When it comes to productivity advice, have you ever heard that you should do your most dreaded and annoying tasks first? That it’s smarter to just clear them out of the way so that you can zone in on your other work? Me too.
But, here’s the thing: After plenty of trial and error, I’ve realized that this whole “eat the frog” approach just doesn’t work for me.
Why? Well, for starters, knowing that I need to start my day with something obnoxious makes it that much tougher to convince myself to actually sit down at my desk and get work done. It’s basically like telling me that I need to eat a cup of mayonnaise and run five miles the minute I get up each morning. What are the chances I’m going to leap out of bed and lace up my shoes? Slim to none.
Secondly, getting started in that way tends to just put me in an emotional funk for the rest of the day. I understand the concept—I should be happy to have those things finished and out of the way. But, as great as it sounds in theory, it just doesn’t work for me in practice. No matter how much I try to shake it, I just end up feeling all doom and gloom anyway.
So, What Do I Do Instead?
Great question. After all, even if I’m not willing to tackle these dreaded to-dos bright and early, they still need to get done. So, how exactly do I deal with them?
While they always make it to the to-do list I make in the morning (I don’t want to forget about them!), I let them hang out there for a while. Then, during those parts of the day when I’m feeling drained of any and all creativity and inspiration—admittedly, it’s usually after I’ve stuffed my face at lunch—I’ll knock those pesky tasks out.
So far, this system’s worked well for me. Since I work in a position that demands a certain level of fresh ideas (believe me—you don’t even want to see what I’d write while in my leftover pizza-induced haze), I find that reserving my sluggish times for those menial things I’d rather not do matches up well.
They don’t require much mental energy when I’m already feeling tapped out, meaning I can still make productive use of my time without cranking out half-assed creative work. And, even further, I can usually even take care of these monotonous things from the couch (or pair them with something I enjoy, like I did in this article!).
What Sorts of Tasks Does This Work For?
Yes, I’ve seen great results by flipping the script and not doing my most hated tasks first and foremost. But, I do need to provide a word of caution with this approach: This works best for those mindless and tedious duties that aren’t necessarily difficult or demanding, but irritating and time consuming.
For me, that involves things like invoicing clients and cleaning out my inbox. For you, maybe it’s completing your expense report or plugging numbers into a spreadsheet.
So, nope, this tip doesn’t exist to give you a free pass to say, “Well, I really don’t want to prepare for that super important presentation that’s happening in two days—so I’ll just push that to the back burner!”
Sorry—you need to get started with that, no matter how much it makes you grit your teeth and groan.
My aim is simply to encourage you to think about the way you’re using your work time and how you could be even more effective. After all, another common productivity tip tells you to find your “golden hours”—those peak times when you’re at your most focused and motivated—and use them to your advantage. If you ask me, that doesn’t mean using that chunk of time to organize your computer files.
As with any productivity or time management advice, it’s all about finding something that works best for you individually.
On my end, that means saving those monotonous and time consuming tasks for those points in the day when I feel less focused. But, you? Maybe you love the idea of a cup of mayonnaise in the morning—meaning you just want to get those dreaded to-dos cleared off your list first and foremost.
My best recommendation is to do some trial and error until you land on something that feels right. Trust me—you’ll know when you’ve found it!
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author