Do you want to get more done? Do you want to get more of of the right things done? Of course! In Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Steps to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, Brian Tracy provides 21 tips to do exactly that.
Who Is This?
Brian Tracy is chairman and CEO of a training and development company modestly called ‘Brian Tracy International’. (This seems to be a trend in personal development companies, actually.) He’s a consultant, a speaker, and an author.
What’s the Big Idea?
It’s surprisingly difficult to summarize. Eat That Frog! doesn’t have a particularly clear through-line or central idea.
The concept for which the book is named, “eating your frog”, is a fairly common theme throughout the book. A key element of productivity, Tracy proposes, is to continuously identify your most difficult and important task (your “frog”) and then complete it. Getting into the habit of tacking your challenging but high-value tasks immediately is a requirement for becoming more successful.
However, the book does cover 21 items and not all of them address this Eat the Frog idea. I’d break his “steps” or “tips” into a few major categories:
- Prioritize and plan (Set the table, focus on key result areas, consider the consequences, use the Law of Three, plan every day in advance, and use the ABCDE method continuously)
- Work steadily until you accomplish your top tasks (Create large chunks of time, develop a sense of urgency, put the pressure on yourself, motivate yourself into action, slice and dice the task, take it one oil barrel at a time, and single handle every task)
- Eliminate or delay low-value activities (Apply the 80/20 rule to everything and practice creative procrastination)
- Invest in yourself (Prepare thoroughly before you begin, upgrade your key skills, leverage your special talents, and maximize your personal power)
- Eliminate obstacles (Identify your key constraints and get out of the technological time sinks)
All of the items in parathenses are actual chapter titles.
This book annoys me profoundly.
Is that an unpopular opinion? I think it probably is. This book, and the author, seem to be stunningly popular. But ugh, this book is so mediocre! I originally bought it several years ago and was thoroughly unimpressed. I dug it out and reread it so I could review it, thinking my opinion might have changed in the intervening years. It…has not.
Why does Eat That Frog! frustrate me so very much? There are SO MANY THINGS.
1. The book’s structure is terrible. The points are presented in a seemingly random order, and with little connecting structure linking one to the next. I have rolled my eyes at glib “three/five/seven step systems” before, but at least there’s a purpose behind that organization. The human brain can’t remember 21 disparate bits of information at once; our max is about 7 (plus or minus two). So throwing out 21 tips in a row with no connective tissue means the reader is just going to forget a bunch of them.
This is particularly annoying because a lot of the tips have similar themes and COULD have been grouped together, like I did above! But Tracy did not do so.
2. Tracy states up-front that he’s not going to give the theory or research behind any of his tips, only suggested actions. The concept here is to make the book “practical”. I admit, I have weakness for theory so this is not my preferred approach. Moreover, providing some grounding and reasoning helps people apply tips properly. No step or specific action is going to be applicable 100% of the time; saying “do this” without explaining why you’re doing it, and the exceptions when you shouldn’t do it, is counterproductive.
Plus, it means I’m unable to fact-check some of his frankly dodgy numbers. So many specific practices were cited as “making people two, three, or five times more productive.” (And often using almost that exact phrase!) I have no way of telling whether he’s referencing a study or pulling those numbers out of his hat or what.
3. Eat That Frog! perpetuates the idea, pervasive in a certain breed of self-help book, that most people suck. But you! YOU can become one of the few high performing, very successful people if you just [do whatever that particular book or program advocates].
It also has the related problem of promising oversized results. I swear that at least a quarter of the tips had some variation of, “this tip alone can make you FIVE TIMES MORE PRODUCTIVE AND SUCCESSFUL!” tacked onto it. One or two promised to make you a leader in your field or industry, just by faithfully following that suggestion.
4. Some of Tracy’s ideas are simplistic, wrong-headed, or just flat-out incorrect. For example, he’s an advocate of very simple mantras; he says one of the best ways to improve your self-esteem is to literally repeat ‘I like myself! I like myself!’ over and over. At one point he also says the Pareto principle means that 80% of barriers to success are internal while only 20% are external, which is…not…what…the Pareto principle…actually says?
As someone who works in a learning field, I was particularly amused by his proposal to develop yourself and become an expert in your field. The plan was, in its entirety: 1) read books 2) go to seminars and professional networking events and 3) listen to audiobooks. Learners, particularly adult learners, don’t retain much from passively reading or listening to information (only about 5-10% sticks). Having a plan to use new knowledge and skills – such as finding stretch assignments or new kinds of projects to work on – is a much better way to develop yourself.
5. He explicitly tries to tie the reader’s self-esteem and self-worth to productivity. Become more productive, he says, and you’ll become “a superior person” (this is a real quote). Other qualities – empathy, compassion, or generosity, say – are apparently not required!
6. So much jargon. The Law of 3! The Pareto Principle! The 90/10 Principle! The ABCDE method! The 6-P formula! And these are just the ones I remember off the top of my head; no doubt there were more. This kind of goes back to to my problem with the (lack of) organizational structure within the book. Tracy kept throwing these buzzwords or concepts into his chapters without doing a lot to explain to the reader how they fit together or a framework for understanding them in concert.
Oh, and NOT a criticism, but an amusing observation. I can’t help but suspect that Rory Vaden kinda ripped off Brian Tracy here: “Decide to procrastinate on, outsource, delegate, and eliminate those activities that don’t make much of a contribution to your life…” – Brian Tracy, 2007 (from the chapter Practice Creative Procrastination). Procrastinate on Purpose, which is an entire book based on that exact premise , was published in 2015. (And in almost those exact words, if you swap out “automate” for “outsource”!) I know that there’s no such thing as a truly new self-help concept, and I still like Procrastinate on Purpose more than Eat That Frog! as a piece of writing, but c’mon now.
I can’t even say “it’s meant for people who have never read a self-help book” because of all the jargon and lack of structure. I understood what he was getting at WAY better on my reread, after having read more books around personal productivity and knowing the ideas he was trying to communicate.
Ultimately, the book strikes me as meant for people who are looking for the productivity version of a get-rich-quick scheme. Follow these quick tips and the world will be yours!
I really wouldn’t waste your time on this one, y’all.
Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Steps to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy – 145 pages – Published 2007 by Berrett-Koehler Publishers