Eat That Frog. Just Do It.

I’ve been putting off writing this, or any article, all week. My creativity has been focused on other things and I just really haven’t felt the urge to write. Sue me. No, don’t. It’s not that I have nothing to say, I just haven’t felt like sitting down and putting it all into words. I decided I just had to “eat that frog”.  That’s right, eating the frog. The frog is the thing you don’t really want to do, but you should, or must, or ought to, or you really, really, deep down inside want to, you just haven’t focused any intent or energy to it, whatever “it” is. For me, this week, this article.

The concept of “eating the frog”; it’s horrible and slimy and gross, but if you just eat it first thing, it’s over with and the rest of the day is like cake! It becomes a mindset, a lifestyle, even.

Eating the frog is a lot like I eat my meals; I eat what I know is healthiest, and usually least tastiest thing on my plate first, like kale, then move to the next healthiest, like zucchini, and leave the least healthiest for last, like the meat, or the pasta, hoping I might be too full to eat it all. Hardly ever the case. I have the appetite of an elephant, I don’t know the meaning of the word “full”. In several respects; my calendar, my closet, my plate, my glass, my suitcase, my iPhone, my hard drive. I could go on. I shan’t.

I attend a local MeetUp group, WINN, Women in Napa Networking. We are “WINNers”. We have a monthly “Eat That Frog” gathering, at a local coffee shop and we talk about our “frogs”, our obstacles, our hold ups, and we share ideas for resolving our little issues. The next month, we report back on our progress. There’s some accountability, which helps, sort of like having your junior high peers jeering you into eating a frog!

Remember the Nike ad campaign “Just Do It”. Did you? Do you? So simple, how can you not just do it? Whatever it is. Doing it should never be that difficult. The key may be in breaking it down into manageable pieces and prioritizing them, perhaps the awfulest, the frogiest, first. Unless it were a really puny frog, it’d probably take more than one bite to eat it, right? Well, there you go! Take those insurmountable tasks or goals, and break them down into manageable pieces, bite by bite, the frog will be easier to eat.

How much do you enjoy the thing you really want to do when you know you have to follow up with all those things you really don’t want to do? Doesn’t it steal some of the joy? It does, and you know it. How many times have you put something off until it could be put off no more and you missed doing something amazing because you were stuck doing that dreaded thing? The dreaded thing that you should’ve done last night, last week, or last month, or last year.

I’ve been eating frogs for a while, now, and think I’ve got it down to an art form. Mostly. I usually have a frog or two on my plate, but I used to be knee deep in frogs.

What are your frogs? Mine? Usually returning the phone call I don’t have an answer for, the desired answer, or that I know is going to take three hours to conclude. Likewise with emails, returning emails without being able to totally thrill, excite and satisfy the recipient’s request, need, or desire. Another frog, rescheduling appointments! I don’t know why it’s a frog, but it is. Vacuuming is a frog, but dusting is the biggest, ugliest, wartiest frog ever. I’ll do dishes, wipe down the stovetop and scrub the sink after every meal. I’ll clean the shower after every use and keep my stuff organized and in its place. But dust? I’ve given up brick-a-brack and knick-knacks for the sheer joy of never having to move anything to dust. Dusting, for me, is best accomplished if I can sit my butt down on the dusty surface and kind of slide across from one end to the other. Then I just toss my jeans in the wash! Vacuuming? If I had my way, I’d have no carpet and just wear socks with a little lemon oil spritzed on, and dance, all over the house. Then, of course, I’d toss my socks in the wash. I rather like doing laundry. I even like to fold, hand and put laundry away. No frogs there! Mailing birthday cards, another frog. I love to buy cards, but I wait until the very last moment to write the sentiment inside. I have no problem addressing them, and even plastering a stamp on the envelope. It’s the act of mailing the card that presents a problem. I just buy a stack of funny cards, sign them all at once, seal them up and at a family or friend get together, everyone gets their card for the year. All at the same time. I bring extras, even, in case there are unexpected guests!

Eating frogs. An analogy. How about this? Would you rather brush your teeth for two full minutes, at least twice a day, floss every tooth once a day, and go to the dentist for a quick, painless cleaning twice a year, or spend many torturous hours over several days, weeks, months, even, and possibly thousands and thousands of dollars because you just couldn’t make yourself do the easy, little things? Tender little tree frogs or a big, bastard of a hairy toad? The choice is yours, my friend.

On a larger scale; what stands between you and, well, you? Are you all that? Are you really the total picture of who you thought you’d be? Or do you have a list? A bucket list? A to do list? Are these lists, in life, getting any shorter, is anything ever getting crossed off? Why not? Is there a frog, or perhaps a whole pond full of frogs, that need to be devoured?

No one is faultless here, I’ve my own list. Believe me, there are some pretty old, big, scary frogs in my pond. But every day, I at least poke at them a little. I’ve got my frog-gigging fork out and I’m taking aim, each and every day. Every now and then, I gig a frog, gulp it down and I start jabbing at the next one. I am sometimes chided for being a compulsive goal setter, for always trying to make progress, for never sitting still, for never just letting go. And to those who notice, I say “thank you, that’s the way I want it, now put the toaster away, we won’t need it again today and I don’t want to have to dust it next month.”

