we can get some of the less important tasks out of the way it will leave room to start the bigger project. If you have tried this you know that this is not the case and that you likely never get to the bigger project. We see this with email more than any task. Believing that you are going to do a few emails before starting the bigger project is a “trap” because email, much like a treadmill, just keeps churning. Email is also a “time-suck” because finishing a few emails turns into many emails only realizing when you look at the clock that you have been on email for much longer than intended. Turn it off, shut it down, or simply don’t start it until you are through with the priorities to avoid email becoming THE priority.

Desmond Tutu once wisely said that “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”

I also understand this to mean that you just have to do it, whatever it is, one task at a time. Beyond “To-Do Lists” there are days I find myself taking life one minute at a time, which is another way to activate this advice. While this advice again is easy to understand it is harder to execute if you don’t have the time. Time is premium these days as we find ourselves stretched beyond what seems reasonable for one person to handle. Stop looking at the WHOLE and start with the parts. This seems counterintuitive in a world that frequently suggests that not being able “to see the forest for the trees” is a bad thing. The bigger the “frog” the less appealing it is to eat it. The bigger the “elephant” the harder it is to conceive biting it once let alone ingesting the entire thing. When you remove the “impossible” Finish Line that lies ahead you can conceive what IS possible in the tasks to get there.

So why is it simply not this easy? What stands in the way of doing?

Procrastination! How many times do we put off what we can do today to tomorrow? All the time. Procrastination can be a matter of lack of will or lack of skill. Procrastination of will is putting something off simply because you don’t want to do the task. The task has negative emotions attached to it that prevent us from wanting to do it. Procrastination of skill is putting something off because you do not have the skills to do the task. This requires more work in learning how before we can actually do the task. The skill needed is the obstacle rather than the incentive to learn something new and complete the task. Procrastination is the enemy of productivity impeding progress.

So how do you overcome?

The solution is to combine the beasts, frogs, and elephants, and consuming both only putting off procrastination itself. Do this by starting the day off with your “Key 3” priorities. What are the 3 things you want to accomplish in this day? Name them and identify them as your “Key 3” priorities by putting them at the top of your list. Now DO them! What will come between naming and doing? Your “Monkey Brain” will want to divert to less demanding tasks or more enjoyable tasks however you have set your “Key 3” and that is what you must focus on and “sit with” until complete.

This all seems so simple if only we were robots that could just type in the “Key 3” and complete. We are human and with that comes the complication of having emotions. Emotions that tell us something is too hard and can create discomfort in our mind and body. We cannot allow our emotions to determine our actions. We exercise self-control in many “common sense” areas of our life where our emotions would have us acting irrational and therefore we can certainly control those emotions over lesser things.

We know that there is great discomfort in reaching for goals that are outside of our norm. I am reminded of how it feels when you start a running program. Every time you run your mind is telling you to stop again and again and again. But you don’t, you keep running. Eventually, the body and the mind become comfortable with the activity and it becomes the new norm. When you start a diet, your body immediately fights your effort with cravings for foods you are limiting. Staying the course in avoiding those foods and cravings gets you to the goal you have set for a healthier life…but not without effort. By stating the “Key 3” and being relentless to ignore the distractions that take us away from the priorities we have set we can accomplish our goals both small and large.

Creating pleasant distractions, like music that provides a backdrop to focus, can help us stay on track. Put yourself on your calendar. Setting the time on your calendar makes you accountable to the priorities that you have set. Combine the two by inviting others to join you in completing the task can provide a pleasant distraction from the norm as well as the extra accountability to stay on task for the sake of those that you have committed time.

Last I offer the one tried and true thing that works…take a break. Yes, this is completely counterintuitive to what we have explored in eating the frog or the elephant one bite at a time but it works. When you walk away for a few minutes, an hour, or a weekend you will always find that those “Key 3” priorities come into focus. It seems counterintuitive at the time as “powering through” has its place and time however putting space between the intensity of the tasks at hand can bring more clarity and a renewed energy.

Eat your frogs, take bites out of the elephant but don’t forget to take the time to smell the roses.

Life as I live it – L.

Your priorities are not mine but are they yours?

