Three Reasons to Tackle Tough Tasks First

May 4, 2016

It’s tempting to start the day focusing on easy tasks before addressing more challenging ones.  Procrastination is the bane of human existence, but you can overcome it by tackling difficult to-do’s earlier on in the day.  Dale Carnegie said, “You can get ahead in the world. But you will have to work, you will have to want tremendously to accomplish something, and then be willing to pay the price. Are you willing?”


Here are three reasons why you can and should work on the tough tasks first.

You’re wired to grab ‘low-hanging fruit’ first.  Most people start working on easier tasks first because humans are predisposed to the path of least resistance thanks to their brain’s internal wiring.  This is the same survival mechanism that drove hunters and gatherers to grab low-hanging food first.  When applied to the workplace, however, this mechanism can backfire.  As revealed in the book, The Willpower Instinct, tackling tough tasks earlier on in the day improves your overall productivity because willpower is a finite resource that steadily decreases during the day.  Diving into challenging tasks and large projects in the morning optimizes your overall productivity because you are physiologically more focused and because there tends to be less distractions in the workplace. 

Uncovering unexpected hurdles early decreases delayed deadlines.  One of Dale Carnegie’s principles is, ‘Cooperate with the inevitable.’  Tackling tough tasks first allows time to address inevitable hurdles.  If you’re working on a project comprised of individual or sub-tasks, odds are that the more challenging tasks will present obstacles and unknowns.  If you hold off on doing the tough tasks until later in the day, you’ll most likely run out of time to procure answers to the key questions you have and miss your deadline. 

Moreover, often times, we underestimate the effort associated with tasks.  For example, you may have estimated an hour for a project’s sub-task, but realize later that you need to schedule a meeting with the project’s stakeholders to ascertain how best to proceed.  Now the total time allocated for the task is two hours and who knows how soon you’ll be able to find a meeting time that works for everyone.  Your best bet—jump into the tough tasks first!

The longer it’s on your plate, the easier it is to wait.  This is the premise of Brian Tracy’s book, Eat That Frog, in which he explains the importance of avoiding procrastination at all costs.  Tracy warns that you must do difficult tasks first because the longer that they are on your plate, the harder it will be to finally do the task you’ve been dreading.  Once you accomplish tough tasks first, the rest of your day’s to-do’s won’t seem nearly as difficult so it will be easier to muster up the energy to plow through them.


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