I think a lot of our frogs result from living “beyond our means”. I don’t mean that strictly monetarily, either. Time is money, money is time. I lie. Truthfully, I believe time is more valuable, more precious, than money, in the grand scheme of things. If we live in a home that’s larger than we need, and have more stuff than we require, and commit to more obligations than we can manage, and keep all the catalogs the postman delivers in case we might want to order more stuff we don’t require, pretty soon, we’re buried. In more ways than one. We don’t have the time to catch the frogs we need to eat because we’re over-committed and over-burdened. And the frogs can hide in all that stuff we don’t require! This, in my experience, closely resembles the contemporary, American, family life. I’ve been there. And everyone suffers as a result, whoever is involved; kids, husband, wife, the couple as a couple, the family as a family, friendships, extended family. Cut back, cut out, eat frogs and prosper.

If I had to recommend some resources here, and I’ll keep the list short and manageable, because I know you’ve got other frogs to eat, I’d have to say the three most valuable resources I’ve run across, thus far, would be:

  1. “Eat That Frog” by Brian Tracy
  2. “The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize and Simplify Your Life” by Francine Jay
  3. “The ONE Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Well, it’s 10:36 PM and I really, really want to go to bed. My face is washed, moisturizer applied, teeth brushed, really, really, well, flossed, and my breath is all minty from mouthwash. Oh, but I have a load of wash that just finished up sitting like a big, soggy frog in the washing machine. I washed my favorite jeans, which I’d like to wear tomorrow. Unless I hang them up to dry tonight, they’ll still be wet in the morning and I won’t be able to wear them. There’s my frog. So, nom, nom, nom. Done. And good night.

See, laundry all hung up. Tonight's frog.
Article done AND laundry hung. Tonight’s frog.

Ribbit. Now go eat those frogs.

For the insanely curious, I actually found recipes for frogs, not that this is what this article is really about. I just HAD to know, and now, so do you!

Ready, Set, Go

Are you ready?

Ready for what?

Anything. Everything.

The Center for Disease Control recommends we be ready for anything; earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, the latest strain of the flu, a zombie apocalypse (not kidding http://www.cdc.gov/phpr/zombies.htm). For each of these, they have suggested steps, measures, that we should take in order to be ready. I call this a plan.

We need a plan for all things in life. Big and small. I teach this in several of the classes I deliver at work. And although the plan of which I speak is specific to that particular facet of the profession, I use real life examples to drive the point home. For example, you plan what you wear each day based on the weather and what activities you think you’ll be participating in. Am I right? When you want to go on vacation, you plan your destination, your departure date, your return date, your transportation, your lodging, your activities. Am I right? Without these plans, we’d show up at work wholly inappropriately dressed, or worse yet, undressed, which I think may be a career limiting move, unless of course you work in the adult entertainment industry. When the first day of your vacation arrives and you show up at the airport without a ticket, or at your destination without hotel or campsite reservations, you’ll probably end up with a stay-cation instead. Plan equals readiness.

So, what is your plan for today? And are you ready? If you plan to run a few errands after work, there is no great amount of preparation required for that, I suppose. But lets say a friend calls and says “I have tickets to a concert and so and so can’t go, do you want to go?”, and lets say the concert is one you’d really, really like to see. Are you ready? Just like unexpected, bad things in life that the CDC warns us to be ready for, there are many good, wonderful and unexpected things in life we should be equally ready for.

If you are lounging around the house, un-showered, clothes not laundered, bank account empty, and your friend calls with those concert tickets, are you going to miss your chance to go because you aren’t ready? That would be a shame! Would you have regrets?

Personally, I prepare for each day like I have the most amazing plans in the world. I get up when I should, I eat, I shower, I get ready like I’m going somewhere, and even if I end up working at home all day long, I feel great, I look great, I smell great and if someone calls with concert tickets, I just have to grab my purse and go. The CDC would be proud if concert preparedness were something they were worried about.

In being “ready” every day, as I am, I find I am much more likely to go out into the world after work and socialize, or do something good for me, like work out at the gym or go to a fitness class, or call a friend to go out for a glass of wine. Moral of the story, I feel terrific all day and I’m more likely to have a stupendous evening, too. All because I am ready.

Let’s take this one step further. If a friend you cherish, but hadn’t seen in a very, very long time called and said, “I’m nearby, can I stop by for a visit?”, how ready would you be. Even if you’ve taken my advice and YOU are ready, are you ready for a visitor?

I happen to know, first hand, that most American homes don’t look like the homes portrayed on most television shows. Life happens and life is messy. My mom is known for having a spotless house. And while she does do a great job house cleaning, what most don’t know is, if you say you’re going to visit, she is rushing about fussing over the house until the second she hears footsteps on the porch. While there will never likely be a dirty ring in her toilet, there will be piles of newspapers, coupons, and mail on chairs, tables and countertops. The prospect of visitors totally stresses her out because she is never ready, to her satisfaction. She begins to freak out about an announced visitor weeks before they plan to arrive, and her house is really quite clean, but for the paper clutter. She vacuums more than anyone I know! I swear she has a holster for her Windex bottle! But she is convinced she isn’t ready for visitors to the point where she will turn down spending time with me, or her grandchildren, because she is “behind” schedule preparing the house for her eventual guests. To me, this is a shame. If you insist on a spotless house, keep it spotless, to your satisfaction. Be ready. Be set. So you can go!

