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Published on March 20, 2019

The Secret of Success: 10 Tough Things to Do First

The Secret of Success: 10 Tough Things to Do First

Eat the ugly frog first.

I enjoy tossing that line out when I give a speech, often accompanied on the big screen by a photograph of a large and exceedingly unattractive reptile. But it is based on the truth that if you eat an ugly frog for breakfast, the rest of the day will be much better.

This gets to the heart of procrastination and its counterpart — self-discipline.

Procrastination is more than the art of keeping up with yesterday. It is the active avoidance of doing things that are dull, tedious, disinteresting, boring or stressful. Yet life and business have a lot of these elements. I ran a publicly traded semiconductor company for 37 years, and there were days I did not want to look at the latest financial numbers or help debug production facility equipment issue. But those were my ugly frogs, and I ate them with gusto.

Discipline overcomes procrastination because, and I note in my book Tough Things First, discipline is doing what you don’t like doing and doing it well.

If you have 10 things that need to be done, and you put off the one thing you dislike, it still needs doing eventually. Yet while you do the other nine tasks, the single unpleasant one weighs on your mind, drains your enthusiasm, zaps your motivation, saps your energy, and generally makes you miserable.

Contrarily, if you do the tough things first, if you eat your ugly frog for breakfast, the other tasks fly by. You are liberated from delay, freed from anxiety, and joyful in all other pursuits. I have discovered that my personal productivity rises 20% when my disagreeable task is in my “out box”.

This is not just a business prescription. Life is loaded with ugly frogs. This is why New Year resolutions are always made (because the tough things have fallen by the wayside) and quickly abandoned (because they are still tough things). Yet each procrastination creates a drag on your body, health, mindset, willpower and spunk. Each ugly frog you avoid ingesting is the one you see on your breakfast table the next morning. They simply don’t go away, and they spawn newer and uglier frogs.

Soon enough, you cannot wade through your breakfast nook for the thicket of frogs you have allowed to accumulate.

Here is a personal case in point. My partner and co-founder Warren led a frog-free life. This included his health habits. He was not one to diet or exercise, and he smoked relentlessly. His life was not devoted to eating the ugly frogs necessary for good health. He died at age 69, while I’m still running strong at age 81 in what can only jokingly be called “retirement”. Truth be told, I’m working harder and enjoying it more than ever.

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What ugly frogs do you have in your cupboard? Here are 10 frogs you should swallow.

1. A Rigorous Daily Exercise Program

I once saw a stand-up comedian who said he didn’t exercise because “it is boring, and it hurts.” That’s two ugly frogs on one plate!

But your body and mind are an interrelated system, one in which maintenance is critical. A “healthy mind in a healthy body” is the oldest of adages and was written because it is a core truth.

And here is the fun bit:

Exercise makes all the other tasks easier and more enjoyable because the body and mind are fully ready to take them on.

2. Eat Three Healthy Meals Each Day

I have had employees for who donuts were a primary food group. Some salesmen live on fast food while on the road. Others think whiskey and fried chicken is all they need for dinner. And none of those people excelled.

As with exercise, the body – and thus the mind – cannot operate well enough to do the tough things ahead, and this enables procrastination. This in turn allows the ugly frogs in your life to gather and breed.

Here’s some nice advice for you:

9 Simple Healthy Eating Rules for Busy People

3. Do the Task You Dread First

Not second. Not after lunch. Not “when I can get around to it.” But now!

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Before anyone else has had enough coffee to speak coherently, when you awake, write down the 10 things you need to get done and order them from the least pleasant to the most. Then don’t dare move on to item #2 until item #1 is complete.

4. Repair a Relationship

Find someone with whom you have a problem and do a little work to heal things.

We are not alone in life or in work. We depend on people and they depend on us. When relationships are dysfunctional, so are our lives.

It can be very unpleasant approaching someone with whom you are not getting along, but it is vastly more unpleasant to allow the relationship to fester. Heal it sooner rather than later.

Take a look at these 15 Ways to Rebuild a Broken Relationship and learn how to repair a relationship.

