This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
The clock reads 11 p.m. You're about to go to bed, but rather than feeling calm and sleepy, you're fixated on "that thing." Whether it's the difficult call to your client, the mountain of reading on your desk or the non-billable work that still must get done, "that thing" is the nagging item on your to-do list that never goes away. Does this scene sound familiar?
If so, I have a new perspective for you. Imagine if you were told you had to "eat a live frog" each day, no matter what. When faced with this daunting task, you can choose two paths:
1. Eat the frog as soon as you sit down at your desk, feel accomplished by 10 a.m., and move forward with the rest of your day or;
2. Ruminate about the frog, stress about its taste and texture for hours, and then finally eat it – begrudgingly – at the end of the day.
Neither option is appealing, but I'll bet that you would prefer Option 1 as a way to attack your days.
"Eat a Frog" is a Mark Twain saying brought back to life by author Brian Tracy in Eat That Frog! I have since adapted my own variation of Mr. Tracy's theory, which has become one of the simplest and most memorable ways to support my clients in their quest for an effective time management routine. And simple always wins with those who have found success.
Steve (not his real name), a partner at a top law firm, realized that his time management habits had gotten worse – not better – as he became more successful. With two young children, billable targets to reach, and his stress level rising, he came to me stating "the totality of it all is too much."
Ironically enough, high-power people like Steve are often the worst at managing their time. When "better time management" becomes another entry on your to-do list, it is next to impossible to devote yourself to this change. After all, who has time to think about another self-improvement strategy?
Yet anxiety that comes from avoiding a dreaded niggling task is more difficult to manage than the high-profile projects or major deadlines. These tiny stressors drain your energy, affect your mood, and leave you feeling unaccomplished on a daily basis. In my client Steve's case, his poor time management resulted in lack of exercise, missing out on events with his children, and too many late nights to meet work deadlines.
The good news is that the fix is simple and the impact is remarkable. All you must do is choose five "frogs" – one per day – in advance of Monday morning each week. The frogs are the items on your to-do list that have to get done, although you manage to put them off. Schedule each frog into your calendar, as early as possible in the day (and don't be fooled into thinking that checking e-mail first thing is more important), and start eating.
Another client, who runs her own public relations firm, begins each day by asking herself what frog she must eat. "I have a spare 30 minutes before my children wake up," she explains. "If I can 'eat a frog' – a small one – before then, I am nicer to my kids, more focused on my job, and even reward myself with some exercise time."
By completing the most important task – the frog – first thing each day, you will set an intention for success that guarantees a better day. It will trigger an endorphin rush that, as Mr. Tracy writes: "Makes you feel more positive, personable, creative, and confident."
That's a pretty impressive rate of return from a little amphibian.
Valerie Cherneski (@cherneskicoach) is an executive coach based in Montreal. She launched Cherneski Coaching in New York City and works with top lawyers and corporate professionals in both Canada and the United States.