The idea of priorities have come up a number of times over the past week so I feel compelled to talk through the concept as I see it. Our priorities are what set our intention and purpose in our lives; or so they should. We decide what is important to us and then act upon those priorities. If it were only that easy it would not be a topic worth discussing but that it is not that easy makes it worthy of going on…and so I do.

The first thing we can can agree upon is that we will not agree on each others priorities. Those things that are important to me are likely not important to you. As family, friends or coworkers we may share some priorities but disagree on others and hence the debate about priorities. As we set out priorities we have to be unapologetic and own those things that are important to us regardless of how others value those same things. The issue here is that all priorities are not created equal. In my life I set those things as priority that revolve around family, health and finance. This means that my life revolves around these things as I see them as most important and therefore will decide how I navigate all other things as secondary to these three priorities.

This is where the topic turns, as this is where it can get dicey. We question each others priorities when they don’t match our own and worse when they get in the way of ours. This is where respect is key. If we respect each other then we respect each others priorities regardless of their importance to us. It means that when you make a decision to choose one thing over another that I don’t judge, I respect your choices and you mine. This is easiest when those decisions serve us and hardest when they don’t. When you don’t do what I want you to do because of what you deem as priority, the struggle is on.

Examples of how I navigate these and the hardships I face are as noted:

  • Family – my tribe. I am loyal to a fault to my family and friends. Once I “claim” you I will go to the ends of the earth for you. But will you do the same for me? That question is one that requires an exercise in compromise. This is where I have to be forgiving when your priorities do not match mine as part of my love for you is that you have priorities that you will not relent on and how I fit in that equation is mine to resolve. It does not always work out the way I want but nor will my priorities fit in with yours and I hope you will offer the same forgiveness.
  • Health – my life. I have made huge compromises in my life to be healthy and therefore it is a huge priority for me. I put it first and make room for it in my life. Making room sometimes means that I choose one thing over another for the sake of keeping my priorities. Choosing chicken over a burger is not one of those that may affect another but choosing to pass on going out for drinks or a late-night dinner may. I don’t drink and I prioritize 8 hours of sleep therefore I don’t do late nights any longer. This means when asked I will bow out of most of these situations for the sake of getting a good nights sleep. It is never personal except to me that knows what I need to function in this world optimally.
  • Finance – my career. I love what I do and I will do it for as long as can. It is about my passion for hospitality but also my love of financial independence. My life is lived easier feeling compelled and enthusiastic to get out of bed in the morning to go to a job I love with people I respect. The benefit of this passion is that through it I enjoy financial independence. I am able to live the life I want on my own accord and that matters to me.

All three of these priorities mean that I make sacrifices in my life and at times in the life of others to align my priorities with the asks of me in others lives.

The thing with priorities is that they are ours and don’t always “make sense” to others. My priorities have been tested along the way and that is how I have been able to cement what is important to me; those things I simply was not willing to relent on I knew were my life’s priorities. When you are attached to your priorities you are unapologetic and do not feel the need to defend. I think it is interesting when I see others questioning others priorities, in a couple of ways…

  • First the idea that we would question each others priorities is interesting in itself. We question what we don’t value but more importantly we question what doesn’t seem to have value to others. Checking priorities is an exercise for all.
  • Second the idea that you have to defend your priorities is a choice. I don’t defend what is important to me as I don’t see it as a debate. If asked I may explain why it is a priority for me but I will not defend what is not a fight for me. My priorities do not need to be yours and with that I am unapologetic.
  • Last, the integrity in our lives is tested through our priorities. I set them, I defend them but do I live them 100% of the time? This is where the debate can ensue. If I say “no” to you but then “yes” to another it brings into question the importance of that which I am willing to sacrifice my priorities.

Our priorities change over time as the seasons of our lives determine what is important. The fact that you have priorities is key, it is indeed about intention and living a life of purpose. You get to decide what those priorities are but you also have to be willing to live with those decisions. When others decide that your priorities are too far from their own they may move on. If you are willing to live with those consequences then you know you are aligned in your own life. This is a weighty decision and one that can find ourselves reevaluating our own priorities.

In the end or better yet at the beginning of setting those guardrails in your life ask yourself, “Is it really that important?” and “What and who am I willing to give-up?”. In the end, and at the beginning, you decide. L.