5. Find Someone Different Each Day to Shower Praise

Humans need to feel valued. That is part of the problem in our inner cities – the youth feel devalued and turn to gangs for any sense of validation.

Your family, your friends, your coworkers, your boss, your pastor, your mechanic, your waitress … they all need to feel appreciated because they are all human beings.

Don’t praise only the select few with whom you associate most often. Find someone for whom your praise will seemingly come from out of nowhere. It makes their day.

6. Read a Good Book Once a Month

Groucho Marx once said:

“I find television very educational. Whenever someone turns on a television, I go into another room and read a book.”

Books are educational. Even good fiction exposes you to other societies, philosophies, cultures and thinking. With the marvels of the digital age, there are more and more books one every conceivable topic hitting the “shelves” every day.

Instead of wasting an hour watching TV after dinner, invest an hour reading.

Leo Babauta has some unique suggestions on picking up reading:

14 Ways to Cultivate a Lifetime Reading Habit

7. Limit Your Time Devices

We stare at rectangles a lot these days — our phones, our tablets, or computer monitors, and our televisions.

Digital devices do provide a lot of value, just ask any grandparent who gets videos of their grandchildren on a regular basis. But some people don’t know when to stop, endlessly scrolling through page after page of meaningless content.

Set a daily limit on your device time and stick to that limit. Here’s a simple guide on how to do it:

The Ultimate Guide To Unplugging Technology For A Better Life

8. Work No More Than 48 Hours per Week

I ran a semiconductor company in a very competitive industry for 37 years and rarely worked longer than this.

If you find yourself working long hours, then add this ugly frog to your list for tomorrow:

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Discover and cure what is dysfunctional in your job, team or company that is causing you to work overtime … and fix it.

9. Be Frugal – Spend Wisely

Money is like oxygen – life gets unlivable if you run out. Yet people commonly spend on things they don’t need, stuffing older possessions into storage to make room for the new items.

Being frugal is not being cheap. It is merely not spending on things you really do not need.

By not spending, you both increase your cash/oxygen and remove the stress of wanting “things”. The Buddhists are right in observing that desire is the source of much misery.

Get more inspirations from this article:

7 Ways To Spend Money Wisely

10. Learn to Love What You Hate Doing

Enjoy your ugly frogs. When I ran my company, I found joy in joyless tasks by knowing that my attention to those details and seeing how every aspect of my company was operating, fulfilled my vision. Eating my ugly frogs led me to being profitable 36 of my 37 years in business.

Above all else, know that doing is the soul of life. Doing what you don’t like doing, and doing it well, brings vast rewards … but only after your plate of ugly frogs is cleared.

More Resources About Achieving Success

Featured photo credit: Eunice De Guzman via unsplash.com

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Ray Zinn

Ray Zinn is an inventor, entrepreneur, investor, angel, bestselling author and the longest serving CEO of a publicly traded company in Silicon Valley.

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Last Updated on October 16, 2019

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Do you like making mistakes?

I certainly don’t.

Making mistakes is inevitable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be at ease with them?

Perhaps there is a way to think of them differently and see their benefits.

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Why Mistakes Feel Dangerous

Mistakes often feel dangerous. Throughout human history, our errors have often been treated as dangerous for a variety of reasons:

  • Our vulnerability. We have limited and fragile support systems. When those systems fail, people often lose their lives.
  • Real dangers. Nature can be dangerous, and making mistakes can put us at the mercy of nature and its animal residents seeking a meal.
  • Ignorance. Many cultures scapegoats someone whenever there is a failure of some kind. Scapegoating can be serious and deadly.
  • Order. Many societies punish those who do not conform to the prevailing orthodoxy and treat difference and non-conformity as a mistake. Even our brains flash an error message whenever we go against prevailing social norms.

We have a history of handling mistakes and failure in an unpleasant way. Since each of us carries our human history with us, it can be a challenge to overcome the fear of making mistakes.

If we can embrace the reality of mistakes, we can free ourselves to be more creative in our lives and dig up some interesting insights.

