Whenever I encounter a skill I’m lacking that is demonstrably valuable to my personal, creative, or technical development, I address the issue head on by reading all I can about the subject, while diligently practicing what I learn until I become proficient at this new skill.

A lot of the time the subject matter in question has been technology related, but other skills I’ve tackled are negotiation, speed reading, leadership, and traditional marketing.

This is not unusual for creative people, who tend to share a belief that enforcing any kind of structure to make them productive will kill off their creativity

But for years, although I knew I had problems with my personal productivity, I didn’t address these failings in the same way. This is not unusual for creative people, who tend to share a belief that enforcing any kind of structure to make them productive will kill off their creativity.

Ten years ago I was hugely productive, creating all manner of personal projects that helped launch my career. But I now understand how easy it is to be productive with your personal creativity when the number of real life distractions are low. Over the years more and more external pressures clamour for our time.

Increased responsibility as a result of career progression, settling down with a significant other, and bringing children into the world are all commitments that are welcome distractions from the old routine of spending every evening working on creative endeavours.

the huge increase in distractions fighting for my attention crippled the maker work I still needed to get through

But although I personally went from a high output, to almost no output, this was not in direct proportion to the reduction of time committed. And as my career progressed to see me make a partial move from maker to manager, I saw my day job productivity plummet. Again, the huge increase in distractions fighting for my attention crippled the maker work I still needed to get through.

So I decided to fix my problem, and got busy reading books on the subject of productivity—and there are LOTS to choose from. A common thread became evident that is manifest in a handful of widely adopted strategies.

To this day I work closely with a strategy called Getting Things Done, by Dave Allen. There are several others but the differences between them tend to be semantic. In addition to Getting Things Done I’ve adopted a few other tricks from the other books I’ve read to create a system that successfully tricks me into being productive.

they acknowledge the flaws of the mind, and are essentially a series of hacks and workarounds that serve to trick us into being productive

And that’s the key thing to understand, the thing all these strategies have in common, that they acknowledge the flaws of the mind, and are essentially a series of hacks and workarounds that serve to trick us into being productive.

Perhaps you are sceptical of this, I know I used to be. You are in control of your mind, you have no need to trick it. If you believe this then try this little exercise.

Write down now what you are going to do with your day tomorrow. Go on, write it down. You can type it into a text editor if your want, but this won’t work if you don’t commit it paper or screen.

Now, imagine your partner/parents/boss just handed you tickets for an all expenses paid trip to spend 3 weeks in a place you have always wanted to visit. The flights are first class, and the hotel is top notch, but there will be no phone or internet access, and you have to leave the day after tomorrow.

You have only one day of work before you disappear off for 3 weeks of bliss. Now look at your list of what you planned to do tomorrow. Would you change anything?

What you just did was work out what is the single most important thing you have to do on your list. With limits on your time, you are forced to focus in on the most valuable items on your big to-do list.

why would you work on anything but the most important thing on your to do list tomorrow?

The question is, assuming you are not actually going on holiday in a couple of days, why would you work on anything but the most important thing on your to do list tomorrow?

We all have to-do lists. Whether you write down your list, or if it just sits in the back of your mind, it’s there, and your list, just like everyone else’s is growing at a speed that outstrips your ability to work through it. You know all those things on your list that you hope to get around to once you’ve caught up? You are never going to catch up. Your to do list is growing faster than you can complete the tasks in it.

Once you accept this fact, you will gain the clarity of thought to see the value in tackling the most important items first. But how do you decide what is the most important? It’s the item that if you completed today would have the most direct impact on your personal progression. It’s your frog. And you’ve got to eat it. And the sooner you do so, the better.

the completion of this task leaves you with a phenomenal feeling of accomplishment that propels me through the day

I start every day by doing the thing that’s most important and least desirable on my to do list. Tasks don’t have to be undesirable to be important, but I find that the important tasks that didn’t get done yesterday and are still languishing on my list are still there as a result of their lack of appeal. But the completion of this task leaves you with a phenomenal feeling of accomplishment that propels me through the day.

Even if you are sceptical, all I ask is that you try this for one day. Tomorrow. When you awake tomorrow, don’t let yourself be distracted by anything except that frog. Promise yourself that once you have finished eating that frog you can have the rest of the day off. That’s right, you only have to do that single task.

In reality you’ll be buoyed by the overwhelming optimism that results and jump onto the next frog in your list. Good luck, and let me know how you get on.