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