Why Mark Twain’s “Eat the Frog” is awful productivity advice


why mark twains eat the frog is awful advice

Question for ya, have you ever heard the phrase “eat the frog” in terms of advice on increasing productivity?

I keep hearing it and, I’ll be honest, I fell for it until I realized that “eating the frog” was pretty awful advice…

Now, if you don’t know, the phrase “eat the frog” actually is attributed to Mark Twain.

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” – Mark Twain

Essentially, what people have interpreted this to mean is, “If you’ve got a nasty task to do, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning and if you’ve got two nasty tasks, do the one you’re dreading to most, first.”

It’s the “rip the bandaid” technique albeit, a bit more green and amphibious.

And I am here to tell you that, when it comes to tasks at least, it’s a load of toad-shit.

Listen, I get it — Mark Twain is considered an American gem. But the man also said the N-word at least 219 times in one novel. We shouldn’t take after his lead with that one should we? Absolutely not!

Eat the frog? more like, Paging Procrastination…

I’m a huge nerd when it comes to psychology and philosophy so bear with me now.

People are conditioned to seek pleasure and avoid pain; sometimes, at any cost no matter how minimal or momentary that pain might be.

This is called the Pleasure Principle and we’ve got Freud to thank for this observation.

And when you think about it, it totally makes sense right? You might even notice very subtle bodily shifts in which your body tends to lean in towards something you want and lean away from something you don’t want.

Let me put it this way…

You’re off next Tuesday and you can either spend the day at the spa or spend the day at the DMV.

How do they each make you feel? Did you notice any subtle shifts in your body, by chance?

And now I want you to consider which one you likely will seek.

You’re going to seek out that spa right? Yesss! Bring on the cucumber water and the robe because just thinking of the DMV is makin’ me tense.

That, my friend, is the Pleasure Principle.

Now take that same idea and apply it to your business.

While Mark Twain’s approach is akin to “ripping the bandaid” and that definitely can be the way to go at times, when it comes to work tasks it isn’t necessarily as simple as that. We, entrepreneurs, tend to use a lot of mental energy in thinking about the things we need to get done. Couple that with how stressful entrepreneurship can be while trying to juggle everything else in our lives? You’ll likely have a morning where you’re dragging your feet.

There just ain’t enough coffee to light a fire under your booty about that analytics report you gotta put together. Am I right?

You might even find yourself checking social media more often than usual because that Pleasure Principle has kicked into high gear and you’re looking for some extra shots of dopamine.

This was my experience when trying out “Eat the Frog” for myself. I had the tendency of not only starting work later but getting so much more easily distracted because I wanted to do anything but.

Then, what happened? I found myself so much more easily exhausted because of all the anxiety and mental energy it was taking to psyche myself up enough to sit down and actually get to it.

Now, you might be thinking, “OK, Janine, but those tasks do gotta get done” and they do!


And hear me out now…

There is a better way.

Keep in mind the time

Before getting into what helped me, I just want to provide a bit of perspective.

Mark Twain was living at a time which did not have nearly as many opportunities as we do now. Most people were subjected to taking over the small family business or working for the railroad or mining company. They didn’t have the chance to work remotely — well, because there wasn’t any internet. Obvs.

I think we can agree that it’s safe to say that a good chunk of the population weren’t too thrilled about what they did for a living but it was something that helped to provide for their family.

And while I’m sure the same is true today particularly if you are in an underserved/marginalized community, things are a tad bit easier for the bulk of the population living in or near bigger cities. And with more and more companies going remote (probably one of the only positives to have come out of this pandemic — thanks… Covid…?), it’s even easier to get work in a smaller city. If you have a good internet connection that is.

But you get what I mean, yeah? Work prospects aren’t nearly what they were like in the 1800s.

So, if your job is eating frogs and you don’t enjoy eating frogs, you need to get a different job, babe.

I know, super millennial of me.

But it’s true!

My generation was really the first to realize that there was no such thing as a “stable” job like the ones are parents and grandparents had. No longer could we stay at the same job for 30+ years and honestly, I’m not sure why anyone would want to?

OK! That settles that so let’s get to it, shall we?


Start Your Day By Building Momentum

I want you to forget all about eating the frog.

In fact, spit the frog out.

You’re not Baby Yoda. He likes eating frogs (to The Mandalorian’s horror, I’m sure).

Rather than start your day trying to handle the worst of the tasks first, I want you to think about building momentum. So what do I mean by this?

For the first 30 minutes to hour of your day, you should work on tasks that are simple to cross off your to-do list and/or is something you enjoy doing.

Think: answering that DM asking about your services, answering some client emails, writing a blog post (if you’re into writing), etc… etc…

These are small things that either don’t take much energy or that actually help get you feeling good about your day.


Because those things are going to provide a little extra “oomph” for when you do need to work on that client report or bookkeeping or marketing… whatever it is you’re not looking forward to is going to be easier to get through because you’ve set yourself up for success.

Yay for some hits of dopamine!

Think of it (business, I mean) as a marathon.

You’re not going to want to just immediately try running a marathon without stretching or warming up. That is a major yikes. Doing that will not only cut your run short, it can lead to injuries.

Same idea goes for handling that mile long to-do list.

Give yourself that warm-up time by handling those tiny tasks first and then get down to business.

If you found this to be helpful, feel free to share away or even send us a DM on Instagram at @soulesteco and hit us up with some bit of dopamine.

Buh bye, Kermit. 👋

And if you want to become a total to-do list pro, you’ve got to check out our mini-course, Prioritize to Thrive.


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