“Eat That Frog” by Brian Tracy (Book Summary)
Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy is easily one of the most famous books on productivity and overcoming procrastination out there.
It’s a super short read outlining 21 great ways to stop procrastinating and get more done in less time.
If you’re not familiar with Brian Tracy, you’re in for a treat. He’s one of the world’s best-known personal development teachers. He has written over 70 books and, according to his website, has consulted for more than 1,000 companies and addressed more than 5,000,000 people in 5,000 talks and seminars throughout the US, Canada and 70 other countries worldwide.
This is a great little old-school productivity book that is easy to read and provides some highly actionable strategies and a nice kick in the pants for anyone who needs it.
Who Is Eat That Frog For?
- Anyone interested in becoming more productive
- Anyone struggling with procrastination
- Anyone who needs some motivation and a kick in the pants
1. Eat That Frog! ― What Does It Mean?
“Mark Twain once said that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long. Your ‘frog’ is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don't do something about it. It is also the one task that can have the greatest positive impact on your life and results at the moment.
The first rule of frog-eating is: ‘If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first.’
This is another way of saying that, if you have two important tasks before you, start with the biggest, hardest and most important task first. Discipline yourself to begin immediately and then to persist until the task is complete before you go on to something else. Think of this as a ‘test.’ Treat it like a personal challenge. Resist the temptation to start with the easier task. Continually remind yourself that one of the most important decisions you make each day is your choice of what you will do immediately and what you will do later, if you do it at all.
The second rule of frog-eating is: ‘If you have to eat a live frog at all, it doesn't pay to sit and look at it for very long.’
The key to reaching high levels of performance and productivity is for you to develop the lifelong habit of tackling your major task first thing each morning. You must develop the routine of ‘Eating your frog’ before you do anything else, and without taking too much time to think about it.”
So that’s where the name of the book comes from. “Eat that frog!” means to start your day with the biggest, most important, and most dreaded task. It’s also the task you are most likely to procrastinate on.
Brian Tracy is also about disciplining yourself to eat that frog first thing in the morning every single day. If you do, you will reach new heights of productivity while learning to overcome procrastination and while building self-discipline.
2. The Four Keys to Productivity and Achievement
“Throughout my career, I have discovered and rediscovered 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. This key insights is the heart and soul of this book.”
“Every great achievement of humankind has been preceded by a long period of hard, concentrated work until the job was done. Your ability to select your most important task, to begin it, and then to concentrate on it single-mindedly until it is complete is the key to high levels of performance and personal productivity.”
“Use your willpower to get going and stay going on this one job, the most important single task you could possibly be doing. Eat the whole frog and don’t stop until it’s finished completely.”
Brain Tracy comes back to this 4-part combination over and over again in this book.
- Select Your Most Important Task
- Begin Immediately.
- Work on It Single Handedly.
- Finish It!!
Seriously, he sounds like a broken record: First, select your most important task. Then, begin it immediately and work on it single-mindedly until it’s complete.
Obviously, he does that for a reason. Those four principles are so simple, yet incredibly powerful when applied in our lives. Let’s discuss each of them on its own…
3. Select Your Most Important Task
“You often see people who appear to be busy all day long but they seem to accomplish very little. This is almost always because they are busy doing things that are of low value while they procrastinate on the one or two activities that, if they completed them quickly and well, could make a real difference to their companies and to their careers. The most valuable tasks you can do each day are often the hardest and most complex. But the payoff and rewards for completing these tasks efficiently can be tremendous. For this reason, you must adamantly refuse to work on tasks in the bottom 80% while you still have tasks in the top 20% left to be done.”
“For this reason, and perhaps more than ever before, your ability to select your most important task at each moment, and then to get started on that task and to get it done both quickly and well, will probably have more of an impact on your success than any other quality or skill you can develop. An average person who develops the habit of setting clear priorities and getting important tasks completed quickly will run circles around a genius who talks a lot and makes wonderful plans but who gets very little done.”
Tracy references the 80/20 rule, also called the Pareto principle or the law of the vital few. It states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.
Some examples of the Pareto principle in action:
- 20% of motorists account for 80% of accidents
- 20% of streets account for 80% of the traffic
- 20% of product flaws account for 80% of problems
- 20% of clients account for 80% of profits
- 20% of clothes in your closet are worn 80% of the time
- 20% of beer drinkers drink 80% of the beer
What does that mean for your life? It means that 80% of your results come from 20% of your actions. Put differently, it means that 20% of what you do leads to 80% of the results. On the flipside, it also means that 80% of what you do leads to only 20% of the results. In other words, you are wasting 80% of your time on low-value activities.
The solution? Prioritize. Prioritize. Prioritize.
