How to Eat a Frog: 21 Techniques to Increase Productivity

Entrepreneur Brian Tracy’s book, Eat That Frog!, is a self-help classic.

The book helps support improvements in personal effectiveness. (Personally, I prefer this book to David Allen’s Get Things Done, one of the other productivity masterclasses, as it’s a bit more digestable.)

The secret to sustaining high productivity levels over long term is doing inner work; things like self-reflection, values clarification and consistent honest self-appraisal. Self-aware people are naturally a lot more mindful of obstacles to productivity, and better able to deal with them as they occur. It is through greater self-awareness that a person develops self-mastery.

But if your productivity has just gone off a bit, then Eat The Frog! contains a few great reminders to get you back on track.

This post is a rehash of the ideas in the book, although in no way a replacement for reading it.

Eat that Frog!’s main idea

Brian says that success is predictable and it is based on ‘a simple truth’:

“The ability to concentrate single-mindedly on your most important task, to do it well and to finish it completely, is the key to great success, achievement, respect, status and happiness in life.”

With that principle in mind, the book offers 21 of the “most powerful principles on personal effectiveness”. Each of the exercises is complete of itself, all are necessary, and different situations call for different strategies. All together, they represent a smorgasbord of personal effectiveness techniques.

(By the way ‘the frog’ refers to your largest and most important task; the one you are likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it.)

The 21 techniques

1. Set the table

The first technique is geared towards getting clarity. “Before you determine your frog and get on with the job of eating it, you have to decide exactly what it is you want to achieve in each area of your life.”

Brian says you need to write it down, set a deadline and sub-deadlines if you have to, write down everything you’ll need to do to achieve the goal, organize the list into a plan, and take some sort of immediate action on the plan.

2. Plan each day in advance

This rule is about bringing the future into the present by effective planning. Your ability to make good plans prior to acting is a measure of your overall competence.

Brian suggests having a master list where you capture every single new idea and thing you want for the future.

You should also have a monthly list, a weekly list and a daily list.

3. Apply the 80/20 rule

The well known ‘Pareto Principle’ is one of the most helpful concepts in time and life management. The principle means that of the, say, ten things on your to-do list, two items will be worth more than the other eight put together.

Identify what those key two activities are for you.

4. Consider the consequences

This rule is about predicting the consequences of doing or not doing something. This takes a bit of skill.

Brian says “thinking continually about the potential consequences of your choices, decisions and behaviour is one of the very best ways to determine your true priorities in life.” To help you, ask yourself three questions:

  • What are my highest value activities?
  • What can I do that if done well, will make a difference?
  • What is the most valuable use of my time right now?

5. Practice creative procrastination

This rule means to deliberately procrastinate on low value tasks so that when it comes to the really important things, you don’t put them off. “The difference between high and low performers,” says Brian, “is largely determined by what they choose to procrastinate on”.

6. Use the ABCDE method

Another rule dedicated to helping you to stick to your priorities.

Review your work, and put one of the letters A-E next to each task. A is something very important that you must do, and things decrease in importance from there. (Note that A can be divided into A1, 2, 3, 4 etc).

The rule is never to do a B task if there is an A task left to do.

7. Focus on key result areas

In order to apply this rule, ask yourself the following question:

What one skill, if you developed and did it in an excellent fashion, would have the greatest positive impact on your career?

8. Apply the law of three

To apply this rule, in thirty seconds, identify your three most important goals in life right now. (Your answers will be as accurate as if you’d had half an hour to answer the question.)

9. Prepare thoroughly before you begin

This one is fairly obvious, but it’s about setting yourself up for a win by having a clean and organised working environment, and having all the information and other resources necessary before you launch yourself into your tasks.

10. Take it one oil barrel at time

This rule is about getting your mind off the huge task ahead, and focussing on one single action you can take now to move things forward.

11. Upgrade your key skills

This rule is about learning. A major reason for procrastination is a feeling of inadequacy, lack of confidence or inability in a particular life area.

Brian suggests three rules for mastering anything: read in your field for at least one hour each day, take every available seminar available on the key skills that can help, and listen to learning audios during your travel time.

12. Identify your key constraints

Between where you are today and the goal you want to achieve, there is an obstacle. Your goal is to identify that obstacle and and overcome it.

Applying the 80/20 rule, 80% of obstacles are internal ones. That means you have to constantly ask yourself ‘what is it in me that is holding me back?’ Alleviating the obstacle or constraint is often the most important frog to eat.

For more, read this article on overcoming limiting beliefs.

13. Put the pressure on yourself

This rule is about learning to work without supervision. Brian says most people “are waiting for someone to come along and motivate them to be the kind of people they wish they could be”, and that only around 2% of people are able to work to their own self-imposed pressure and deadlines.

He suggests giving yourself deadlines for everything you do and sticking to them.

14. Motivate yourself into action

This rule is about becoming your own personal cheerleader. Brian says “most of your emotions, positive or negative, are determined by how you talk to yourself on a minute-to-minute basis…To keep yourself motivated, you must resolve to become a complete optimist. You must refuse to let the unavoidable difficulties and setbacks of daily life affect your mood and emotions.”

Brian’s advice is never to discuss your problems (most people either don’t care or will be happy you have them), and develop a positive mental attitude.

For a practice I use to keep me in a positive frame of mind, read this.

15. Technology is a terrible master

This rule is about making technology your servant rather than your master. Brian says “For you to stay calm, clearheaded and capable of performing at your best, detach on a regular basis from technology that overwhelms you.”

For further inspiration on this, read this post reviewing Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work.

16. Technology is a wonderful servant

This rule is about utilising technology as a force for good in life. For example, make social media work for you by sharing your goals and sourcing social support to conquer them.

17. Focus your attention

This rule is about adopting the proven solutions to managing your attention and focusing. They are:

  • Don’t check your email in the morning.
  • If you must check email, then get in and out quickly.
  • Resolve to check your email twice per day.

“Where your attention goes, your life follows”.

18. Slice and dice the task

This rule is about reducing the overwhelm element of tasks. Brian suggests that you ‘Swiss cheese’ it by resolving to work for a specific time period on it.

19. Create large chunks of time

Most of the really important work you do requires large chunks of unbroken time to complete. This rule is about making every minute count (even journeying time) and using large chunks of time for the most important work you do.

20. Develop a sense of urgency

This penultimate rule is about having an action orientation and being in a hurry to get your key tasks completed.

Brian suggests selecting one area where you have the tendency to procrastinate and making the decision to develop the habit of fast action in that area.

21. Single handle every task

This rule is simple: once you begin a task, keep working at it without diversion or distraction until the job is 100% complete.


So those are the 21 techniques to increase productivity and improve personal effectiveness. I think they are pretty sound.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to upgrade my key skills and listen to a podcast.

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