What Is “Eating the Frog”? Tips for Boosted Productivity


For those mornings when you sit down at your desk and immediately feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of items on your task list—we have a solution for you. 

It’s a productivity method that comes from a Mark Twain saying. He said if you must eat a live frog, do it in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day. But don't worry, we're not actually talking about eating amphibians. 

The idea is to do your most challenging or dreaded task in the morning so the stress of it doesn’t weigh on you all day. 

In practice, “eating the frog” is an efficient way to manage your daily workload. It’s a strategy to remember as you time-box your day or build your daily task list. Curious to learn exactly how to eat the frog in your day-to-day? Keep reading. 

What does “eating the frog” mean?

When you eat the frog, you’re prioritizing your most challenging task. You complete it early in your workday, so you spend the rest of your day with a sense of accomplishment. It’s proven to have a positive impact on productivity.

By the end of the day, you’ve checked off all the work on your task list.

You start by identifying the “frog” or, in other words, your most challenging task. Then, as you’re creating your task list for the day, you put the frog at the top of your list to do first thing in the morning.

It’s a simple prioritization method that helps you create a realistic task list and work on your most challenging task first. Your “frog” doesn’t need to be the most difficult task. It could be as simple as a task you dread doing. 

Brian Tracy, a time management and personal productivity champion, popularized the term. He stated that eating the frog works because it pushes us to complete our most important or biggest task first. It’s a great way to stop procrastinating, create healthy work habits, and set yourself up to start the next day with that sense of accomplishment. The result is getting more done in less time.

How do you pick your frog? 

Prioritizing a to-do list is a difficult task for many people. It can often feel like every task is important, so how do you choose what to work on first? Here are some of our recommendations for choosing your frog. 

They need more time than other tasks

Your frog tasks generally take longer to complete than other average tasks. Try to target tasks that take longer than one hour but no more than three hours. Any longer than 3-4 hours, and it’s time to break down that larger task into smaller ones. 

All told, this is a key time management technique. You’re focusing on the frog task early in the day. You can dig into all its complexity and focus on the details to ensure you’re doing a good job. Once you’ve finished the frog, take a break. Next, focus on smaller tasks like responding to emails or miscellaneous work. 

You face resistance to completing the task

There will always be those tasks we resist doing. We drag our feet to the starting line and struggle to get moving. Identify which tasks feel like this for you. These are perfect frogs. 

Your resistance could come from the task being unpleasant to do or because it’s challenging. The result is procrastination. Your stress grows as the day continues, and the job remains unfinished. 

It can be helpful to identify what exactly about these tasks makes them challenging, then find little tricks or rewards to push yourself to do them. Think about the relief you’ll feel once the job you’ve been putting off is complete. Now, make these tasks your frogs for the day. 

It’s an important task that’s not always urgent

As much as we want to think all the work we do is top priority, that’s not exactly the case. Look at your task list and identify your tasks that support a larger company KPI or OKR. Your tasks that work toward these goals are excellent frogs. They’re important work, but not urgent. 

If you feel a task is urgent, pause and assess its actual urgency. A broken product or a client experiencing an issue with your software is urgent and would make a good frog. Responding to Slack messages or creating documentation is less critical. 

A frog is a task that you want to time box. It’s a high-impact task that will take more mental stamina to complete, so you’re boxing time in your schedule to engage in deep work. 

Should emergency tasks suddenly arise, swap out your frog to handle the emergency. The timeboxed period at the beginning of your day is time dedicated to deep work—even if that deep work is solving problems that suddenly hit your to-do list. While an emergency is not the ideal frog, you can still optimize the time you blocked to work on the frog. 

By the end of your time-boxed period, the task is complete. You’ve eaten the frog and can carry on with your day. 

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Does this method actually work? 

Like all time management and productivity strategies, there isn't one that works for everyone. We all work in different ways. Know that any system you put in place is malleable and should support how you work best. 

