Thursday, June 25, 2009

Eat That Frog

Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time

Short, fast-paced book on how to succeed by learning to prioritize, plan, and execute. Good solid advice in the beginning, but lots of contradictory pieces later on destroy credibility. A bit repetitive, no great motivational writing though. A list price of US $15.95 is steep for a book this short - 21 chapters of a thousand words (or so) each.

The secrets of success are really not that secret, nor complicated. The book serves to remind the reader that the secrets of success lie in being able to prioritize, plan, and execute upon your plans. To paraphrase a dialog from the movie "The Shawshank Redemption", 'get busy living, or get busy dying.' Some of the content is repetitive, worded differently, yet trying to drive the same point. This is not the definitive book to read on procrastination, and while there is good advice, especially in the first half of the book, the latter half contains some egregious contradictions that are very difficult to ignore and seriously undermine the credibility of the entire book. If at the end of the book you get the feeling that this book is only a pitch for author's personal coaching programs, you are not alone.

As Ram Charan and Larry Bossidy point out in their book, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, successful managers and leaders are those that execute on plans, not necessarily who come up with plans or grand visions. The "doers", not the "planners". A diffused sun warms. A focused sunbeam can burn through pretty much anything.

The book is full of good advice, aphorisms, one-liners and all. But. And there is always a but. The writing is not always consistent. There are few anecdotes in the book, and then wham!! there is a long one at the start of chapter 8. And then again a famine of anecdotes. The anecdote itself is too perfect and reads contrived to appear credible.

Then there are aphorisms that you may find difficult to accept at face value. Like "leap and the net will appear". Yes, you know that the author really means to say that you should have faith and confidence, and then take the action, but if your mind starts thinking, "yeah right! That could be one short leap into oblivion" or something similar it sort of destroys the aura of hope and motivation that the book is hoping to create.

Or "listen to audio programs in your car". Why?? Isn't that going to distract you from the task at hand - driving? Driver distraction is perhaps the leading cause of road accidents, and here the author is telling the reader to add one more distraction to their driving routine?!! Listening to an audio recording of a course is also a very passive exercise - the efficacy of such audio programs in actually teaching anything of lasting value is doubtful. Of course, such audio programs have worked very well for the makers of such programs, thank you, but learning has to be interactive to be effective - not unidirectional, passive, and requiring no more than a vegetative state of mind at best.

Some of the advice is contradictory - and while the reasonable person will realize that the advice is contextual, and one of many strategies for getting useful work done, it is still disconcerting to read in one chapter (Ch 18, "Slice and Dice The Task"):
Another technique you can use to get yourself going is called the "Swiss cheese" method of working. You use this technique to get yourself into gear by resolving to punch a hole in the task, like a hole in a block of Swiss cheese.
This may be as little as five or ten minutes, after which you will stop and do something else. You will just take one bite of your frog and then rest or do something else.
and in the very next chapter ("Create Large Chunks of Time") the author states:
Most of the really important work you do requires large chunks of unbroken time to complete. Your ability to carve out and use these blocks of high-value, highly productive time is central to your ability to make a significant contribution to your work and to your life.
Set aside thirty-, sixty- and ninety-minute time segments that you use to work on and complete important tasks.
and further on in the book (Ch 21 - "Single Handle Every Task"):
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 percent.
Sir, Mr Tracy, dude - just what exactly do you want the now totally confused reader to do??? Swiss cheese, large chunks, single-handle - what??

The book cites Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life - that seems to be interesting enough and well reviewed that it may be a good idea to go read **that** book instead.
It turns out that optimists have four special behaviors, all learned through practice and repetition.
  • First, optimists look for the good in every situation.
  • Second, optimists always seek the valuable lesson in every setback or difficulty. They believe that "difficulties come not to obstruct but to instruct."
  • Third, optimists always look for the solution to every problem.
  • Fourth, optimists think and talk continually about their goals.
Success is addictive, the author reminds us. Completing an important, big task successfully gives us a surge of energy and enthusiasm. Getting addictive (in a positive manner) to this surge can help create a cycle of success.

Chapter 2 talks about goal setting, and seven steps that serve as a formula for setting and achieving goals. Common-sensical, obvious goals, like "decide exactly what you want", "set a deadline", "take action on your plan immediately", and so on. But think about it just a little longer and you will realize that deciding what you want is easy enough to say, but to define exactly what you want is not so obvious. "I want to be rich" is easy enough. How? How do you become rich? Unless you were born rich chances are you are not betting on winning the lottery to become rich. Not that that is not a plan; it is just not a very good plan. You could steal - but that is likely to land you in jail, for a very long time. You could borrow money - but that won't make you rich, since you have to pay that money back. You could start a business, or become good at something, so good in fact that people pay you lots of money so that you do that something for them. Or you could become a writer, a musician, a photographer, an advertiser, a wrestler, something. But you have to define exactly what you want to do, and then how - not so easy now, is it?

Other excerpts from the book:
"Just find out what other successful people do and do the same things until you get the same results. Learn from the experts. Wow! What an idea."

"Especially, successful, happy, prosperous people use their time far, far better than the average person."

Successful people continually put the pressure on themselves to perform at high levels. Unsuccessful people have to be instructed and supervised and pressured by others.

"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 this: If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first."

Remember that adage about measuring twice and cutting once, marking with a chalk and so on? Well, the author offers the same advice: "The good news is that every minute spent in planning saves as many as ten minutes in execution."

The law of Forced Efficiency says that "There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important thing."

A wage or a salary is a payment for a specific quality and quantity of work that can be combined with the work of others to create a product or service that customers are willing to pay for.
People have to be willing to pay for it. Does not matter how talented you are, how hard you work, how great the product is, if people are unwilling to pay for it, you are in trouble. The work you put in, how many other people can do the work that you are doing, how many people want the product you are working to build - all these have a direct bearing on the amount of money that you will make and be paid.

Table of Contents:
  • Preface
  • Introduction: Eat That Frog
  • 1 Set the Table
  • 2 Plan Every Day in Advance
  • 3 Apply the 80/20 Rule to Everything
  • 4 Consider the Consequences
  • 5 Practice Creative Procrastination
  • 6 Use the ABCDE Method Continually
  • 7 Focus on Key Result Areas
  • 8 Apply the Law of Three
  • 9 Prepare Thoroughly Before You Begin
  • 10 Take It One Oil Barrel at a Time
  • 11 Upgrade Your Key Skills
  • 12 Leverage Your Special Talents
  • 13 Identify Your Key Constraints
  • 14 Put the Pressure on Yourself
  • 15 Maximize Your Personal Powers
  • 16 Motivate Yourself into Action
  • 17 Get Out of the Technological Time Sinks
  • 18 Slice and Dice the Task
  • 19 Create Large Chunks of Time
  • 20 Develop a Sense of Urgency
  • 21 Single Handle Every Task
  • Conclusion: Putting It All Together
  • Index
  • Learning Resources of Brian Tracy International
  • About the Author

© 2009, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.