Stop pursuing low value activities and focus on high value activities instead. In other words, select the most important task!! Stop being busy being busy… focus on what matters instead.
Brian Tracy’s advice: Apply the 80/20 rule to everything in your life. And, before you begin work, always ask yourself, “Is this task in the top 20 percent of my activities or in the bottom 80 percent?”
4. Begin Immediately (On the Most Important Task!!)
“Think of this as a ‘test.’ Treat it like a personal challenge. Resist the temptation to start with the easier task. Continually remind yourself that one of the most important decisions you make each day is your choice of what you will do immediately and what you will do later, if you do it at all.”
“If there is a task or activity with large potential positive consequences, make it a top priority and get started on it immediately. If there is something that can have large potential negative consequences if it is not done quickly and well, that becomes a top priority as well. Whatever your frog is, resolve to gulp it down first thing.”
Once you know what your most important task is, get started on it immediately.
Tracy is really big on this, stating that it’s very important to develop the habit of tackling uncomfortable tasks immediately. Don’t think about it. Don’t worry about it. Don’t let your mind come up with excuses. Get in the habit of beginning immediately. You can use Mel Robbins’ 5-second rule to get started: Give yourself a countdown and then off to the races! 5-4-3-2-1-GO!
Remember from the research on procrastination that once you’ve started a task, it’s actually not nearly as bad as you thought. It’s actually kind of fun. Making progress feels good. And before you know it, you’re enjoying an upward spiral of self-generating satisfaction, progress, self-efficacy, and so on.
Get in the habit of getting started immediately. It could very well be the most important habit you ever develop in your fight against procrastination and your pursuit of higher productivity.
5. Single-Handle Every Task
“By concentrating single mindedly on your most important task, you can reduce the time required to complete it by 50% or more. It has been estimated that the tendency to start and stop a task, to pick it up, put it down and come back to it can increase the time necessary to complete the task by as much as 500%. Each time you return to the task, you have to familiarize yourself with where you were when you stopped and what you still have to do. You have to overcome inertia and get yourself going again. You have to develop momentum and get into a productive work rhythm.”
Whether those numbers are correct is probably up for debate. However, what Brian Tracy is essentially talking about here is limiting the productivity-slashing effects of multitasking and of something called attention residue.
In this way, single-tasking effectively eliminates two massive productivity suckers:
- Multitasking. Studies have shown over and over again that multitasking leads to less productivity. It also leads to other adverse effects such as permanent reduction of concentration and unnecessary stress. (Find out more about multitasking versus single-tasking in our summary of Emma Seppälä's The Happiness Track.)
- Attention residue. Every time you switch activity, a residue of attention gets stuck with the previous task. According to Sophie Leroy, who coined the term attention residue, this leads to a reduction in performance: “People experiencing attention residue after switching tasks are likely to demonstrate poor performance on that next task”. (Learn more about attention residue here.)
6. Finish What You Start!!
“Discipline yourself to begin immediately and then to persist until the task is complete before you go on to something else.”
Successful, effective people are those who launch directly into their major tasks and then discipline themselves to work steadily and single mindedly until those tasks are complete.
“Discipline yourself to do nothing else until this one job is complete.”
I used to fall into this trap all the time. I’d get started on a task and then abandon it the moment it got uncomfortable or I got stuck.
This created several problems. First, it made it incredibly hard to get back to the task. Why? Because it was a half-finished task. And because the part where I needed to get started again was exactly the part I was stuck on. This created massive resistance to get going again.
Second, abandoning tasks before they’re finished leaves too many tasks open. Your brain can’t concentrate well when it has to keep in mind five different tasks that you’ve started on but not finished yet. This is known as the Zeigarnik effect and can put a real strain on your brain’s resources.
Look, finishing tasks is hard. For whatever reason, it’s usually the last 5% of the task that create the biggest resistance. The temptation is big to just postpone it and finish it at a later time. For your own productivity’s sake, forego this temptation and finish the task.
7. Take It One Step at a Time
“There is an old saying that, ‘By the yard it's hard; but inch by inch, anything's a cinch!’ One of the best ways to overcome procrastination is for you to get your mind off the huge task in front of you and focus on a single action that you can take. One of the best ways to eat a large frog is for you to take it one bite at a time.”
I talk about this in some of my articles on procrastination. A major reason for procrastination is feeling overwhelmed. If your mind sees too many tasks at once, it feels like there’s just too much to do. This creates resistance and a kind of blockade in the mind.
The solution is to focus on one step at a time. Bestselling author John Steinbeck puts it well: “When I face the desolate impossibility of writing 500 pages, a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. Then, gradually, I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myself to contemplate.”