Researchers have found that most workers are at their peak earlier in the day. It’s easier for them to focus on tasks, and they usually make fewer mistakes. Eating the frog means you don’t need to worry about having mental stamina later in the day when you’re feeling drained. 

Here are some ways the “eating the frog” strategy works. 

Supports deep work

When you free your mind from always thinking about everything you need to do, you can focus on the task at hand. The time you spend eating the frog is time dedicated to an intense focus on one thing. You’re not responding to emails or attending any meetings. You’ve temporarily snoozed all notifications. Ideally, you’ve also blocked your calendar as undisturbed focus time so your colleagues know you’re busy without having to check-in. You’re focused on a single task (the frog) and minimizing all other distractions. 

Leans into the 80/20 rule

You might’ve already heard of the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. It states that 80% of results come from 20% of actions. Pareto is a productivity strategy that looks at your entire task list, assesses which tasks will have the most significant impact, and prioritizes them. 

List everything you need to complete that day and mark which will have the most significant impact. Their impact might be resolving a bottleneck, answering a longstanding question, or supporting team members to keep projects moving steadily. It’s wise to think about the 80/20 rule when examining your task list to choose your frog. Your frog should be a larger task that will have a significant impact. 

Avoids procrastination 

It’s often all too easy to procrastinate working on tasks that aren’t enjoyable. There are strategies out there to help solve procrastination, but eating the frog is one of the most impactful, primarily because it is so straightforward. It’s a basic matter of prioritization. After you’ve identified the task you’re avoiding doing, move it to the top of your day’s to-do list. 

You’re getting the complex task out of the way immediately, so it’s off your plate for the rest of the day. You’ll avoid the 5 PM panic when the work day is over, but you still haven’t done the work you’ve been procrastinating on. It’s natural to procrastinate on tasks that are more mentally straining, but that’s all the more reason to do them first, then wipe your hands and move on. 

7 tips on what to remember with this method

Countless tips and tricks on the web tell you how to implement the eating the frog strategy successfully. We’ve boiled down the seven most effective tips for kicking off a new productivity strategy. 

As you begin identifying frogs for your working days, here are some tips to remember. 

  1. Don’t plan your day too far in advance. Projects change, setbacks occur, and emergencies happen, so it’s best to avoid planning your day too far in advance. Balance creating a realistic plan with being flexible. 
  2. Be consistent. As with all time management strategies, consistency is key. You’ll experience the greatest results when you make eating the frog a habit.  
  3. Create a master list of all your tasks. Doing so grants you a big-picture view of everything on your plate, so you can create reasonable daily task lists using the eating the frog strategy. 
  4. Have a clear understanding of what projects are more important than others. This tip comes down to simple prioritization. Know which of your tasks will have the greatest impact for the amount of effort they require. 
  5. Focus on 20% of your tasks. Employ the Pareto Principle, stating that 80% of impact comes from 20% of tasks. Focus your attention on the tasks that will reap the greatest results. 
  6. Understand what work you’re responsible for. Knowing what work falls under your purview and what doesn’t will help you identify your frog.  
  7. Be comfortable making changes as needed. Eating the frog is meant to keep you focused on one thing at a time, but emergencies happen. Try to be comfortable making quick shifts when needed, knowing that these swaps won’t be necessary all the time. 
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How Sunsama helps you “eat the frog” for a productive day

It’s always intimidating to start using a new productivity strategy. Sunsama helps lessen the strain. When you plan your day, drag tasks from Sunsama directly over to your calendar. Now, you can time-box your tasks to simplify scheduling a realistic day. 

Turn on Focus Mode when it’s time to eat the frog. Sunsama pauses all desktop notifications, so you can engage in deep work and finish your most challenging tasks. 

Sunsama is here to help you create sustainable working practices that support a healthy balance and develop strategies for long-term productivity. If you’re ready to try Sunsama, sign up for a free trial and experience the benefits instantly. 

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