Warts and All: Taking Ownership of Unlikable Tasks

Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” — Mark Twain, American writer and lecturer.

Many people today don’t want honest answers, insofar as honest means unpleasant or disturbing. They want a soft answer that turneth away anxiety.” — Louis Kronenberger, American critic and author.

Warts and All: Taking Ownership of Unlikable Tasks by Laura Stack #productivityHave you found that perfect job yet?

Of course not, because the perfect job doesn’t exist. Every job in the world includes unpleasant tasks that may bore you to death, strain your capacities, or require such brainless repetition you’d rather go hide in the nearest swamp. Whatever your job’s deficiencies, though, you’ve got take ownership of those tasks—or how can you say you’ve done your job?

Here are a few suggestions that’ll help you stay solidly on track.

1. Eat that frog! As Mark Twain once said, if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day. My colleague Brian Tracy calls unpleasant or tough tasks “frogs,” and advises you to “eat that frog” right away. I agree. Once you choke it down, you can move on to more enjoyable tasks.

2. Own problems, not just tasks. Instead of assuming that frog-eating represents your only option, take a look at the problem behind the task. You may discover a better way to handle it—either because conditions have changed recently, or simply because nobody ever traced the root cause far enough. Wouldn’t you prefer eating a tadpole or a frog egg to eating a mature frog? I’d prefer to eliminate the frog-eating altogether.

3. Outsource. Delegate your frog to someone who doesn’t mind doing it; people like that do exist, I assure you. Ever seen the TV show Dirty Jobs? The host obviously hates some of the jobs he ends up doing, but the guys who do them every day have found ways to make them bearable or even enjoyable. If you really feel ambitious, hire an intern to do your dirty work.

4. Reward yourself. When you know you can have a cupcake or a long break as soon as you finish calculating this quarter’s taxes, it might make the task more bearable. Just don’t give in before you’ve completed your task.

5. Find the right spice. Listen to music, experiment with a new work rhythm, take little breaks before and after, sandwich it between tasks you love—anything that might disguise your frog’s taste.

6. Break it into manageable chunks. If you’ve been shirking a task because it seems huge or overwhelming, split it into smaller, more easily swallowed pieces with their own little deadlines and mileposts. Better bite-sized frogs than big ones.

7. Adjust your attitude. Argh! You hate that task so much you want to scream. But what if you didn’t hate it? Can you clear the emotional decks and start over without the negative attitude? It may not make the task any less tedious, but it might help you push through until you’re done. If you hate the task because you think it’s beneath you, definitely adjust your attitude. There’s no shame in honest labor.

Necessary Evil

Let’s face it: no job is perfect. There will always be a snake or two in your professional Garden of Eden. But embrace them along with everything else, and learn to deal with them. The only other choice? Quit your job. But if you do that, you may as well quit the job market, because you’ll never achieve full satisfaction anywhere. So get real—and get on with it.



  1. Excellent approach Laura on handling with difficult tasks. I think though, that it needs a certain discipline and for that people most people avoid to cope with such situations. Thank you for sharing.