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I just finishing very quickly going over Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy, which has been in my candidates library for a while. It came to the front of my list as a result of some questions that came during discussion in a recent workshop.
I won't go into detail on the book - you can find a nice summary the main points at Amit Chakradeo's blog, and more extensive notes (including Tracy's rules) here. Instead I'll look at it from the perspective of how it compares as a system for self-management. I'll first pull out what I thought the best anti-procrastination ideas were, then address how it fits in with my view of personal productivity.
The ideas that had the most impact for me were:
- Identify and work on your MIT (Most Important Task) first (see Gina's post Control your workday for more).
- Apply Lakein's Question to each action choice (i.e., the daily review).
- Determine your prime time, and schedule time blocks accordingly (see Laura Stack's article Understanding Your Personal Energy Cycle for some detail).
- Schedule regular large time blocks for action work (see Julie Morgenstern's article Taking Control of Your Days with a Time Map).
- Impose artificial deadlines, and schedule particularly nasty tasks on calendar.
- Break big tasks down (like Lakein's "swiss cheese" method - from How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, and David Allen's famous "What's the next action?" question).
- Plan out projects, and prepare adequately (related: Allen's Natural Planning Model - 2/3 of the way down in Matt Vance's book summary).
- Sharpen the saw (see Steve Pavlina's article).
- Use positive self talk (see the idea of learned optimism, which I talk a bit about in Handling worries: keep a list, schedule them, and have a worry place).
- Learn to say "no!"
(You may also enjoy my article Use the STING method to stop procrastinating.)
As a personal productivity system
In spite of such a great list, I have some issues with the book as a complete system. Tracy starts out with some solid points that initially had me nodding my head:
There is never enough time to do everything you have to do. You are literally swamped with work and personal responsibilities, projects, stacks of magazines to read, and piles of books you intend to get to one of these days as soon as you get caught up.
You can get control of your time and your life only by changing the way you think, work, and deal with the never ending river of responsibilities that flows over you each day. You can get control of your tasks and activities only to the degree that you stop doing some things and start spending more time on the few activities that can really make a difference in your life.
Given my influences, it won't come as a surprise when I ask whether procrastination is really the problem most people should focus on first - for those of us who don't have a system to address the overflow of commitments, communications, and information flooding our lives, focusing on tips like those above is premature. The proverb Learn to walk before you run comes to mind.
Specifically, I found the book makes some significant assumptions and omissions:
- It completely skips something that's a huge block to effective focus: The mind's reduced ability to focus if not empty.
- It doesn't address the crucial need for centralized action reminders.
- It omits dealing with power of stuff to distract, and the large waste of time searching for information can cause.
- Similarly, the book doesn't account for the power of lower-level things to grab attention, precluding thought at important higher levels. Put another way, it's hard to determine higher-level goals/objectives when drowning; ditto for "determining key result areas," and "leveraging special talents."
- Regarding skipping "lower value tasks," I like the perspective that there are really only two kinds of tasks: ones you're committed to doing, and other. Importantly, all of the former are higher value tasks, for some aspect of your life. And as Allen points out, skipping tasks that are lower value now can create a crisis.
- The book is all about choosing action, but you can't apply choose well without having a complete action choice inventory (AKA "next actions" in GTD).
- Finally, prioritization needs to be more flexible than the traditional ABC scheme, given the pace and demands of modern life.
That said, I have a lot of respect for Tracy, who is full of great ideas. For example, one of my favorites (which my readers enjoyed - see this post) is from Time Power, which he calls his Guaranteed Formula For Getting Rich:
Invest as much in your mind each year as you do in your car." "The average driver spends $600 per month on his car... In the first year of practicing this formula, you income will increase 25 percent to 50 percent, or more, and your entire career will take off.
I've been trying it so far and my income has dropped (OK, I went 1/2 time at programming, so give it time), but I'm still game. Cheers!