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There’s a common bit of productivity advice that suggests we begin each morning by eating a proverbial frog. This idea originated from Mark Twain, who once said:
“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
The quote is well-known—it even spawned a popular book written by Brian Tracy. The idea behind the quote is a good one: when you begin each day by doing the most difficult thing on your list, the rest of your day feels like a breeze in comparison.
While I like this piece of advice, I modify it ever so slightly for my mornings. Each morning, instead of doing the hardest thing first, I work on the activity I’ll be most relieved to have finished.
To identify this task each morning, I ask myself: out of all of the things I could start my day doing, what will I be most relieved to have accomplished?
Productivity is not only about accomplishment—it’s also about minimizing regret. By tackling my hardest task first, I guarantee that I won’t look back on the day wishing I had spent or started it differently. I even do this on weekends, asking myself which task I’ll be most relieved to have completed—usually it’s a workout, a home renovation project, or some yard work.
I’m loving this strategy, especially during such an unpredictable time. No matter how the day goes, no matter how you feel, the first thing you accomplish each day is something you’re proud (and relieved) to get done.
Most mornings over the last few weeks, this activity has been writing. Writing energizes me, and I have more time for it now that I’m traveling less for work (at least before I hunker down on my next book). I’m savoring this morning activity. Before I connect to email, check the news, or flip my phone off Airplane Mode, I write.
I don’t always write well first thing in the morning—my brain is still revving up, foggy from the night’s rest. And my words are not always publishable—whether in a book or a blog post. But even though I’m not always proud of what I write, I’m always proud to have written.
Focusing on your most aversive task first thing is a powerful strategy for becoming more productive. If you’re prone to procrastination, the rest of your day will feel easy by comparison. But it’s also important to work on a task where, even if your entire day goes to hell, you’re relieved to have finished it.
Work on hard things, but don’t forget to work on what makes you proud.