2008-09-04

Eat the tadpoles

"Eat that frog" is a phrase often cited in combination with procrastination and will tell you to start the day with the biggest, most important task. - What the phrase itself tells is that if you start the day eating a living frog then you can be calm the rest of the day because the worst of the day already happened.

I have noticed that - at least in software development - when I start with the most important and biggest task it often eats up the whole day. So it's not me eating the frog, it's the frog eating me. ;-)

The result often is, that sometimes neither the big task is finished nor a lot of other things so I end up with the same amount of things open and nothing was finished. Searching for application bugs (that often turn out to be problems of third-party-components and I sit there hours to search for workarounds) is for my job the best example here. But I imagine that for other jobs it can be preparation of presentations and so on.

What then happens when even the next day a lot of other smaller (or bigger) things are added to my task lists I either cannot focus well any more on the main big frog task because I feel overwhelmed with the amount of work. Indeed one big task seems to produce less stress than the same amount of work split in many small tasks.

And last but not least many small frogs or even the tadpole tasks can grow up and produce more difficulties when they don't get done in their early stages of growth. So it is better to eat the frogs when they are still tadpoles/polliwogs.

So what I do is:
  1. Start with the more predictable tasks.
    I first pick the smaller tasks that are more predictable and more reliable to be finished within the estimated time. - To get 3 things off my list early in the morning is a good start into the day.
  2. Split big tasks over several days.
    Big tasks and especially those that are difficult to estimate because quite unpredictable in amount of work really needed I do always split over several days. For instance a task estimated with 6 hours is split over two days each 4 hours. So there is another 2 hours spare. And further it is often better to do something else when facing a difficulty. After a pause and step back the problem gets clearer when looking at it again later.
  3. Schedule some time for the unpredictable interrupts.
    I schedule some extra time a day for the small frogs that other people come to me with during the day.
Related posts: Early intervention, Procrastination and interrupts, How not to eat the frog.

5 comments:

Martin Wildam said...

Could not resist to post the link to the Frogs of borneo site here that I noticed in the news because they have discovered 5 new frog species there.

The lesson: When you ate all the frogs there will come new for sure. ;-)

Shamelle said...

Good one Martin :-0)

Shamelle
The Enhance Life

Avani-Mehta said...

"When you ate all the frogs there will come new for sure." :) This is hilarious and so true.

I wouldn't go for splitting the task into 2-3 days since then every time I pick up the task, I will have to re-align and get in the earlier mode to start working on it. It takes time to adjust and get in flow.

Martin Wildam said...

It depends on the task - I often run into some dead end where I can't find the reason for a problem or I ran into a detail and loose the overview. Then it is often better to think a night over it and in the next morning world looks different.

I agree with you that re-aligning produces some overhead - but my experience is that I already lost many hours searching for a bug without success and in the next morning I found it after 10 minutes. Sometimes I even dreamt the solution for a problem.

Avani-Mehta said...

"Sometimes I even dreamt the solution for a problem."

Hehe I know how that is. I have thought of solutions to my technical problems in most unexpected places.

Ofcourse, if you are stuck up, it's good to let go of it for a while. Taking a break helps in looking at the problem from another perspective.