If I focus on writing a 10-part summary, that makes me feel uncomfortable. Every part of my body starts revolting and my mind starts telling me to do something easier instead.
That’s why I only ever focus on one point at a time. I can choose one idea from the book, find a good quote, and add my commentary to it. That’s fairly easy. If I focus on writing a complete 3,000-word summary, that creates a blockade and I can’t do it.
So yeah, when you’re getting stuck, try to forget about everything that’s still to be done. Instead, focus on the very next step. Theodore Roosevelt puts it nicely: "I dream of men who take the next step instead of worrying about the next thousand steps."
8. Guard and Nurture Your Energy Levels
“The raw material of personal performance and productivity is contained in your physical, mental and emotional energies. When you are fully rested, you can get two times, three times and five times as much done as when you are tired or burned out. Your body is like a machine that uses food, water and rest to generate energy that you then use to accomplish important tasks in your life and work. One of the most important requirements for being happy and productive is for you to guard and nurture your energy levels at all times.”
Two of the most important ingredients in the productivity puzzle are focus and willpower. Guess what both of these require massive amounts of?
While time management is important for productivity, energy management may be even more important. You can’t really get more time, but you can get more energy. And the more energy you have, the more productive you’ll be.
It’s like the guys from The Power of Full Engagement say: “Performance, health and happiness are grounded in the skillful management of energy. The number of hours in a day is fixed, but the quantity and quality of energy available to us is not. It is our most precious resource. The more we take responsibility for the energy we bring to the world, the more empowered and productive we become.”
Brian Tracy advises to analyze your current energy levels and daily health habits and then resolve to improve your levels of health and energy by asking yourself the following questions:
- What am I doing physically that I should do more of?
- What am I doing that I should do less of?
- What am I not doing that I should start doing if I want to perform at my best?
- What am I doing today that affects my health that I should stop doing altogether?
9. Three Steps to Mastery in Your Field
“First, read in your field for at least one hour every day. Get up a little earlier in the morning and read for 30-60 minutes in a book or magazine that contains information that can help you to be more effective and productive at what you do.
Second, take every course and seminar available on key skills that can help you. Attend the conventions and business meetings of your profession or occupation. Go to the sessions and workshops. Sit up front and take notes. Purchase the audio recordings of the programs. Dedicate yourself to becoming one of the most knowledgeable and competent people in your field.
Third, listen to audio programs in your car. The average car owner sits behind the wheel 500-1000 hours each year while driving from place to place. Turn driving time into learning time. You can become one of the smartest, most capable and highest paid people in your field simply by listening to educational audio programs as you drive around.”
Brian Tracy, like most highly successful people, is a big advocate of lifelong learning.
If you’re not in the habit of continually getting a little bit better every single day, I highly suggest you get on that. Start reading books. Listen to audio tapes. Watch YouTube videos. Read articles. And so on.
Charlie Munger, billionaire and one of Warren Buffett’s best friends and business partner, is a great example of lifelong learning in action. In a recent interview talking about the secrets of his and Buffett’s success, he said: “The other big secret is that we're good at lifelong learning. Warren is better in his 70s and 80s, in many ways, than he was when he was younger. If you keep learning all the time, you have a wonderful advantage.”
10. Success Is Predictable
“Then I did something that changed my life. I began to ask successful people what they were doing that enables them to be more productive and earn more money than me. And they told me. And I did what they advised me to do, and my sales went up. Eventually, I became so successful that they made me a sales manager. As a sales manager, I used the same strategy. I asked successful managers what they did to achieve such great results, and when they told me, I went out and did the same things. In no time at all, I began to get the same results they did.”
I’ve read a lot of books by Tracy and this is a concept he comes back to in every single one of them. He usually refers to it as the law of cause and effect. It states: For every action, there is a reaction. For every cause, there is an effect.
Neither success nor failure happen by accident. Any success is the result of doing certain, specific things over and over again. Any failure is the result of doing certain different, specific things over and over again.
The law of cause and effect states that if you copy what successful people do, you will get the results that successful people get.
It’s no miracle. It’s no accident. It’s simply a matter of cause and effect.
Therefore, if you want to become more successful, simply copy what the most successful people in the world do. Commit to lifelong learning, eat that frog every morning, guard and nurture your energy levels, and so on.
If you enjoyed this summary, you might enjoy the following books.
- Maximum Achievement by Brian Tracy. This is one of Tracy’s most famous and bestselling book.
- Deep Work by Cal Newport. If you want more productivity advice, I highly suggest giving this one a read.
- Solving the Procrastination Puzzle by Timothy Pychyl. This is another small but useful book all about overcoming procrastination.
And if you want more summaries like this one, check out Blinkist for instant access to 2,000+ summaries of the best nonfiction and self-help books ever.
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