How to Be More Productive: “Eating the Frog” and Other Strategies

By Tom Bentley, Contributor, on February 27, 2017

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It might be part of the Silicon Valley “three gallons of coffee and I’ll code ’til dawn” mindset, but there’s a mania revolving around busyness these days. There’s no badge of honor for not having enough time to eat, sleep or bathe because deadlines are calling. After all, busyness does not equal productivity. If you know how to be more productive, however, you can take a bath, eat lunch and meet all your deadlines.

There are a lot of software tools for promoting productivity, but keeping things simple is often best. For instance, one of the simplest tactics is, late in your workday, create a quick list of the three most important tasks you need to accomplish the next workday. Order them in terms of maximum impact. Remember, some things cry wolf: “Urgent!” often means loud and annoying, rather than essential. Establishing this “three tasks” habit can bring you a surprising amount of clarity and focus.

First Course: Frog

Speaking of false urgency, knowing how to prioritize the most beneficial tasks to your business is key. To encourage productivity, tackle the biggest goal first by “eating the frog.” There are clear benefits: You’re fresh, so you can attack the chore with vigor, and the psychological lift to accomplishing a dreaded assignment will feel significant. Your mind clears, energy increases and your confidence rises. Better yet, consistent frog-eating makes all new frogs go down easier.

For writers working on lengthy projects, take a cue from Papa: Stop with gas in the tank. The Papa in question is Ernest Hemingway, who offered this advice to fiction writers, but it applies to all creative work. The concept is to stop working when things are going well, so your subconscious continues to solve the work challenge, and when you resume the next day, your fingers will fly.

Less Is More

This method may seem a little paradoxical: Do less to do more. Besides jiggering up my heartbeat with significant slurpings of good coffee, my mornings invariably start with doing nothing — well, not exactly nothing. I do a guided 15–20 minute meditation nearly every day, where I attempt to sit back and watch my breath, let my mind roam freely and then return to the rhythm and focus of the breath.

That easy habit gives me a settled foundation from which to move forward into the day. Another simple one? Getting a good night’s sleep. It’s fundamental to accomplishment and general good health. Recharging is essential; remaining constantly “on” is the best — and simplest — way to burn out.

That said, it’s most important to establish habits that work the best for you. You might be a night owl, so you don’t give a hoot about morning productivity. Experiment with what works best for your schedule and your temperament. Establishing new habits is a bit like gardening: You need to tend the soil before anything can grow. Don’t overplant, and begin with simple steps — but begin all the same.

Learning how to be more productive can prove challenging, but try one or two of these methods on for size. You might be surprised at the results!

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