Work Smart: Do Your Worst Task First (Or, Eat a Live Frog Every Morning)

The best work habit you can ever get into is very simple: Do your worst task first thing in the morning. Every given day, you've got one major to-do that's highest priority. But when you've got the whole day stretching out ahead of you, it's easy to put it off until after you get your coffee, check our email, or go to that meeting. But just like breakfast is the most important meal of the day, the first thing you accomplish at work sets the tone for the rest of the day.

Do your worst task first. By "worst" I mean "most important," and by "most important" I mean the task you're most likely to procrastinate on. The deadline you're dreading, the slides for the presentation you're terrified of giving, the research you're sure will turn up information you don't want to know. Do it, before you do anything else, before you have time to think about it too much.

Author Brian Tracy calls this "eating your frog," quoting Mark Twain. Twain famously said that if the first thing you do in the morning is eat a live frog, you can go through the rest of the day knowing the worst is behind you. Your frog is your worst task, and you should do it first thing in the morning.

First thing in the morning your mind is clear, the office is quiet, and you haven't gotten pulled into six different directions—yet. It's your one opportunity to prioritize the thing that matters to you most, before your phone starts ringing and email inbox starts dinging. By knocking out something important on your to-do list before anything else, you get both momentum and a sense of accomplishment before 10AM.

Set yourself up to eat your frog tomorrow morning last thing before you leave the office tonight. Choose your frog, and write it down on a piece of paper that you'll see when you arrive back at your desk in the morning. If you can, gather together the material you'll need to get it done and have that out, too.

Getting things done is a habit, and if you start every day by accomplishing something important, you'll get more done than 90% of the people in the office.

Gina Trapani is the author of Upgrade Your Life and founding editor of Lifehacker.com. Work Smart appears every week on FastCompany.com.

Last week: How to Make Procrastination Productive

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10 Comments

  • Elaine Huang

    I recently read an article on Fast Co Create: http://www.fastcocreate.com/16...

    In it, Joss Wheedon said that everyone should eat desserts first, i.e. do what you love. I was sold on it. 

    But after watching your video, I'm now a huge fan of eating a live frog. By the way, love this line: Getting things done is a habit, and if you start every day by accomplishing something important, you'll get more done than 90% of the people in the office.

    :)

  • Howard

    Good one is going to the Gym for 2 to 3 hours in the morning, say, 5 - 8am before your workday starts everyday.  A healthy and productive habit, knowing that you worked your butt off in the gym makes you feel great and productive all day.

  • Tracy Corbett

    Hi, Posted this on the first version of this article but it looks like it's been updated since I commented then.
    This is great advice, something we always recommend to our clients looking for ways to manage their time so they can be more efficient and more relaxed throughout the workday. Getting that big one out of the way first thing sets a great tone for the rest of the day & keeps you from wasting all that energy on worrying about the big one you're putting off while checking your facebook page all day long and making all those critical trips to the break room for more coffee - which is just going to stress you out more of course. :)
    -Tracy @ Harmonic Relaxation & Stress Management

  • Mary Parker

    This advice is marvelous for workers in any industry. The article, "2010 Breakthough Ideas," (Harvard Business Review, Jan-Feb 2010) supports this claim with research that shows employees favor accomplishment over recognition. I see this as validation for task mastery. Who doesn't feel good when he or she has completed something?

  • SFA

    :) u kissed a frog when little, now time has come to eat it and done with that old frog ;)

  • Shawn Fairweather

    Great analogy and advice. It sure gives new meaning to "eating your greens". I've been focusing this last month on goal-setting and defining the most important next actions for projects and I've found that limiting my tasks to the top 3 to 5 most important tasks makes a whole of difference with reaching those goals or at least moving the ball forward a bit more each day. Gina's article put into words the truth that most of us know deep down but just aren't always willing to swallow. Enjoyed the advice and cool presentation of it!

  • Christine Maingard

    Excellent advice Gina. When we get into this 'frog-eating-habit' we suddenly realise that we have freed up an amazing amount of energy that used to be exerted on worrying and procrastinating.
    If your office environment is hectic as soon as you start work in the morning and there seems to be no time to eat that frog, how about starting early before it gets too busy.
    Brian Tracey's frog-eating advice is perhaps the best productivity tool there is. Try it! You will feel more in control, your productivity will soar and you will feel a wonderful sense of achievement - every single day!

    Dr Christine Maingard
    Author of "Think Less, Be More" - http://www.thinklessbemore.com