It’s been a long while since I read ‘Eat that Frog’, Brian Tracy’s famous book on time management. It advises us to do the one thing we’ve been dreading or putting off, reckoning that things can only get easier once we’ve done that. It is a policy I often use, but maybe not regularly enough – like many good ideas, they gradually slip away from our consciousness until we need that sharp reminder. Mine came last week.
Since last August, I’ve had ‘Get ITIN’ on my job list. An ITIN is an identification number that you need from the IRS (the USA’s HMRC) if you sell ebooks, which means you can escape paying 30% tax. It’s not hugely important as we’re talking very small amounts of money, but it is one of those things you need to do to keep your house in order.
Ah, the frustration!
I’ve not been procrastinating all this time. It took an inordinate amount of time to read the guidelines, understand the process, read blogs from American lawyers and English writers trying to make sense of the apparent conflicting advice. I resented so much of my energy being taken up when I would rather be doing something more productive. To cut a long story short, I filled in forms, gathered the necessary documents, including my passport and sent them off to Austin, Texas. Six weeks later they were returned, with a note telling my documents were not acceptable. It went back on the job list, more research, more seemingly unproductive time.
I discovered that if you register as a company the process is different, can be quicker and sometimes a nice IRS Adviser will let you do it over the phone. I braced myself (yes, definitely some procrastination here) and rang Philadelphia a couple of times, holding on until I had other commitments and had to hang up. Determination eventually kicked in and last week I held on for over an hour, late at night when I was really tired. Yes, I got the ITIN number I needed. Hallelujah!
The point of this is not to tell you my tax affairs are now in order. The significant thing for me was the massive, overwhelming joy I felt when I came off the phone. Frog eaten? It felt more like dragons slain! It was this that reminded me of Brian Tracy’s book, but there was something I found even more important – the joy was unexpected. Why? I realised that I was not aware how much this seemingly trivial admin task was holding me back.
This isn’t just about eating frogs, it’s about mindfulness. I wasn’t aware of what was going on in my own heart and mind. Mindfulness is defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations”. It is a buzzword these days – you might call it reflection, listening to your gut or even meditation.
I doubt it is just me.
Like me, you probably spend time planning your work, setting priorities and scheduling. Unlike me, you may have different things that affect your tolerance or delight your soul – we are all unique. To be at our most productive, we need to take these things into account too. It seems to me that frogs come in disguise. The challenge is making the time and effort to not only listen to our inner voice, being honest with our own triggers so that we can recognise our own personal frogs.
Spend some time contemplating your To Do list, looking for the emotions evoked rather than just the factual prioritising we usually do. It’s part of understanding ourselves, and we owe ourselves that. Then, instead of thinking of tasks you are avoiding as frogs to be eaten, try thinking of them as unblocking a dam, the keys that unlock huge waves of productivity and joy. You don’t know what you might be missing out on!
By Julie Cooper
Author of Face to Face in the Workplace
“If you deal with people you need this book” Buy your copy here