While the title might sound like the newest diet craze, I assure you it is not. It is, in fact, a technique to fight procrastination. As mentioned in a previous post, procrastination is simply avoidance. We avoid things that are unpleasant. We put off tasks on our to-do lists until later…or until never. As humans, we are motivated by two basic goals: 1) Seeking pleasure, and 2) Avoiding pain. While seeking pleasure can be very motivating (rewarding myself with a cookie after doing a difficult task can help me increase my motivation), we are actually more influenced by avoiding pain. Given that many of our work tasks are unpleasant, dare I say painful, we are given many opportunities throughout our day to decide to avoid something that is unpleasant or to confront it. A pattern of avoiding such things is called procrastination.
The only successful way to fight a negative pattern is to develop an alternative positive pattern or habit. Mark Twain once said to “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” It’s all about relative perspective. Compared to the live frog, anything unpleasant on my to-do list now seems more pleasant. And for the record, please do not actually eat a live frog each morning, that would be cruel. Instead, identify the most unpleasant task on your day’s to-do list and tackle that task first. Everything after that will seem much easier in comparison. Do this every day so that over time you develop a pattern of identifying difficult tasks to confront as opposed to avoid.
While Mark Twain recommended a questionable meal first thing in the morning, it might be more advantageous to identify the time of day that you are most productive. This is known as your Power Hour. For some people it is first thing in the morning, for others it is after the first (or fifth) cup of coffee, and still for others it is later in the day. One way to identify your Power Hour is to track your time during the day and note when you are the most productive/motivated/energized. Once you know when your Power Hour is, eat the frog at the beginning of your Power Hour.
Do this each and every day and the results will be two-fold. First, you will build confidence in your ability to handle difficult tasks and be more likely to confront them, making you more confident and productive with your time. Second, you will no longer have a need to find unnecessary tasks to fill your time during the day as to give you a reason not to do the unpleasant tasks. When we try to avoid a difficult task, we often find other unnecessary things to do to make ourselves feel busy (I would have loved to call that difficult client today to talk about my unpaid bill, but I really needed to alphabetize my bookcase). Eliminating “the need” for unnecessary tasks will make your day feel less stressed and you will be more productive with your time, and you’ll feel better about yourself as a result.
Shawn Healy, PhD
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Find our full post on Tips for Lawyers and Law Students to Reduce Anxiety here.