Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Sept. 16, 2004

Eat the biggest frog first

We all have jobs that we put off as long as possible. Sometimes the thought of tackling them is worse than the actual work. Procrastination - with a capital P - derails our best intentions to get things done.

For me, grading my journalism students' papers ranks right up there with poking needles in my eye. I don't really mind it once I get started, but with dozens of interns doing three-part case studies and students in my other classes doing major projects every semester, I always have a stack of papers to grade. It used to really bother me because I felt I had to grade them all at once. Now, I select five or six or 10 papers to grade between other tasks and, before I know it, I'm done.

At home, mowing the lawn is probably among my least favorite chores. I used to wait until the grass was mid-calf high before I'd cut it. But this year's rain, sun and cooler temperatures meant the turnaround time from one mowing to the next was very short. That job moved from my every-couple-of-weeks list to my weekly list.

Magazine and newspaper articles - and even full-length books - have all kinds of tips for getting jobs done with the least amount of procrastination. One is to divide a task into smaller parts so it doesn't seem so overwhelming - an approach similar to what I've done with grading.

Another tip is to reward yourself after finishing a task you don't like. For me, that would be making myself a root beer float after mowing.

Art says he frequently uses a combination of these two ideas. If he has a big job that he can divide into smaller parts - such as creating a large computer program - he tries to finish one part completely before going onto the next. That way, once a module is complete, it not only shows progress is being made, but he has fun playing with it.

A sales trainer I know used to tell his salespeople that they should "eat the biggest frog first" when they had unpleasant tasks that had to be done. That might mean calling a client who is unhappy or doing tedious paperwork or going out in the street to make cold calls.

These tips aren't something we just recently invented. People in older societies also needed encouragement when they had jobs they didn't really want to do. One of my favorites is a Chinese proverb: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

I think an even better way of handling some of these things is to use our imaginations a bit.

My old friend Teddy used to tell our girls that when she was their age and her mother asked her to do the dishes, she pretended the dishes were little fairies that were bathing in the bubbles. Somehow that made the job more fun, she said.

A couple of weeks ago, when I asked Katie to help me trim bushes and pull weeds out of our iris beds, she did so grudgingly - at first. Then I noticed she was going about her business quickly. She told me later that she pretended she was in an infomercial for the trimmers she was using.

"In the infomercial I was saying, 'Only four easy payments of $19.99! Will cut through anything! Look at that! Will cut through things like they were paper! It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! Buy yours today!' When I did that, it made the job go quicker, Mom."

I say, whatever works!

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