When to Swallow Your Daily Frog
Better to get it done first thing. Unless you've got ADHD, in which case, there's a modification that'll still make it work.
If you know you have to swallow a frog, swallow it first thing in the morning. If there are two frogs, swallow the big one first. - Mark Twain1
You know how it goes. You wake up in the morning, and there it is. Ribbit!
You pour your morning coffee, and there it is looking at you. Ribbit!
As you're working and glance at the clock, there it is looking back at you. Ribbit!
It's that task or project that you don't want to do. You know you've got to do it, but instead you put it off. Maybe you'll feel like doing it later.
You're never going to want to call the IRS. You're never going to want to snake the hair out of the shower drain. That hard conversation will never be on your "Things I Want To Do Today" list.
Swallowing your daily frog first thing in the morning assures you that, if nothing else, you complete that one thing for the day. Leaving it hanging there may make it such that you don't get anything else done from worrying about it. (ADHD folks, I’ve got you — read the third section, please.)
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There's also this: getting those things done first thing in the morning often provides additional motivation to complete a lot of other things that day.
After all, if you've already swallowed a couple of frogs, can the day really get any worse?
But wait — what about the whole "plan your day by your productive capacity" bit?
I advise people to plan their day and their time blocks by their productive capacity. Frogs can require any of the kinds of blocks.
For instance, you may be a Closet of Doom that remains a mess because it’s going to require a focus block (or three) to actually make progress on.
Or your frogs may be making two ten-minute phone calls and thus need an admin block.
But there’s also some truthiness to the reality that having a frog hanging over you ensures that you won't be at your productive peak due to distraction. Remember, decreasing distractions and increasing motivation makes you more productive.
For those frogs that really can't be done first thing in the morning – either because of the context or availability of other people or your energy – you'll want to do them as soon as you can. While it's true that first things first isn't about sequence, it's still true that a frog will sit on the log that is your brain until it's handled. As long as it's there, it'll make everything else that much harder to finish.
While we're on frogs, a frog a day keeps your anchors aweigh better than letting them build up. Because if one frog harasses you enough to want to put it off, an entire day of frog-handling is something you'll put off even more.
ADHD Folk: Modify the “First Thing” part
[August 2023 update]
Back when I wrote this post in 2008, we were in the early days of understanding how ideas like “swallow the frog” applied (or didn’t) to folks with ADHD, largely because of how ADHD was stigmatized and under-supported by psychologists.
We’ve come a long way in 15 years. We now know that folks with ADHD are driven more by curiosity and interest, as well as the fact that techniques that rely solely on willpower don’t work for folks with ADHD.
“Swallow the frog first thing” is one of the most willpower-requiring principles out there.
So that’s one thing you already know. Here’s the other: there’s still stuff on your list that you need to do that you might not want to do.
Instead of trying to do the frog first thing, you may need to build some momentum with other projects that are sparking you. You may need some sugar tasks before you get to your broccoli tasks.
I’ll be writing more about this soon but wanted to address it now, in this post, since it and the principle behind it is often used as a cudgel for ADHD folks.