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Creatives! How to best eat that frog

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day,” noted Mark Twain with a twinkle in the eye. As a German (and unlike our neighbors to the west), I am not a big frog eater. But in recent weeks, I encountered numerous big, ugly frogs, and the situation made me reflect on my approaches to dealing with frogs and why I tend to have more problems with them nowadays than in the past. So, today, let’s talk about frogs — what they mean here, how they impair your workflow if you’re a creative professional, and what creative strategies you might want to experiment with to better deal with them in future. 

What’s a frog?

In his book Eat that Frog!, the American productivity coach Brian Tracy explains: “Your “frog” is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it. It is also the one task that can have the greatest positive impact on your life and results at the moment.” 

As such, in the context of this article, “frogs” are important but often drudging tasks that you don’t want to do but have to do at some point in time.

What’s the standard approach to eating frogs?

“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,” said Mark Twain.

I agree with the second statement to deal with the biggest issues first. However, I passionately argue that creative people shouldn’t eat a frog first thing in the morning. This is because if you’re a creative, your biggest, most important task each day is to create — and to make progress on a smaller or larger creative project that you’re working on. 

Why creative people have more problems eating frogs

If you’re a creative professional like me, you love to do creative work! It’s EEE – easy, effortless, and enjoyable. You don’t need any motivation to start working on the most important project of the day if it’s a creative one. 

Sadly, it’s unlikely that you can solely focus your time working on pleasant creative projects as a creative. Every now and then, you also have to deal with those non-creative tasks that are DDD — dull, demotivating, and drudging. These DDD activities are the true, ugly frogs for most creatives, and we hate wasting our valuable time on these mundane tasks. 

Unfortunately, eating frogs is more about monotonous execution than creative inspiration. It requires you to have more brawn than brain, and sometimes not a little bravado. So, while we creatives work diligently and productively on our creative work endeavors, we tend to hold back and procrastinate when it’s time to plod through drudging work.

What can creatives do to best deal with frogs?

I admit: The more creative I’ve become over the past one and a half decades, the more problems I developed working on DDD activities. So, I have experimented on how best to “eat them frogs,” with more or less success. In the following, allow me to share with you eight of my creative frog-eating approaches for you to check out. 

1. Be on the lookout for frogs that bother you

As a first step, clarify what DDD activities mean for you. What are those froggie tasks and projects that you dislike? 

For example, in my case, I don’t enjoy working on compliance and bureaucratic issues, legal and financial matters, and organizational and logistical tasks. (I guess that if you’re a creative professional, most of these areas on my DDD list make it onto your list, too.)

Interestingly, I know how to effectively deal with most of these affairs (after all, I worked as a banker in my first career). But as these chores drain my energy, I tend to hold off doing them until I need to deal with them eventually. 

2. Delegate or outsource DDD activities

The good news is: For every task that you find DDD, there is someone who considers it EEE (easy, effortless, and enjoyable). So, why should you attend to DDD activities if others love taking care of them? As such, the best way to deal with a DDD activity is to delegate or outsource it to someone who enjoys “eating that frog.”

But apart from looking for them in France (pun intended), how can you find these frog eaters? With the help of TIPS, Thinkergy’s talent and innovator profiling system. Those people who love doing what you dislike sit opposite of your TIPS profile on the TIPS map. For example, I am an Ideator in TIPS, so the ideal complementing profile to deal with my frogs is a Systematizer (the next best options are Technocrats or Organizers).

Unfortunately, certain circumstances might prevent you from delegating or outsourcing frog handling:

  • You might lack funding or face a shortage of professionals with a fitting profile and know-how.
  • Or you might not have enough time at hand to train someone sufficiently well to delegate a task.
  • Moreover, some “frog tasks” may involve sensitive or confidential information that you want to keep close at hand.

While you might use delegation and outsourcing to get rid of some frogs, there are others that you still have to consume yourself. But how? Here are six additional tips for you to consider.

3. Eat a frog every other day (but not first thing in the morning)

Most creatives work in leaps and bounds, have their peak performance time in the (mid to late) morning, and might get into flow roughly one hour into their creative work. (I discussed the daily schedules of creatives in an earlier article titled Learning from the daily routines of creative top achievers). So as a creative professional, don’t follow Mark Twain’s tongue-in-cheek advice. Don’t eat a frog first thing in the morning (as Brian Tracy also recommends), as this would mean that you’d waste your most creative, productive work period on a DDD activity (even though it might be necessary).

