Operational Excellence

Eat your frogs and do parallel work: Advice from a McKinsey Alum

Total reading time: 02:44

“The analogy is simple: at some point today, you have to eat a live frog. You know it’s not going to get any more palatable as the day wears on – if anything it will seem even worse when you’re tired – so you might as well do it first, right?”

Tackle your hardest problems first. Once you have done that, you can start to think about simpler tasks that your subconscious can help you to solve.

Productivity is hackneyed in the industry of consulting with good reason. Whether you are a junior partner or a first-year analyst, the days when you complete everything on your to-do list will be few and far between. The 80/20 rule will get you far, but you need help to be productive.

“There is so much work, so many things to do. If you start trying to do everything, you’re going to run out of time. The work as a management consultant is so intellectually demanding that if you don’t focus just on that, you’re going to drown.”

So how do you keep your head above water?

On productivity

Tackle the most challenging task first.

 “You have a limited amount of decision power and creativity in a day, so don’t check your emails in the morning, certainly not the first thing you do when you wake up, anyway. Come into the office and tackle the most difficult problem that you’re going to face straight away.”

American writer, Mark Twain famously popularized this point when he stated: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” 

The point being that it forces you as a problem solver to focus on the most important task of the problem that you’re trying to solve. You should be asking yourself the question “is this solution truly distinctive?” rather than “have I got time to create my presentation and doublecheck the numbers?

” If the work you are doing is not solving the most difficult problem, you could be better optimizing your time."
I used to work in investment banking and some of the low value adding tasks I did there as an analyst, I stopped doing later in my career because I could spend my time more effectively”

Rune explains that people who have acquired a skillset through years of education should not waste time on punching in numbers in excel or aligning slides in PowerPoint, when they could be eating frogs.

On parallel work

Whilst multi-tasking is not an effective way of working, there is a way to work on more than one task at once and still be productive. Rune calls this ‘parallel working’

“I don’t multitask, but I do parallelise work. For instance, in a work setting, I sit and I write a storyline in bullet points and once I have that then I sketch it out on paper and get someone else to work on it while I concentrate on something else. So, I’m achieving what most people would call multitasking, without sacrificing any of my own productivity.”

Furthermore, Rune uses parallel thinking when he solves simple problems, letting the subconscious work while working on other simple tasks. A similar approach is used by many creatives in the advertising industry when coming up with new taglines.

“I read your questions for this interview last night. I didn’t think too much about them, but I made sure I’d read them, because I know my subconscious will start working on them. Then I focus on other things – in this case, feeding my daughter – but in most other cases it would be work. So, I make sure that I ingest the information, but I don’t actually work on it until I’m ready to do so, by which time my subconscious will have done a lot of the work for me”
Rune Holst Johansen
Published by Rune Holst Johansen

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