Why We Can’t Avoid Making Mistakes

Many people operate under the notion that making mistakes is an aberration, a mistake if you will. You can call it perfectionism but it is a more substantial problem. It is really a demand for order and continuity.

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When we think we can eliminate mistakes, we are often working from a perspective that sees the world as a fixed place. The world, however, is not so obliging. Like it or not, the world, and everything in it, is constantly changing.

Change is more constant and pervasive than we can see with our own eyes which is why we often miss it. Our bodies are constantly changing. The natural conditions of the earth change constantly as well. Everything, including economic and cultural systems have life cycles. Everything is in a constant state of flux.

We cannot see all of the changes going on around us since rates of change vary. Unfortunately, when we try to create a feeling of certainty and solidity in our lives or operate from the illusion of stability and order, we are fighting reality and our natural evolution which is built on adapting to change.

It is better to continually bend into this reality rather than fight every change we experience. Fighting it can cause us to make more mistakes. Finding the benefits in change can be useful and help us minimize unnecessary mistakes.

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Lessons Learned from Making Mistakes

Life has so many uncertainties and variables that mistakes are inevitable. Fortunately, there are many things you can learn from making mistakes.

Here is a list of ways to harness the mistakes you make for your benefit.

  1. Point us to something we did not know.
  2. Reveal a nuance we missed.
  3. Deepen our knowledge.
  4. Tell us something about our skill levels.
  5. Help us see what matters and what does not.
  6. Inform us more about our values.
  7. Teach us more about others.
  8. Let us recognize changing circumstances.
  9. Show us when someone else has changed.
  10. Keep us connected to what works and what doesn’t work.
  11. Remind us of our humanity.
  12. Spur us to want to better work which helps us all.
  13. Promote compassion for ourselves and others.
  14. Teach us to value forgiveness.
  15. Help us to pace ourselves better.
  16. Invite us to better choices.
  17. Can teach us how to experiment.
  18. Can reveal a new insight.
  19. Can suggest new options we had not considered.
  20. Can serve as a warning.
  21. Show us hidden fault lines in our lives which can lead us to more productive arrangements.
  22. Point out structural problems in our lives.
  23. Prompt us to learn more about ourselves.
  24. Remind us how we are like others.
  25. Make us more humble.
  26. Help us rectify injustices in our lives.
  27. Show us where to create more balance in our lives.
  28. Tell us when the time to move on has occurred.
  29. Reveal where our passion is and where it is not.
  30. Expose our true feelings.
  31. Bring out problems in a relationship.
  32. Can be a red flag for our misjudgments.
  33. Point us in a more creative direction.
  34. Show us when we are not listening.
  35. Wake us up to our authentic selves.
  36. Can create distance with someone else.
  37. Slow us down when we need to.
  38. Can hasten change.
  39. Reveal our blind spots.
  40. Are the invisible made visible.

Reframe Reality to Handle Mistakes More Easily

The secret to handling mistakes is to:

  • Expect them as part of the process of growth and development.
  • Have an experimental mindset.
  • Think in evolutional rather than fixed terms.

When we accept change as the natural structure of the world, our vulnerability and humanness lets us work with the ebb and flow of life.

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When we recognize the inevitability of mistakes as part of the ongoing experiment which life is, then we can relax more. In doing so we may make fewer of them.

It also helps to keep in mind that trial and error is an organic natural way of living. It is how we have evolved over time. It is better to be with our natural evolution than to fight it and make life harder.

When we adopt an evolutional mindset and see ourselves as part of the ongoing human experiment, we can appreciate that all that has been built up over time which includes the many mistakes our ancestors have made over thousands of years. Each one of us today is a part of that human tradition of learning and experimenting,

Mistakes are part of the trial and error, experimental nature of life. The more you adopt the experimental, evolutional frame, the easier it becomes to handle mistakes.

Handling mistakes well can help you relax and enjoy all aspects of life more.

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Featured photo credit: Sarah Kilian via unsplash.com

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