As a creative, get your productive, creative work for the day done first. Then, take a break and feel good about your main creative goal of the day. Later in the afternoon, attend to one or more of your frog tasks. You might do this one frog a day (or every other day) until you’ve seen off your “frog backlog” again — or practice the following approach.

4. Bundle DDD activities, then deal with them in one go

Alternatively, you can also wait until a certain number of DDD tasks of the same nature have accumulated and then attack them bundled together in a session. For example, earlier this year, I used a couple of holidays to prepare accounting documents for two years of financial account closures. 

Bundling has the advantage of deciding to focus on certain days in a month or a quarter on dealing with your frogs, which frees the other times for doing creative work and EEE activities. It also avoids the problem of mental switching costs (of moving between EEE and DDD tasks).

5. Focus on different functional activities on each day of the week

If you’re a creative entrepreneur, you can also consider following a rhythmic schedule where you focus on different functional activities on different days of the week. For example, you could resolve to take care of financial and legal matters on Monday. Tuesday could be your marketing and sales day. On Wednesday, you could decide to deal with internal people matters and organizational issues. Thursday and Friday could be your creation days (and at times, you may also work on strategic matters here). 

By following such a functional work rhythm, you reserve some workdays each week for creative EEE activities while also ensuring that you attack DDD activities on your To Do-list on other days. (Depending on the scope of things to do, you may dedicate the entire day for dealing with the respective tasks and matters, or use half a day or only a few hours in the afternoon, which would still leave you time for your creative work burst in the morning). 

6. Have special workspace for toiling away at DDD activities

Many creatives have their preferred creative workspace where they do their best creative work. If you try to work on your DDD tasks at your favorite “creative studio,” you are more likely to be tempted to switch back to creative work and postpone dealing with a frog activity. 

So, consider relocating to another space when you’ve scheduled time to get some DDD activities done. Ideally, you “eat your frogs” in a work environment that feels more ‘serious’ and thus makes it easier to concentrate on execution. While spacious rooms with high ceilings are lovely for creative work, I prefer to do my DDD activities in narrow workspaces with low ceilings, making it easier for me to focus and “zoom into the details” related to most activities that I find DDD.

7. Act upon your pain-pleasure trigger

According to US motivational coach Anthony Robbins, most people are ultimately motivated to avoid pain or move towards pleasure. Consider flipping the “pain vs. pleasure”-switch to deal with your DDD tasks effectively:

  • Envision what bad things will happen if you don’t eat that frog. Feel the pain so intensively that finally, you get going and act upon this DDD activity. 
  • Alternatively, if you’re more of a pleasure seeker, consider promising yourself an enticing reward once you have completed a DDD activity that you haven’t acted upon for some time. 

8. Wait and do nothing!

As you don’t have the time to do everything you have to do, you may decide to put off “eating smaller or less ugly frogs” and consciously procrastinate on smaller DDD tasks. Brian Tracy calls this approach “creative procrastination.” 

Interestingly, if you decide to wait and see what happens, some DDD tasks might go away by themselves because of changing environmental factors or priorities. Unfortunately, creative procrastination doesn’t work for enormous, ugly frogs, which won’t go away by themselves. But waiting and doing nothing might still be a reasonable interim approach for bigger frogs. It can buy you time until you feel so much pain that you can finally motivate yourself to finish the DDD task.

Conclusion: A day saved from drudgery is a day gained for creative work

Unless you become a billionaire who can employ specialists to eat each type of frog that bothers you, you have to at least occasionally work on DDD activities that prevent you from finding your creative flow. So, consider experimenting with some of my frog-eating strategies. Even better, develop your approaches to balance the desire to work creatively with the necessity to Eat that frog!

  • What’s your favorite approach to eat that frog? Please feel invited to share your creative strategy with me.
  • Would you like to find out what’s your TIPS profile? And what profiles complement you? Then first invest in the TIPS test (USD 89), and then find out what are your complementing profiles by checking the article titled How to make the most of your assets (and limit your liabilities). 
  • Do you consider creativity and innovation to be DDD activities? Then, contact us and let us know, and perhaps we can eat that frog for you.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2021

Credits: Photos by Omar Mena (title photo) and Stephanie LeBlanc on Unsplash.