Paul W. Smith
Eat That Frog! for Students: A Review
I approached this book as a life-long learner, undaunted by the promised focus on students. From this perspective, the lessons apply to both college students and those in a career where progress requires keeping up with the latest knowledge. Eat That Frog! For Students by Brian Tracy is much more than just the time-management book noted on the cover – it outlines a life-sized strategy for success in the context of a detailed plan for dispatching undesirable tasks and dealing with the stress that life inevitably brings, both in and out of school.
Author Tracy warns that this not a book filled with research and references, but rather a practical guide where the reader can jump straight to the sections of most interest. In spite of this preface, phrases like “Neuroscientists have found that it is impossible to be angry when you accept full responsibility for yourself” seem dubious without backup. If you keep reminding yourself that Brian Tracy is a renowned motivational speaker and view this book as another of his presentations, albeit between two covers, you will find his occasional hyperbole easier to accept.
It wasn’t until I had worked in industry and then returned to college as a Professor that it dawned on me – what I learned in school had less to do with the actual class content than with the process of learning and how it fit into my life. There is never enough time for everything, and author Tracy uses this broader view to help the reader identify the most strategically important task to focus on. This is the frog you must eat first.
The book’s first of 5 sections begins with the three pillars of success – self-esteem, personal responsibility, and goals. Creating and nurturing a picture of yourself as you want to be can have a powerful effect on your performance, while even small moments can sometimes create doubt and fear that subconsciously sabotage your resolve. Building self-esteem with this positive self-image can help you get out of your comfort zone, which is a powerful foe of success. The author stresses the importance of taking absolute personal responsibility for your goals and actions, which must be concrete, achievable, and written down. Persistence, he notes, is more powerful than genius.
The second section focuses on the central topic of the book, time management. Clarity is key here, as procrastination often results from fuzzy tasks with no clear path to completion. Here author Tracy introduces the Pareto Principle – the concept of the “vital few” – to underscore a version of his 80/20 rule. In this case a list of 10 tasks is said to always contain 2 that are more important than the other 8 combined. One of those will stand out as the frog. Although big, this task can be tackled by slicing it up into more manageable pieces. Most of us can relate to the good feelings and increased energy that come from completing and checking off smaller tasks.
The next section caught my attention when I first flipped through the book. It addresses one of my toughest challenges - doing something I am not really interested in. Delayed gratification is nothing new, but the book claims that success in both work and life hinges on the ability to see things with a long-time perspective. While some claim to thrive on the pressure of a looming deadline, research shows the famous adrenaline rush actually reduces focus and efficiency. Much of the motivation-speak in this section will sound familiar, but it helps to remember that we are ultimately determined not by what happens to us, but by how we respond to it. Both our character and our ability to perform at a high level are nurtured by self-discipline.
When I first became a College Professor at a highly ranked and very competitive engineering school, I was invited to a workshop on how to recognize and help students who appeared to be struggling with the academic pressure. Most emails I received the day before an exam involved questions about the course material, but there were often several that could be more aptly described as a cry for help. In the section on “Pressure to Achieve”, the author suggests that procrastination is your worst enemy in this regard, and that a bias toward quick action can get you into the “flow” and derail any feelings of pressure that might come your way. We all need to embrace the fact that no one is coming to our rescue, and that we will be better off if we generate a natural sense of urgency from within and don’t wait for it to seek us out. A core takeaway from this section is Metcalfe’s Hypercorrection Effect- getting something wrong but then correcting yourself actually helps you learn it even better for the future.
The final section reinforces the connection between avoiding procrastination and proactively preventing stress. Thorough preparation, in everything from your workspace and tools to your mental attitude, can build confidence and keep away stress. The author talks about what I’ve always referred to as “analysis paralysis”, where overthinking an action plan can stifle action and ramp up the stress. FOMO is a dangerous symptom of our dependence on electronic gadgets – there is way too much to keep up with and you will always be missing out on something, so condition yourself not to fear that. Technology is both a dangerous master and, if used properly, a wonderful servant -. The author’s guidelines for proper use of technology are both timely and useful. With technology as with other distractions, one of the most powerful and yet difficult words to use in time management is “NO.”
The book wraps up with a list of all 22 ways for stopping procrastination and summarizes each in a sentence or 2. If reading this book is not at the top of your list, you could benefit a great deal from just these 5 pages.
While it may be hard to prove that “Every minute of planning saves ten minutes in execution”, it does support the importance of having clear written goals. Similarly, claiming that confidence and self-esteem are the single most important keys to success may seem like an overstatement, but without them it’s much easier to procrastinate on tasks you don’t feel capable of finishing. There aren’t a lot of personal stories in the book, but one I liked was Tracy’s experience while crossing the Sahara Desert in an Old Land Rover – a great metaphor for breaking large overwhelming tasks into manageable chunks. The book acknowledges the digital tools that surround all of us, but notes that regardless of the method used, the basic ideas remain universal. Exercises at the end of each section help to bridge the gap between reading the authors advice and applying it in practice.
By clarifying the many life-enhancing benefits of getting things done while calling out the roadblocks that cause us to procrastinate, Brian Tracy has provided an insightful and valuable guide.
Author Profile - Paul W. Smith - leader, educator, technologist, writer - has a lifelong interest in the countless ways that technology changes the course of our journey through life. In addition to being a regular contributor to NetworkDataPedia, he maintains the website Technology for the Journey and occasionally writes for Blogcritics. Paul has over 40 years of experience in research and advanced development for companies ranging from small startups to industry leaders. His other passion is teaching - he is a former Adjunct Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. Paul holds a doctorate in Applied Mechanics from the California Institute of Technology, as well as Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara.