Book Review: Eat That Frog!

Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. By Brian Tracy. (Second edition)

In mid-2015 I set a goal for myself. It was one of the first goals that I created for myself in my pursuit to become a better, smarter, higher paid, and happier employee. My goal was to read 25 books within a year that were related to productivity, procrastination, time management, management, or anything else that could help me evolve into a better employee and person. “Eat That Frog” was one of the first books I read on my journey.

It’s a simple read. Brian Tracy doesn’t waste time on flowery language and doesn’t spend five pages writing about something that can be covered in one. He gets to the point quickly and moves on. Other books have helped me improve in many ways, but I think it’s one of the best books available to help get organized and be more productive.

Of the 21 ways he writes about getting more done, the ideas that made the most important impact on me were A) getting organized (planning, prioritizing, focusing on the most important tasks), B) determining my most important skills and improving them, C) scheduling my work time to block out times for productivity (and also for breaks), and D) NOT becoming a slave to technology and/or social media. Two years later I still feel like these are just as important, if not more.

The one thing that made the most significant impact though was mentioned in my previous post. I keep a list of tasks to keep me focused. The book mentions having separate lists for daily/weekly/monthly tasks and keeping them updated all the time, but that system didn’t work well for me. I didn’t like multiple lists that all needed attention so I combined everything into one basic list. I still use it constantly, all day, every day, and not only did I stop forgetting to do things, I learned to set and track goals and deadlines and my bosses saw an immediate improvement in my work.

Two years later I’m in a very different position than when I started using task lists and I have very different duties, but I still use my tracker. It has evolved significantly since I started using a list at all, and now it is indispensable.

Below is a week of my current daily/weekly/monthly planner and checklist for December, 2017 in Microsoft OneNote 2016. I put the monthly goals at the top, above the calendar, then separate the month into weekly chunks with their own goals based on the monthly goals, and finally the daily goals based on the weekly goals. Though I show only three goals in each section below, I actually have many more in my working list.

 

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This system has helped my productivity and organization reach new levels that I never thought possible for me. I’m now tracking the daily chores related to 150+ requests and projects simultaneously.

As the book says, there are 21 ways suggested to stop procrastinating and get more done in less time. I suggest everyone read the book (it will take very little time) and adopt a few recommendations and see if they help. I’m sure everyone can find at least one or two items in the book that will help them evolve into a better, more productive, and happier person and employee.

Book Review: Eat That Frog!

Learning To Set Goals

Setting a goal sounds like such a simple thing to do. Reaching a goal was something more involved. Until I started my current job I had no idea what goal-setting really was. When a recruiter in an interview or HR person or a boss asked me a question like, “Where do you want to be in 3 years?” I had no idea what to say. I looked at my feet, or at the ceiling, or coughed, or choked nervously and said something like, “To be gainfully employed?” It’s what my history had conditioned me to say. I lost many jobs over 20 years due to layoffs. Setting goals, or planning for the future, wasn’t something I had learned. Much of my career has been focused on adapting to situations; surviving rather than thriving.

What I’ve only recently learned was that even though the future is uncertain I had to have a goal to help create stability for myself. I learned this from a particular boss at the company where I currently work. He taught me to break down daily information and track it over time. Most importantly, make it simple. Just get started tracking the information you need to have a big-picture view of the situation. If it happens to be numbers, put it in a spreadsheet and after a month or two, you’ll have a baseline and you can plan for progress or improvement. Most importantly, make sure you do it every day.

What I learned from reading books on productivity, procrastination, and organization was how to put structure my day to make sure I remembered each task that had to be completed. I started working with Excel, then moved to Evernote, and over time I evolved toward Microsoft OneNote. I just like the way OneNote organizes things. It’s almost three-dimensional in its structure. I also like the keyboard shortcuts in OneNote because time-saving with keyboard shortcuts is what I cut my tech teeth on. Most of my career has been built on a daily routine which involved doing the same set of processes every day. Evernote was good at that, but OneNote takes it further thanks to better keyboard shortcuts.

As an example I might want a checkbox for something that needs to be done that day in a list of items. In Evernote I would type a “[” and “]” and “space” and it would make a checkbox. In OneNote I can type CTRL + 1 and it adds a checkbox at the left margin regardless of where the cursor is. It’s a small difference, but when you do this 25 times a day (or more) it adds up to real time savings each day.

Getting back to the big picture, setting goals didn’t come naturally or easily to me. Once I admitted to myself that it was a skill that needed to be developed, I took a large step forward. There are no secrets here, no arcane knowledge, no innate ability that you have to be born with. Just write down what you want to achieve and when you want to achieve it. It’s important to put a date on it to make it more urgent. Next, write down the steps you know that will get you there (along with a date) and put a checkbox in front of each one. More steps may need to be added as you start working through them, but you can do that later. Just get your initial plan on paper to get started (or in an app if you prefer that to paper).

I have a list of projects that I work on every day and I use this technique to track steps for each one. I have a monthly calendar that is broken down by week and day. At the top I write down what goals I want to accomplish for that month. For each week (written between Saturday and Sunday) I write my weekly goals. For each day of that week I write down what I want to get done that day. I often have to move things from one day to another, and that’s fine because unexpected requests or issues can arise to derail any single day. Be adaptable. Evolve with the situation.

In regards to long-term goal-setting, the approach I’ve settled on is to have a 90 day goal, a one year goal, and a three year goal. I review each of these goals every 30 days or so to make sure I’m on track. If not, I follow the words of Confucius, “When it’s obvious the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.”

I’m a late starter in the goal-setting department, but I also like what Tolstoy wrote about goals, “Have a goal for your whole life, a goal for one section of your life, a goal for a shorter period and a goal for the year; a goal for every month, a goal for every week, a goal for every day, a goal for every hour and for every minute, and sacrifice the lesser goal to the greater.”

I haven’t attained Tolstoy’s level of commitment to goal-setting yet, but after a couple of years of setting and tracking my goals I’ve seen the power of writing them down and tracking them daily. I have evolved into a much better employee, and a more focused individual.

One last critical thing I had to learn is that I had to make this happen for myself. No one else was going to make sure I achieved my goals. This is why I used to feel like I had been overlooked so often. I worked hard, but could never articulate very well what I had accomplished or what I had worked on even the day before. That’s all different with my current approach to goal-setting. I can show someone exactly what I’ve been doing, and it has the added benefit at the end of the year of getting me a nice bonus. And that makes my wife happy. 😉

Learning To Set Goals

Dale Chihuly at Crystal Bridges

My wife and I drove to Bentonville, AR over the weekend to see the Dale Chihuly exhibit at Crystal Bridges. Being an outdoor exhibit, we thought it would be nice as the trees are in the opening stages of turning Fall colors. In the end I think we should have waited until Mid-November to time it just right. I highly recommend taking a day trip to see it, but the exhibit isn’t as extensive as I thought it might be.

The works are spaced out along a wooded path that runs perhaps a half-mile or so. Though I’ve always liked Chihuly’s work, I think this display fell short of his high standards. However, after saying that, there were pieces that I found to be very impressive. My favorites were the strange, puffy, dandelion-like flower and the tree growths.

The term dandelion is probably the best word to describe the large, puffy, flower-like creation about half-way along the path. From a distance it looks “soft” or “fuzzy” or “puffy.” Up close you can see the glass edges and it becomes more defined.  It has a soft, buttery yellow color at its center and clear at the outside edges, lending to the fuzziness factor. It’s an incredible construction of glass that left me pondering just how Chihuly puts these types of things together.

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The tree growths are also strange in that from a distance the work simply looks like yellowish, bulbous shapes in a fork in the tree trunk, and greenish shapes growing around the base of the tree next to the first one. The green shapes have a metallic tint when you view them up close, while the yellowish shapes hang precariously as though the mass had fallen from the sky and landed awkwardly in the gap of the tree trunk, or perhaps grew out of the fork asymmetrically…

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There was a canoe filled with more traditional Chihuly shapes and colors (think Bellagio). There was a neon display that was fantastically intricate, though not very Chihuly-esque in my mind. And there were several areas along the path where the visitor walks past “patches” of blue, or purple, or red glass tubes sticking out of the ground like six foot blades of glass grass. They were pretty and contrasted with the trees nicely, but were my least favorite pieces.

On a different note, I used both Waze and Google Maps to guide me from place to place and found that northwestern Arkansas really confuses both map apps. If you go, be prepared to be given strange instructions that will lead you through neighborhoods and nearly rural areas that made me feel at times like I might be trespassing… Simply telling the driver to “turn around and go back the way you came” just doesn’t seem to be in the programming. I was amazed at how many times this happened and wondered initially if it was just Waze malfunctioning. When Google Maps also misfired I thought it must be NW AR in general. Be prepared to get confused. That’s all.

Dale Chihuly at Crystal Bridges

Mevolution

In early 2012 I started working at an energy company that was large and growing fast. The company served residential electricity and natural gas to homes throughout Texas and the northeast portion of the United States, as well as portions of Canada. Since then the company has been acquired by another energy company based in England and can be considered by all rights a multi-billion dollar international conglomerate with a very heavy corporate identity.

As an employee I worked hard and actually enjoyed working for this mega-corporation. My experiences weren’t as good with previous large corporations for which I’d worked, but this one was different somehow. Thinking back about it, the primary reason I liked it so much would have to be the people. That sounds trite and predictable, but it’s the truth. For whatever reason the people at this company didn’t have attitude problems of the sort I’d seen in other companies. I knew there was friction between people, but I wasn’t experiencing it as I had at other companies. I liked it here.

That’s not to say I didn’t have difficulties with people. I certainly did, and I had to work through those moments of tribulation if I wanted to remain long-term with what I considered to be a good company to work for. Plus I was 50. I didn’t want to start all over at another company yet again. I wanted to stay with this one.

My first “annual review” took place in early 2014 because I had become a full-time employee in late 2013 after nearly 18 months as a temp. That first review was a cold and impersonal experience in corporate policy from a new manager who I felt might have been a better kindergarten teacher. I was told I “met expectations.” I knew I had worked too hard over the previous couple of years to simply meet expectations so I challenged the review. The result was a second cold, clammy, unfeeling, textbook response and I knew immediately that nothing would change.

My next review, in early 2015 for the work I’d done in 2014, was basically the same result, I “met expectations.” However the meeting was conducted with my boss’s boss due to circumstances outside my boss’s control. While she was out on leave, her boss simply told me that I did a lot of work and I did good work, but he knew I could do a lot more and that’s all he’s looking for from me. I left that meeting understanding what he meant and that I could indeed do more. I also knew that I had to make a change so I didn’t get yet another “meets expectations” review ever again.

Through 2015 I kept a daily journal and documented everything I did. After making any improvement to one of my processes I calculated how much time it saved me, and then converted it to dollars. I was meticulous. I began to read books like “Crucial Conversations,” “Getting Things Done,” “The Productivity Project,” and “Essentialism” to name but a few. I opened an account at Lynda.com and took numerous courses on Excel. I requested extra work to get additional experience outside my normal routine. The people above me started to notice my efforts. Around mid-year I was made the lead on a team with three other people to help out a different part of the company for a few months. That happened twice in 2015 and again in 2016. The result was a large bonus for my efforts and a better than average pay raise in my review.

And in 2017 I finally get the promotion I’d been working toward. I can’t be any happier, but the reward also comes with increased responsibility. I find myself struggling at times because where I had felt like I was a major contributor I now feel like a student who is learning and not contributing as much. It’s an uneasy feeling, but I know it will change as I become familiar with my new duties and responsibilities.

The lesson learned? Don’t wait for someone above you to see your hard work. Document it yourself and make sure they know what you’ve done. One manager admitted to me that I was going about it the right way. He said, “Hell, I have 40 people on my team. I can’t remember what most of them did yesterday, let alone what they all did over the last year.”

The take away? You have to take it upon yourself to put in the extra effort, get the training and education to reach the next level, spend some of your own time on developing yourself, and it’s up to you to make sure your boss knows everything you’ve done in dollars and cents.

 

Mevolution