Procrastination and the Blasphemer

Or How 21 Can Sometimes Equal 6

Do you need help in eliminating procrastination? If so, Brian Tracy suggests that you Eat that Frog, which is the name of one of his time management books. Though the book makes many good points I was so disappointed in the organization that I reworked the book into three preparation steps and three action steps. I know, I blaspheme.

Who am I to rewrite something that was created by such a recognized leader. Well, let me explain in a joke: “Harvard graduates walk into a room like they own it. Yale graduates walk into a room like they own it because their parents probably do own it. [Your favorite school] graduate walks into a room and starts to rearrange the furniture.”

Sometimes I get the impression that an author spends more time thinking about how they will market a book instead of how much it will improve the lives of the readers. And I think Mr. Tracy may have fallen into this trap: “The title will be Eat that Frog and we will show a big frog on the cover. It’s like putting a dog with big human eyes and teeth as the photo for your PPC ad – everyone will notice that frog!” Oops, again I blaspheme.

Avoid Procrastination

Snarkiness aside, I did pull some valuable lessons from this book. The title comes from a very memorable, old saying: eat the frog first and that will be the worst thing you do all day. That is, the rest of the day will seem easier by comparison. In Tracy’s book the frog is that critical task that you need to accomplish in order to most effectively move yourself forward.

The subtitle of the book is “21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time” which ties in with the eat the frog theme: no one wants to eat a frog so we will want to put it off. But one of the contradictions that the book creates is encouraging the readers to follow 21 rules instead of consolidating these rules into a more effective list. That is, do we really need 21 rules to help us stay on track or are we just wasting time (i.e. procrastinating) as we try to successfully navigate all the rules.

In my opinion, the most egregious offenses that Mr. Tracy presents are the half dozen rules that are, at their core, restating one maxim. Mr. Tracy’s rules are shown in the chart below on the left with my rule on the right.

Focus on high value activities.

I realize that there are subtle differences between each of these, however, are remembering the subtleties worth the effort? I am suggesting that they are not.

21 Rules to 6

So I took the time to write down Mr. Tracy’s rules and then reorganize them based on my personal preferences. I consolidated the 21 rules down to 6 and organized them based on chronology. I think this list captures 80% of the value with only 28.6% of the rules (i.e. 6 divided by 21). Hey, maybe that should be a rule! Oh, wait, it is.

  1. Once per year assess your skills and how you can improve them, and determine the time of day when you are mentally strongest so you can do high value work at that time.
  2. Once per month reassess your personal and work goals and determine if you are still on track.
  3. In advance of each day:
    1. block out time in the day for high priority work
    2. prepare your work space
    3. gather the tools and information you need.
  4. Focus your efforts on the highest value tasks.
  5. Manage your tasks
    1. break down large projects to make them manageable tasks
    2. accomplish each task completely before moving on (handle it once)
    3. determine if there are external constraints and how you will manage them
  6. Set deadlines for each milestone and reward yourself when you meet the deadline.

Granted, Brian provides a more interesting narrative to his story: anecdotes that help you remember some of the key points. But at the end of the day I simply cannot remember 21 rules and the subtle differences between each. And the 21 rules restated as six captures the most critical aspects of frog eating and time management. 

In Summary

Based on my rules I now have an annual and monthly reminder to review steps one and two. Every night before shutting down I do step three. These three steps make processing tasks in steps four, five, and six relatively easy. In fact, it doesn’t seem so much like eating a frog any more. It is kind of just like eating a high fiber cereal. But who wants to read a book called, Eat that Oat Bran

The Full 21 to 6 Matrix

Here is the full list of Mr. Tracy’s 21 rules and how I reorganized them.

21 to 6 part 1

21 to 6 part 2

21 to 6 part 3 

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