“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day.” – Mark Twain

This Mark Twain quote is the premise behind a wonderful productivity book with a funny name: Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy. In his book (which I finished in one sitting on a flight to San Francisco last December), Tracy highlights 21 productivity habits, that I have found myself coming back to again and again. Here, I’ll share a couple of the most useful nuggets, guaranteed to save you more time than you’ll spend reading the book (or this blog post)!

Concentrate Single-Mindedly On Your Most Important Task

The centerpiece skill that is developed throughout the book is your ability to concentrate single-mindedly on your most important task, follow-through, and get it done. Tracy insists that this is the key to success and happiness. If you can form a habit of doing this for everything in your life, you will accomplish wildly more than you imagined possible.

I believe it. On the days when I block off two hours at the beginning of the day and concentrate on my most important task until I finish, I feel really, REALLY good the rest of the day.

Eat That Frog! Encourages you to do this for everything in your life. But what if the task at hand is too big to finish in one sitting?

Tip #1: Seven Steps to Achieving Your Goals

Any goal can be achieved by following these seven steps and making sure you work on something that moves you toward your goal EVERY SINGLE DAY.

  1. Decide what you want to do.
  2. Write it down.
  3. Set a deadline (and sub-deadlines).
  4. Make a list of everything you can think of to achieve your goal.
  5. Organize the list into a plan.
  6. Take action on your plan immediately.
  7. Do something every single day that moves you toward your goal.

This is basic project management, boiled down to the essentials and accessible to anyone. It takes a little bit of up-front planning, but the beginning is the best time to pour your heart and soul into your new goal.

Tip #6: Plan Your Day with the ABCDE Method

I’ve written about planning out your day by adding timing to your to do list, but I’ve found that the ABCDE method of planning your day is even more powerful. Here’s how it works:

First, lay out your to do list for the day. Then, assign each item a letter: A, B, C, D, or E according to this key:

  • A = Very important task that only I can do (subdivide if necessary to prioritize tasks into A-1, A-2, etc)
  • B = Should do this task, but only minor consequences if I don’t
  • C = Nice to do this task, but no consequences
  • D = Delegate everything you don’t have to do
  • E = Eliminate any tasks that no one has to do

When I started to notice my notebook was numbered A-1, A-2…A-7 with no other letters, I switched the order in which I assigned labels. Now I search the list first for D’s. Delegating is a tough skill that takes practice, so I need to pay extra attention to it. After that I work my way backwards from E to A. That helps me avoid thinking of everything as the most important task.

This works amazingly well and helps me cope with not finishing parts of my to do list. If, at the end of the day I’ve only gotten A-1 done, so be it. At least I did the most important thing that I could that day.

Tip #20: What Would You Do If You Were Going on Vacation?

Sometimes, we are our worst enemies and it helps to have some tricks up our sleeves to overcome procrastination.

One question that Tracy suggests asking yourself when you’re not sure where to start is, “If I were leaving on a sudden week-long vacation tomorrow, what would I get done today?”

It’s so simple, but it tricks your brain into looking at your to do list in a different, healthy way!

There are 18 more, wonderful time management and productivity tips in Eat That Frog!. Reading the book may be one of the best time investments you make this year.

What is your favorite productivity habit?