An illustration of a frog eating a fly, representing the Eat the Frog productivity technique.
Eat the Frog: Get Your Most Difficult Work Done First
An illustration of a frog eating a fly, representing the Eat the Frog productivity technique.

Eat the Frog: Get Your Most Difficult Work Done First

Picture your to-do list right now. Now try to think of the task you really don’t want to do. Maybe you’ve kicked it down the road for so long that now it absolutely needs to get done. Or maybe it’s not so urgent, but just thinking about it makes you groan. Every to-do list has one of these, and that’s where the Eat the Frog method comes in.

Eat the Frog is a productivity technique that gets its name from a pithy quote by Mark Twain: 

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

Eat the Frog is used to beat procrastination, boost productivity, and get more done while reducing stress. But unless you’re frying actual toads in the office, what’s this technique good for?

Learn everything you need to know about Eat the Frog, why it works, and how you can use it to tackle your toughest tasks.

What is Eat the Frog?

Vivid metaphors aside, the idea behind Eat the Frog is simple. Identify the most important thing on your to-do list, that task that feels like it’s going to be extra hard to finish, and make it your primary focus. The basic idea is that your efforts will have the most impact when you narrow your focus.

This can help you with procrastination. But it can also help you feel like you actually accomplished something with all the hours you spent on work. It’s all too easy, especially when we’re surrounded by digital distractions to end up frazzled. You feel pulled in a million directions, like you’ve somehow wasted all your time on unimportant tasks — or gotten so overwhelmed by your to-do list that you didn’t even know where to start. 

There are few things more demoralizing than the feeling that you’re working hard but not getting anywhere. The Eat the Frog technique is meant to help you avoid that by dedicating a chunk of every day to the tasks that actually matter. 

Furthermore, eating your frog first thing in the morning starts your day on a positive, empowering note. You get the satisfaction of accomplishing something and, hopefully, those positive endorphins make the rest of your day feel like a smoother, happier ride. 

How to Eat the Frog

Eat the Frog’s strength is its simplicity. So the best way to do it is to pick your hardest task, put your head down, and get to work! That said, it doesn’t hurt to get a few pointers and best practices.

Picking your frog

Here are a few things to keep in mind when picking your frog at the start of the day:

  • It should be important — but that’s not the same thing as urgent. Make sure you choose a task that matters most to you, rather than someone else’s top priority.
  • It should be something you need a little push to get done. Let’s face it — most people don’t find frogs that appetizing. Same with these tasks. If you can’t wait to work on something, that’s great, but then it’s probably more a piece of cake than a frog. 
  • It should be something you can actually get done that day. That doesn’t mean you can’t use this technique to work towards big goals — quite the contrary! Just be sure to break them down into segments. Eating a frog shouldn’t take more than four hours.

Start with the frog

This technique doesn’t really work if your frog isn’t the first thing you’re doing. The whole point is to take advantage of the hours where you’re at your sharpest and most motivated. Have a meeting first thing in the morning? Then try picking out your frog the day before, and make it the first thing you do once you’re out of your meeting. Are there parts of your morning ritual you know will get in the way of eating your frog? Take care of them after your frog’s been eaten. Sure, you can check your email before eating your frog, but do so quickly, just to make sure you’re not missing any urgent tasks. Don’t go down the rabbit hole of email threads and unsent replies.

Don’t get distracted 

Do whatever it takes to ensure you’re productive and don’t get pulled into a reactive state during your “frog time.” Turning off notifications and putting your phone in a desk drawer — or even the other room — is a good place to start. If you have trouble focusing on your work, you might find the Pomodoro technique helpful.

Why does Eat the Frog work?

It’s simple. 

The best productivity methods get out of your way and allow you to focus on the job at hand. We’ve all dealt with the frustration of trying to get organized, then realizing you’re sinking more time into your fancy productivity system than the work itself. 

Eat the Frog is the opposite of that. All you need to do is identify your frog and eat it first, every day. In fact, it’s best if you don’t think too much about it at all — just choose a task and get to it.

It gives you control over your time.

Eat the frog is about making the most of the first few hours of your working day, ideally after you’ve had your first coffee! Because you haven’t done much work yet, you’ll often be at your sharpest at this time of day. Plus, you haven’t yet dealt with one of productivity’s worst enemies: decision fatigue.

Willpower is a finite resource, and it gets drained over the course of the day. The more decisions you have to make, the harder it gets to make them. And if you leave your frog to the end of the day, it’s that much easier to say “eh, I’ll do it tomorrow.” With Eat the Frog, you’re making sure that your big task gets done before you start running out of willpower.

It’s all about focus.

We’re surrounded by distractions. Slack notifications, email, even coworkers tapping on our shoulders. Doing your best work is made that much harder when you need to take the headphones off every few minutes. With Eat the Frog, you’re trying to get away from these distractions and into a flow state.

A flow state is when we’re fully focused, mentally clear, and overall functioning optimally. Hours go by like minutes, and you emerge fully satisfied with what you’ve done. It’s not a state you can sustain all the time — so make sure you’re using it on work that counts! 

When Eat the Frog doesn’t work

Eat the Frog can help you finish your most important tasks, but it’s not magic.

We live in a complex world where we’re constantly juggling priorities, and the reality is that you’re not going to be able to start every single day with the task you care most about. 

For example, if you’re in back-to-back meetings, dealing with a crisis, or checking in on your team, you won’t be able to eat your frog. You’re also not going to be your most productive and high-functioning self every single day. 

And that’s okay! The key is to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. You won’t be able to Eat the Frog every day, nor will you completely escape distraction every time you try to. But you’ll still get value out of trying, and you’ll see positive impacts on your productivity and focus at work. 

Eat the Frog — and keep it down

With Eat the Frog, you not only get better at prioritizing your work, but you’re also more likely to get it done. Just remember to pick the task that hits that intersection of important and unpleasant — like if eating a frog was your job — and make it the first thing you do in the morning. You’ll be more likely to hit a flow state, get more done, and your coworkers will envy your increased productivity. Give it a shot.