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Easy Tasks or Difficult Tasks First? Which One is More Productive?

Easy Tasks or Difficult Tasks First? Which One is More Productive?

Procrastination is probably the biggest detriment to our productivity. Conventional wisdom dictates that the best thing you can do is make that procrastination constructive. When you don’t feel like doing one task, usually one that requires a lot of will- or brainpower, you do another, usually less labor-intensive task. Recently, though, conventional wisdom has been challenged with something Penn State refers to as “pre-crastination.” After doing a series of studies in which students pick up and carry one of two buckets, researchers theorized that many people prefer to take care of difficult tasks sooner rather than later. That theory poses the question of whether this pre-crastination or the more widely acknowledged constructive procrastination is more effective. Here is a look at whether people should do difficult tasks early or later on to achieve maximum productivity.

The pros of doing easy tasks first

One of the hardest parts of working is just getting started. Constructive procrastination eases this hardship, because working on easy tasks requires a smaller mental or physical commitment than if you tackled difficult tasks firsts. If one of the foremost deterrents to your productivity is simply getting going, it makes a lot of sense to save the difficult tasks for when you’re in more of a groove.

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The cons of doing easy tasks first

If you eat a frog first thing in the morning that will probably be the worst thing you do all day.

– Mark Twain

On the surface, there don’t seem to necessarily be any disadvantages to doing easy tasks first. However, a book called Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy challenges that. Based on the above quote from Mark Twain, Eat That Frog encourages avoiding procrastination, even if that procrastination is constructive.  Tracy wants you to “eat that frog,” i.e. do your difficult tasks quickly because the longer it’s on your plate, the harder it will become to do the thing you’re dreading. If you have a habit of dreading things, Eat That Frog makes a solid argument to hold off on your easy tasks until later in the day.

The pros of doing difficult tasks first

Brian Tracy postulates in Eat That Frog that if you do your difficult tasks first, your other tasks won’t seem so bad. After all, after you eat a frog, even something unappetizing will seem downright delectable. Tracy also recommends that, if you have to eat two frogs, you should eat the uglier one first. The metaphor is a very easy way to get your head around the new concept of pre-crastination. If all of your tasks seem somewhat torturous to you, you might be able to ease the pain by getting rid of the ugliest “toads” as quickly as you can.

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The cons of doing difficult tasks first

The primary disadvantage of doing your difficult tasks first is probably that it will make it especially hard to get started on your workday. A lot of people aren’t exactly at their peak performance mode when they enter the office. They need to ease into the workday, maybe have a cup or two of coffee to stimulate them. If that’s you, doing your most difficult tasks first would probably be a costly mistake. Hold off on “eating those frogs” until you have the willpower and fortitude to choke them down.

Conclusion

Should you do easy or difficult tasks first? It seems like a cop-out to say that it depends on the person, but sometimes that’s the honest answer, and that is definitely the case here. Hopefully this article helps inform you of what type of worker you are, offering clues to whether you fall into the constructive procrastination or pre-crastination camps. Good luck on your pursuit of maximum productivity!

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Featured photo credit: Courtney Dirks via flickr.com

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Matt OKeefe

Matt is a marketer and writer who shares about lifestyle and productivity tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on May 24, 2019

How to Be Productive at Home and Make Every Day a Productive Day

How to Be Productive at Home and Make Every Day a Productive Day

If you’ve ever wondered how to be productive at home or how you could possibly have a more productive day, look no further.

Below you’ll find six easy tips that will help you make the most out of your time:

1. Create a Good Morning Routine

One of the best ways to start your day is to get up early and eat a healthy breakfast.

CEOs and other successful people have similar morning routines, which include exercising and quickly scanning their inboxes to find the most urgent tasks.[1]

You can also try writing first thing in the morning to warm up your brain[2] (750 words will help with that). But no matter what you choose to do, remember to create good morning habits so that you can have a more productive day.

If you aren’t sure how to make morning routine work for you, this guide will help you:

The Ultimate Morning Routine to Make You Happy And Productive All Day

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2. Prioritize

Sometimes we can’t have a productive day because we just don’t know where to start. When that’s the case, the most simple solution is to list everything you need to get accomplished, then prioritize these tasks based on importance and urgency.

Week Plan is a simple web app that will help you prioritize your week using the Covey time management grid. Here’s an example of it:[3]

    If you get the most pressing and important items done first, you will be able to be more productive while keeping stress levels down.

    Lifehack’s CEO, Leon, also has great advice on how to prioritize. Take a look at this article to learn more about it:

    How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    3. Focus on One Thing at a Time

    One of the biggest killers of productivity is distractions. Whether it be noise or thoughts or games, distractions are a barrier to any productive day. That’s why it’s important to know where and when you work best.

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    Need a little background noise to keep you on track? Try working in a coffee shop.

    Can’t stand to hear even the ticking of a clock while writing? Go to a library and put in your headphones.

    Don’t be afraid to utilize technology to make the best of your time. Sites like [email protected] and Simply Noise can help keep you focused and productive all day long.

    And here’s some great apps to help you focus: 10 Online Apps for Better Focus

    4. Take Breaks

    Focusing, however, can drain a lot of energy and too much of it at once can quickly turn your productive day unproductive.

    To reduce mental fatigue while staying on task, try using the Pomodoro Technique. It requires working on a task for 25 minutes, then taking a short break before another 25 minute session.

    After four “pomodoro sessions,” be sure to take a longer break to rest and reflect.

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    I like to work in 25 and 5 minute increments, but you should find out what works best for you.

    5. Manage Your Time Effectively

    A learning strategies consultant once told me that there is no such thing as free time, only unstructured time.

    How do you know when exactly you have free time?

    By using the RescueTime app, you can see when you have free time, when you are productive, and when you actually waste time.

    With this data, you can better plan out your day and keep yourself on track.

    Moreover, you can increase the quality of low-intensity time. For example, reading the news while exercising or listening to meeting notes while cooking. Many of the mundane tasks we routinely accomplish can be paired with other tasks that lead to an overall more productive day.

    A bonus tip, even your real free time can be used productively, find out how:

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    20 Productive Ways to Use Your Free Time

    6. Celebrate and Reflect

    No matter how you execute a productive day, make sure to take time and celebrate what you’ve accomplished. It’s important to reward yourself so that you can continue doing great work. Plus, a reward system is an incredible motivator.

    Additionally, you should reflect on your day in order to find out what worked and what didn’t. Reflection not only increases future productivity, but also gives your brain time to decompress and de-stress.

    Try these 10 questions for daily self reflection.

    More Articles About Daily Productivity

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

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