My house used to be far worse than that. With a cluttered lifestyle, a husband who forbid anyone from touching his piles and piles of dusty papers that accumulated for years on end, and two children literally immersed, about two feet deep, in all the “must have” toys, and me working nearly full-time and leading various youth groups with my remaining time, my house was usually a disaster the CDC would have difficulty devising a plan for. For a while, when the youth group meetings were held at our house, I had a housekeeper. This translated to me scurrying around the morning she was due to arrive, before work, dealing with mountains of toys, paper and clutter so there would be surfaces exposed which could be cleaned. This was stressful, frustrating and expensive.

My philosophy has totally changed. First, I have been on a mission to de-clutter my life. This year, with my W2, I handed my CPA a stack an inch high of Goodwill donation receipts. And I am not done. With another move in progress, I intend to discard much more. I throw away junk mail before I even enter the house. What statements I still receive in paper form (damn them!), I shred, I manage all of my accounts and payments electronically. I take publications electronically, too, and those few I don’t, I toss after reading them (though I may scan an article or recipe here and there first).

This is beneficial in another stress reducing, always ready, respect; I can find things when I need them, like my W2 and all those Goodwill receipts! The time I save by having a plan, a system, a little organization and a wee bit of discipline has been a real boost! I have more time because I’m not always searching for things, and I have way less stress because when I need something, I know exactly where it is!

And, life has become a bit simpler, by design. I have de-cluttered my schedule a bit, though I thrive on being busy, and seek to have activities outside of work daily, I do plan for that extra five minutes after my shower to clean out the tub, that two seconds every day or so to swish a brush around the toilet, that two minutes every week to wash the mirror and countertop. I set aside ten minutes every now and then to chase a vacuum around a room. I hate dusting, so rather than setting aside time to occasionally dust, I just rid my life of things that require dusting. I can run a rag over shelves and tables without anything impeding my progress, and I am done. I do my dishes immediately after I eat, rather than saving them up for when I need that pan or dish. I wipe down the stove and counters, routinely, as part of my dishwashing task. I take the garbage out every night, run the dishwasher every night, and unload it in the morning while my coffee is brewing. I probably add twenty minutes a day to my routine, but my house is ALWAYS ready for visitors. And I totally enjoy my time at home, however brief.

I try to put things away, where they belong, and my only likely slip up are shoes. For as much as I love shoes, they tend to be discarded somewhere in the house soon after arriving home. I remove them in the car, too. I love shoes. I love buying shoes. I love owning shoes, but I don’t really like to wear shoes. I’ve been making a conscious effort to take them off and put them away, so things are better, but it used to be that you could walk through my front door and see several shoes scattered about the house randomly. And my kids are the same way, so when they lived with me, we were ankle deep in shoes we weren’t wearing! Now, if shoes aren’t put away where they belong, you’ll likely find them under my desk or under a chair in my bedroom. I’ve become slightly, just slightly, more disciplined.

I once heard a theory, from my son who was taking high school physics at the time. The theory is that there is only so much mess and so much neatness, and when something that was messy is made neat, something, somewhere else is made messy. I know this was true for much of the time when I was raising my family. The clutter and mess throughout the house; shoes, papers, toys, books, mail, clothes, would all be gathered up from the common areas and shoved into the usually somewhat clutter free master bedroom. The door would be pulled shut, and company  would arrive shortly thereafter. The house looked neat, the master bedroom was a mess. How this occurs, globally, though, I don’t really know. And now that my life is neater because my kids are grown and have moved away, and there isn’t a husband in the house, I wonder who’s life I caused to become messier? Is that how the theory works, or am I missing the it? If so, whoever you are, wherever you are, with the messier house, the messier life, I’m sorry.

For me, I have found that less mess equals less stress. I enjoy my free time at home more, I am happy to have people stop by, I am always ready. I am always set. I am always good to go. Well, mostly. By focussing on always being ready, by taking small, routine measures, I find I have so much more time to pursue activities I enjoy, both at home and out and about. I am way more productive, too. When I have some project for work, or back in school, and the house was messy, one of the methods of procrastination I would employ, to avoid the project, would be to clean things up, a bit, first. Funny, though, when my house was chaos with kids and the husband and pets and all, I’d procrastinate about cleaning house by working on projects instead!

Less mess. Keep it straight. That’s all there is to it. I know I make this sound really simple, but shouldn’t it be? And if it isn’t, perhaps simplifying a bit is in order. I find the simpler life is made, the simpler life becomes. You are in charge of that, by the way, and only you. But that’s a topic for another day. As the CDC suggests, take measures now to be ready. As the Boy Scout motto goes, “be prepared.” Plan for it. Plan for anything. Plan for everything. Ready? Ready. Set? Set. Go!