Have you ever heard the phrase:
“Eat the frog?”
It comes from a quote that is often used by productivity authors to emphasize that we can avoid procrastination by completing the tasks that we’ve been putting off early in the day, so we can then focus on other things.
Though the quote has been attributed to Mark Twain, it actually came from a French humorist named Nicolas Chamfort (1741-1794):
Swallow a toad in the morning if you want to encounter
nothing more disgusting the rest of the day.
I’ve found this advice to be helpful in many areas of my life, mostly because I have a tendency to procrastinate with tasks I am dreading to do. I often wait till the last day something is due before finishing it, whether it's my driver’s license registration, field trip permission slips and immunization records, or projects at work. The tasks float in and out of brain, taking up energy because I continuously remember them and realize they are not getting done. Then, I get stressed completing them at the very last minute, sometimes missing deadlines, or even worse, getting it done just in the nick of time and having the (undeserved) reward of completing the task…which only makes me more likely to do it again! All in all it’s a cycle that doesn’t work well for me.
When I’ve tried to ‘eat the frog’ in the past, I’ve noticed that those dreaded tasks get out of my head and I am free to move onto other things. It is such a relief! They are not poking and nagging at me all day, or week, and instead they get checked off the to-do list and I can do something else. For me this technique replaces the negative energy of an unfinished job with a boost of satisfaction and motivation.
As I was thinking about this technique the other day, it suddenly occurred to me that there’s a whole other set of tasks that I keep putting off and not "eating": my self-care. Those tasks that nourish my body, mind and heart, and that help me be more productive in every area of my life. I’m not sure they are really ‘frogs,’ because I do feel like I want to do them. Nevertheless, I am procrastinating and they are not getting done even though I need them in my life. Simple things like getting my hair cut regularly. Or using that gift certificate for a massage that my husband gave me years ago. Important things like scheduling a night out with a girlfriend or calling the babysitter to finally plan that date night everyone keeps saying we need to do.
Why don’t we use productivity principles for things that matter but that keep getting pushed aside, like our self-care?
For example, what would happen if early in the day I "ate the frog" and found 10 minutes for myself to sit quietly with a cup of coffee? Or how might my week feel different if on Sunday night I texted some friends to make plans for the next weeks, or identified a date for that ever-elusive spa treatment by myself? It might just have the dual benefit of getting out of my head AND providing the opportunity to do something that I know will benefit me and my relationships.
How can you "eat the frog" this week to promote your well-being?
Last week was rough. As I was hurriedly getting ready for a day of never-ending grading, search committee meetings and reference letter writing, I heard a loud "MOMMY!" from my oldest child's bathroom. I turned the corner, just in time to see her start throwing up into the toilet. On the one hand, it was a joyous moment because she made it to the toilet (hooray!). On the other hand, it was exactly the type of obstacle that I felt like I couldn't possibly navigate around this busy time of semester. I freaked out, but then quickly got to strategizing for the day. It worked out (it always seems to, right?), but it left me thinking about how much there is for faculty mamas to do this time of year.
All moms are amazing, and I don't believe in contests about who works the hardest. This post is just a shout-out to all my fellow faculty mamas so we can take a second to congratulate each other for all we've done.
As you'll see, the rubric below gives you a lot of credit, because you deserve it! Feel free to add a comment with anything else you've done this late Fall. You rock, #facultymama!
Oops, totally forgot to do this 5 points
Pretty sure I'll get to it at the last minute; still hopeful 5 points
Miraculously, this is done 5 points
a) Letters of reference (it's part of my job, but...)
b) Gifts for school teachers (hope I don't repeat what I gave them when they had my other child)
c) Grading -- papers (why did I assign papers?!)
d) Grading -- exams (those 2 hours of giving the exam were glorious. Next year I'll use multiple choice)
e) Grading -- presentations (also nice to watch them, but now I have to grade them)
f) Getting out all the cold weather gear for the kids (snow pants, Cuddle Duds, gloves, winter boots, scarves)
g) Going out and buying missing cold weather gear
h) Review admission files for Spring (it seems impossible to think about next Fall already...)
i) Gifts for daycare teachers (hope I don 't repeat what I gave them when they had my other child)
j) Interview faculty candidates (gotta get them in before the break)
k) Gifts for family (hope I don't repeat what I gave them last year)
l) Enter data for faculty activities report (time to face the harsh truth)
m) Gift for my partner (who is that again?)
n) Stay home with sick child (iPad wins Noble Prize in Caregiving)
o) Overdose on zinc and vitamins to avoid getting sick (probably should also work on getting more sleep)
p) Talk about needing more sleep, but stay up too late grading (and on the internet)
q) Submit article/chapter/conference abstract (cope with insecurities about not doing enough)
r) End-of-semester faculty meeting (no comment)
s) End-of-semester college meeting (no comment)
t) Meet with students to talk about last-minute efforts to increase grade (wha...?!)
u) Start planning for hosting a holiday event (I actually like doing this but of course won't have time)
v) Plan for data collection in Spring (it seems so far away but I know it'll be here soon)
w) Talk to my partner periodically (who is that again?)
x) Stay on top of kids' homework, library book returns, school lunch account, donations for class parties (this could be a full-time job!)
y) Begin thinking about my syllabi for Spring (HA!)
z) WHAT ELSE??
Post a comment so we can see what else you've accomplished, faculty mama!
There’s no denying it—this time of year can be really overwhelming. Every time I talk to a fellow mom we end up venting about how there’s too little time between Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, we have too much to do, and we don't know how we will ever get everything done.
Just thinking of it now--gifts for teachers, family and friends, hosting/cooking, preparing for travel, work deadlines--makes me breathe a little faster and makes my mood a little more anxious and irritable.
This stress is real and there’s no point in pretending it’s not. Managing it will require that we stay organized and efficiently use our time in the next weeks. But it’s not only about time management; it’s just as important for us to think of the ways we can take charge of the hectic worlds inside our minds. Sometimes if we guide our thoughts in more helpful ways it will help us slow things down and not spiral into panic.
One of my favorite tools for managing stress is imagery. I don’t necessarily use a long or elaborate guided imagery exercise; instead, I pick just one image that I will call into my mind when I feel myself getting anxious or overwhelmed. Along with a mantra or calming phrase, bringing the image into awareness can help stop my anxiety from going from 0 to 80 when I think about my to-do list.
Below are a few of my favorite images that I use in times of stress, as well as the calming phrases I use when I visualize them.
"I am grounded and solid, even if there is a
storm around me. I can handle this."
"Every step I take, even if it's small, helps me make progress."
"I'm just riding the waves right now, as best I can.
I may fall off but I can get back up again."
What images and calming phrases help you during stressful times?
I'm Lisa, a mother and psychologist dedicated to supporting moms. Read more here.
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