Bear's Frogs

"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 you 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." --Brian Tracy, Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time (2007)

My ugliest frogs, which I must eat in order to have a career but which I tend to put off eating because they are the hardest and most important things that I have to do

1. Read and/or translate primary sources from Latin

2. Write about these sources

3. Footnote what I've written so that I can submit it for publication

Action: Eat first, during your "writing time."  These are the important frogs, the 20 percent that will account for 80 percent of your results.

My not-so-ugly frogs, which matter, but not quite so much as the ugliest ones, but that can still feel difficult to do

1.  Preparing for class

2.  Reading scholarship in my field

3.  Grading papers for students

Action:  Acknowledge that these aren't nearly as ugly as the top 3 frogs; don't let their apparent urgency mean you don't take care of the important frogs first.  Write first, eat the not-so-ugly frogs later.

My tadpoles, which I really can ignore until I have eaten the grown-up frogs although they can feel like they are more important than they actually are

1.  Writing letters of reference

2.  Writing book reviews

3.  Reviewing fellowship applications, articles and book manuscripts for colleagues

4.  Reading files for departmental, divisional and collegial committees

Action:  Acknowledge that the tadpoles will always be trying to impress you with their urgency, but that they are nowhere near as important to your work as the grown-up frogs.  Never let the tadpoles take over your writing time, no matter how thickly they swarm around you.

Fake frogs, not to be confused with working, but which take time and energy during the workday

1.  Holding office hours

2.  Attending lectures and workshops by colleagues and students

3.  Attending meetings

Action: Make sure you have eaten your ugly and not-so-ugly frogs first!


  1. It's a good metaphor - the temptation to shove the boring/difficult tasks down the list in favour of the easy/interesting ones is very powerful - but my attribution-sense is tingling. I'd bet money that Twain never said/wrote that.

  2. Heh. I don't know Twain well enough to guess, but if you're getting a tingle, I'd be suspicious!


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