No one enjoys eating a witchetty grub.
The British reality TV show I’m A Celebrity.. Get Me Out of Here! features an assortment of (almost) famous folks roughing it in the Australian rainforest, and subjected to various gruesome trials in order to earn food for the rest of their campmates.
These ordeals vary, but one is repeated in some form, every series: the eating of live insects, often accompanied by raw eyeballs, or the intimate parts of animals (kangaroo anus, anyone?)
Every year, the response is the same. Smarter contestants barely look at the ‘meal’ in front of them. They listen to the rules, and work out the minimum they need to swallow in order to win food for their companions. Then they just do it, as quickly as possible, with as little chewing as they can get away with. The ordeal is over in seconds.
Then there are the ones who look closely at what’s on the plate, pause and think about it. They tend to eat more far slowly, gagging and squealing and creating fuss and drama.
This makes much better TV, but it also delivers a valuable lesson, for those of us who make a living without having to ingest live ants and crickets. Delaying doing something unpleasant only prolongs the agony.
Eating the frog
Anticipation of doing something we really don’t want to do is almost always worse than actually doing it. The more we think about something — the more opportunity we give ourselves to consider how disgusting, difficult, and downright tedious the task in front of us is going to be — the longer we’ll put off doing it. And the more we’ll suffer.
Mark Twain knew this, long before television had been thought of, let alone torturing C-list actors, former glamour models, politicians and reality stars for entertainment.
“If you know you have to swallow a frog,” he said, “swallow it first thing in the morning. If there are two frogs, swallow the big one first.”
The metaphor has been repeated by productivity gurus ever since, and gave a title to Brian Tracy’s best-seller, Eat That Frog! Get More of The Important Things Done — Today. And yet.. we don’t always do it.
Which creates a new challenge.
That frog gets increasingly more disgusting, and seems to grow bigger, the more you look at it. The time it takes to complete the task itself doesn’t necessarily change. But the sense of dread keeps growing, the longer you leave it. And it’s draining. Avoiding doing something can take up far more energy than doing it.
Doing the hardest thing first makes your day go better. Pretty much everything you have to do for the rest of the day will feel easier, lighter in comparison.
Get into the habit of doing this, and you’ll also start to catch problems while they’re small, before they get chance to grow.
There will always be frogs.
That’s life. But it’s much easier to digest a little one, or to gather together a lot of little ones and do them, in one difficult but satisfying block.
For me, a giant frog is always my annual accounts. One of my first thoughts, when this period of quarantine began, was that for once I’d actually do my tax return early.
So I put it on my to-do list, thinking I’d get up-to-date with my accounts at some point in March, then file the final few receipts and invoices early April, just after the end of the tax year.
You know what happened next, of course. It sat on my daily task list, for the whole of March. It was still there in April, draining my energy every time I noticed it. On 1 May, I suddenly saw that this would sit on my list for yet another month, unless I just cleared the decks and did it.
So I swallowed that frog.
I put on some good music. And I opened the Drawer of Doom, where all the receipts and paperwork had piled up.
It took me exactly five hours and 22 minutes to clear that overstuffed drawer completely. I know, because I timed it.
Had I left it until October/November as usual, it would have taken far longer. By then I would have forgotten what things were for, and complications that were simple to unravel while the circumstances were fresh in my mind would have taken longer to sort.
Afterwards, while enjoying a celebratory glass of wine, I spent another 30 minutes working out how to stop this particular frog growing quite so big and warty, next year.
I’ve added a 15-minute admin block to my calendar every two weeks, time I’ll use to issue and chase invoices, write up my accounts, and pay bills. My business is fairly simple, so it doesn’t make sense to hire a book-keeper. But I’ve also send a note to my accountant, asking what app he recommends to take the grind out of filing and keeping receipts, moving forward.
Eating your own frogs and witchetty grubs
If there are projects and tasks that have been lingering for a while, take some time out and do an audit. There might be a reason you’re delaying.
1. The frog is simply too big to swallow in one go
If a task or project remains on your to-do list for months on end, it may be that it’s simply too overwhelming. Try breaking it down into smaller, actionable steps and working out how much time it will take to do each one.
Then, instead of some vague, enormous project like ‘Write article on frogs’, you’ll have specific tasks such as ‘Research difference between frogs and toads’ (1 hour) or ‘Call London Zoo press office and set up interview with amphibian keeper’ (15 minutes).
Estimating the time makes it easier to slot tasks into your schedule. It also and gives you some sense of how long it will take to actually complete the whole project.
2. It’s not your frog to eat
If a project has been hanging over you for too long, set aside some time to assess it. Why exactly are you doing it? If there are lots of words like ‘should’ and ‘must’ in your reply, consider if you really need to do it at all.
Could someone else do it better? Is it something you’re doing because of other people’s expectations? Could you just drop it, creating space to do something that genuinely excites you?
3. You need a recipe
I’m straining the frog-eating metaphor to breaking point here, but bear with me a moment. Sometimes we simply don’t have the information or the skills we need to complete a task.
With me, this tends to happen with tech issues. I had an item on my to-list for months which said: ‘Fix email on iPad’. And every time I read it, I felt paralysed. Eventually (doh!), I simply changed it to: ‘Research why I can receive but not send email from my iPad.’
It took 20 minutes to find a YouTube video that successfully addressed a problem that had bugged me since buying the device last year. And the biggest swallow I really had to do was my pride.
So what’s your frog for today? And when will you eat it?
Sheryl Garratt is a writer and a coach helping creatives to get the success they want, making work they love. Want my free 10-day course, Freelance Foundations: the secrets of successful creatives? Click here.