Mark Twain said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” While it’s not advice most of us are going to take to heart–at least I hope not–there is plenty of value in the metaphor. If you get in there and do whatever it is that you’re dreading, getting it over with first thing, the rest of the day is going to be a whole lot easier.
My best friend in high school was a source of constant inspiration to me. I loved her attitude and the way she lived her life. While I was a plodder, always finishing everything on time and eating my vegetables first and putting on my pajamas before I got into bed, she lived in the moment. She ate dessert first and fell asleep in whatever she was wearing when she got tired. When we went to college, I signed up for math and science and history. She took art and fashion design, and I was filled with envy as I slogged through trigonometry and memorized German verbs. But then, after those first years, something happened. I got all the boring stuff out of the way and started looking at my choices: writing classes and workshops about authors I loved. My friend, on the other hand, was faced as an upperclassman with all the things she’d put off taking–the math and science and foreign language.
While I’ve still always wanted to be a little looser, a little more spontaneous and less inclined to eat my vegetables first, my plodding has actually served me pretty well. I don’t procrastinate: every morning I sit down with that first cup of coffee and figure out what’s my live frog for the day (and, as a vegetarian, that’s a real stretch, even metaphorically). Then I do that first. Whatever it is that I’m dreading the most–the email or the phone call, the tough draft that isn’t working or a computer upgrade that has me cringing–that’s what I do first. I also figure out what’s my dessert for the day–what task is the one I’d really like to do first because it seems more like fun than work–and I hold it out there as my carrot, the reward I’ll get for plowing through the stuff I don’t want to do.
I’ve had people tell me that if they had to do the icky stuff first, they’d never get out of bed. But if the icky stuff really does have to be done, it’s so much better to just do it and get it over with instead of having it hanging over your head all day long. What part of what you do is The Icky Part? The measuring? The sanding? The gesso-ing of the canvases? Whatever it is, try scheduling that part first thing, whether that’s early in the morning or first thing when you hit the studio after dinner. Do it, finish it, get it out of the way, and then reward yourself. See if it doesn’t increase your productivity–and let us know how it works for you; we’d love to hear about your own personal froggy experiences!
For more ideas on making your time work for you, check out my book, Creative Time and Space.
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