I like to work. Working brings me joy. I like being productive and making a difference through the work I do. Over the years, I have found that I’m more productive when I’m busy. I get energy from putting in the hard work and seeing results. It means I’m contributing! Every now and then, I am tasked with something that I don’t know how to do or, more likely, that I don’t enjoy doing. And I have to make a choice on how to handle it. For years, my default has been to set aside the task and move on to something else. By doing this week after week, day after day, I inevitably reach a critical point at which the task is staring me in my face and there is no way to avoid it. This situation puts me in a state of frustration and panic. I get anxious. I may even feel a little uneasy due to the uncertainty around completing the task by a given deadline. I become frustrated with myself for procrastinating… AGAIN. And I vow to NEVER PROCRASTINATE AGAIN. I make a promise to myself that I will avoid the dark shadow of procrastination when presented with the next important, but unfamiliar task. And yet the vicious cycle continues.
Am I a failure? No. Am I a horrible person? No. Do I need to make better choices about prioritizing my time? Absolutely. I NEED TO EAT THE FROG.
“Eat the frog?,” you may ask. Ewww. Yuck. And what does that have to do with procrastinating anyway?
In 2017, Brian Tracy, a U.S.-based productivity coach, wrote and published a book called Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. If you distill the book down into one very basic idea, it’s that you need to focus on completing the most important, challenging, uncomfortable task first and foremost, and then move on to other tasks. And you have to do this day after day to achieve your highest level of productivity.
This notion of eating the frog did not enter my world until a few years ago when I found myself leading a team of agents and operations staff members. I would mark my calendar with meetings to manage and tasks to complete. I would tackle my routine tasks like inputting the “scheduled, kept, taken, pending, and closed” units for my agents, prepping slide decks for weekly meetings and presentations, planning for and meeting with team members to conduct their 411s, and yet I always found myself with a list of things I needed to accomplish that I kept putting off. As I analyzed the list, I realized that every item remaining on my list was something new to me. I needed to take more time and focus to complete the tasks on my list than I did for other more routine tasks. At the advice of my MAPs Coach, I listened to the book Eat That Frog. And it has been at the top of my mind ever since.
I decided to focus on implementing Tracy’s advice on a Monday in May. Our team had prioritized re-structuring our listing intake system for the past month or so. Our current system was not well-defined. Everytime a listing came in, we handled information-gathering, listing prep, and going live in a different way. We had a checklist, but we sort of kind of followed it. We had forms, but we had no email templates prepared to use when sending the forms out to the seller. We had talked about changing our method, perhaps using an electronic form to collect information instead of handling it all over the phone and writing it down. And as our team grew and we took on more and more listings, it became more challenging and time consuming to manage each listing. I knew that by focusing on updating and streamlining our process our team would function better, our clients would be happier, and we would improve our quality of service. But I had never worked on updating a listing intake system before, so I just left it on my list and continued to avoid it.
Well, it was finally time to eat the frog. It was 9:10am already that Monday, though I had planned to begin at 9:00am. I was uncomfortable. My thoughts wandered. I looked around the room. I grabbed a glass of water. Picked at my fingernails. But I knew that by focusing on updating our listing system, we would be a better, stronger, more successful team. And I had read Brian Tracy’s book and was committed to eating the frog. So I sat at my desk and focused. I began to type. I searched on Google and pulled up websites for different real estate teams, and I learned about their processes. I gathered information on different electronic forms and methods of collecting information. I created a spreadsheet to document our system and listed some new ideas. As the morning went on, I realized I was making progress. By noon, I actually had a draft of a new listing intake process workflow to present to my team. I was able to improve our system by streamlining our intake process. I had followed Brian Tracy’s advice and I was able to accomplish my goal!
This was an important lesson to me. There had been so many hours and even days when I simply chose to avoid the task because it was unfamiliar to me. Yet when I took the time to prioritize this task and DO IT, it took me just a few hours to accomplish my goal. And it felt good!
Now, every time I have a task in front of me that is unfamiliar or that I do not enjoy doing, I think about frogs. Does this mean that I have completely stopped procrastinating and that I don’t put things off? NO WAY! But when I realize what I am doing, I think about how much time, energy, frustration, and anxiety I save by identifying the most challenging tasks first and tackling them head on. And I get to it and make it happen.