Written on My Baby* right now are two lists. One is titled Frogs and the other is titled Fruits. Believe it or not, this is how I figure out how to spend my day.
As far as I’m concerned, there are two different plans of attack for any to-do list. The first is called Low-Hanging Fruit — I identify everything on my list that can be taken care of quickly and easily, ambush it, and get it out of the way to make space for the more important stuff. This is most useful when it feels like I’m looking at a lot of clutter. I’m also very impressed when I see that my to-do list has gone from 52 to 10 in less than an hour.
There’s a second approach, and it’s called Eating the Frog. If the first thing you do every morning is eat a live frog, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that that’s probably the worst thing that’s going to happen to you today. Translated into time management, that means I pick my hardest, most challenging, most important, most likely-to-be-procrastinated task, and I do it before I do anything else. When I do this, I find that my days are all downhill from there, and I become chronically impressive. There’s a book written on this one if you want to know more.
In my world, everything is either a frog or a fruit– a difficult task or an easy task. Frogs need attention and determination and are best handled alone. Fruits need sharpness and momentum and are best grouped with other fruits.
Some days, though, I get really ambitious and try to go competitive frog-hunting. Frogs are funny creatures. They’re slippery, but if I can get a few of them grouped together, sometimes I can eat two or three at once. And then, sometimes, I’ll go eat another two or three, just to make them go away. I won’t lie; they taste awful. And it certainly helps if I can sweeten the meal with rewards for myself at the end. (And while fruit is nice, it’s often not enough to get the taste out of my mouth… blech!)
Some days, too, I do enough fruit-picking to make jam for the entire tech industry. If the fruits aren’t making me think too hard, this is best executed with loud dance music in the background. The result, if I’m not being careful, is a condensed remaining to-do list that feels totally impossible. Why? Because I’m left with a handful of frogs. And frogs tend to spoil the fruits.
They have to stay separate — the fruits and the frogs. They’re both important and they both require attention, but they can’t be handled at the same time. And really, I should wash my hands between touching them. And go outside to change the air. And call a colleague to announce my victories. And then go get coffee with that colleague.
Because there’s more to life than frogs and fruits, no matter how you slice them.
* My Baby is the 3’x4′ whiteboard in my living room.