There’s a popular quote floating around productivity circles that says, “eat a live toad in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Many people apply this to getting things done, saying that if you tackle your most difficult and overbearing task first, nothing else will seem so difficult.
I disagree. The way I see it, the thought of having to eat a live toad is going to make me do anything and everything to put off eating the toad. The simple fact of having this overbearing, weighty task on my list makes me get all the smaller, easier, necessary things done – all to avoid having to do the one feared task.
Understanding this about my work habits, I’ve been able to procrastinate effectively and usefully, using the worst to get the rest done. If you’re not the “wake and eat a toad” type either, here’s how to use your live toad to get things done.
First, start by making a list of all the things you want to get done. Include things you need to get done, but go bigger: we’re shooting for some epic procrastinating, and that’s time-consuming. All the things you’ve been meaning to do, no matter how large or small, go on your list. As you’re making the list, put the most difficult tasks at the top, and the simplest at the bottom. Your workflow goes backwards, from the bottom of the list to the top (remember – we’re not working, we’re procrastinating).
Now we’re ready: not to work, but to procrastinate. The best way to start, I’ve found, is to leave. Maybe you’ve got errands to run, or maybe you’re just hungry; either way, get out and go somewhere else. Being out will compel you to start crossing the errands off your list, all without doing what you don’t want to be doing.
Once you’re done with your errands, do all the mindless tasks you’ve been meaning to do. A quick procrastination tip: keep a “Mindless” list, full of things you want to do that don’t require any brainpower whatsoever. My list currently has things like “Upload YouTube videos,” “backup HD,” “delete empty folders,” and “clean room.” Anything you’d like to do that doesn’t require your brain goes on the list. Feel free to flip on the TV or listen to music while you’re doing these tasks. You’re getting stuff done, sure, but the TV’s on! That can’t be called work.
Next comes the purging. Read things you’ve been meaning to, empty inboxes, throw stuff away, clean your room (cleaning is great for procrastinating usefully), and generally get all the junk out of your space. But that’s reading, watching, and cleaning, so you’re definitely not working yet.
After you’re done with all that, you might get to some tasks that actually require a bit of your time. For me, that’s things like writing blog posts, paying bills, writing papers, or catching up on phone calls – but I don’t mind, because I’m still not writing that scary paper, or whatever scary task lies ahead.
Those done, you might realize your list only has one task left on it: that live toad, the one task you can’t wait to not do. Don’t worry, you’re still not going to do it. This is your break time – go do nothing. Sit, and maybe let your thoughts wander onto just exactly how you’re going to eat that live toad. Don’t dwell too much, just take a few minutes to make a plan in your head. Even though you’re thinking about it, you’re still not eating the live toad- this certainly can’t be called work.
Break over, go take a look at the toad – the big, hairy task you don’t want to undertake. Maybe take a tiny bite. Get slightly into the task- maybe writing the first sentence or paragraph. Once you’ve started, odds are continuing on won’t seem so bad – if it does, though, step back out, take another break, and then wade back in. You’ll quickly get going, and eating the toad will be over before you know it.
Procrastination is very much a comparative tool – your brain says that “instead of this, I’d rather do that.” Even if there’s much left to do, by pitting it against the worst task, everything else becomes somehow more appealing. Procrastination doesn’t have to be a bad thing; instead, it can actually be your ticket to even greater productivity.
Just make sure you do eat that toad eventually.
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