A frog a day…

Killing “big frogs” (sorry Kermit) has become a shorthand among a group of friends of mine for getting important done. I trace it back to reading Brian Tracy’s Eat That Frog! a few years ago, but it might have stranger and deeper roots – if so I look forward to being corrected in the comments.

I was feeling frustrated today as colleague and spent hours working through a tedious and essentially meaningless administrative task to satisfy a bureaucratically-inclined donor. It pushed several buttons: unnecessary busywork exacerbated by easily avoidable mistakes on behalf of team members (ultimately my responsibility to help them learn these skills), a weak system that didn’t eliminate or at least catch the mistakes early (my responsibility to make sure these systems get built), and mediocre management that still hasn’t done more to get these things sorted (guess who?).

There are mitigating factors of course, so I have the choice of choosing the donor organisation, my team members, or the people that hired them, or myself. I probably did all four in turn… And. It. Didn’t. Help. (It never does. In fact, the relief of venting is like scratching an insect bite – it only feels like it helps, and only for a moment, and it actually makes things worse).

What helped was:

  1. Working with a colleague to get ahead and finish the problem – it feels better to be winning
  2. Persuading myself that – although unnecessary and useless in itself, getting the task done is a big frog
  3. Knowing that my colleague experienced the issue first hand, sympathised, and will be able to handle more tasks like this without me in future – and also work on the system that will make them easier
  4. (Which would have worked even if in the absence of 1-3), making progress towards killing two other big frogs in the other parts of my day – one in a meeting, and one in a spare half hour on the way home.

This last changed my day from “I spent the day struggling in a swamp of futility,” to “I didn’t get much time for the big things, but at least I killed one frog.”

Conclusion: know your frogs, and take particular delight in seeking them out and – if not killing them outright – at least hacking off a limb. And if you don’t manage to maim them, at least draw blood. Focus on this – it changes the story.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...