Do the Most Difficult and Painful Things First

So today is one week until Christmas, and among other things, it means that this will be perhaps the busiest week of the year for many of us. With so much on all of our “to do” plates in the next seven days, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on the next of Father Thomas Hopko’s 55 Maxims for Christian Living:

I speak often about the relative ease of our modern lives, even as our perceived difficulty continues to rise. One of the worst effects of our modern comforts is that the distance between our normal comfort level and the challenge of doing hard things grows larger. Hard things are not harder, but in the relative comfort in which we typically live in, they can feel harder.

This can be detrimental in every area of our life. Take, for example, what we choose to eat. It’s inherently more difficult for most of us to eat the right foods because they are so often not the foods that we would choose as the most pleasing. I haven’t seen cheeseburgers, potato chips, and chocolate chip cookies top any list of “Foods we should all eat more of”! And as significant as the consequences are for what we eat, the results of putting off difficult things is no more significant than in our spiritual efforts. In the realm of our eternal souls, our choices can have eternal consequences. And let’s face it: most of us find most of our spiritual efforts to be difficult and sometimes painful, whether that means 

coming to more church services (and, of course, coming on time!), praying on a regular basis, accepting the Church’s prescriptions of fasting. Then, of course, there is the effort to take that newly-found spiritual strength and use it to follow Jesus’s Two Great Commandments: to love God with all that we are, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. 

Many of us struggle to be consistent in many if not all of these efforts, but not usually because we say we won’t do them. We typically say that we will do them “later.” and all too often,”later” never comes. 

And this is why this week’s Maxim is so crucial for all of us to take to heart and recommit ourselves to. When we “do the most difficult and painful things first” it almost always means that the most important things will actually be done. This is, of course, most significant in our spiritual efforts but can produce fruit in every aspect of our lives. 

So having read this extensive introduction, you’ll be happy to know that you’re already on your way as the accompanying article is far shorter than this introduction! In this article, business coach Jason Benham addresses this topic from that particular area of expertise, but his counsel is applicable in every area of our lives, including our spiritual efforts. May we all make those difficult efforts more often by doing them first, and in so doing find ourselves further along the path to the Kingdom of Heaven.


Do Hard Things First

by Jason Benham

A principle we’ve tried to teach our kids, and something we’ve always poured into our employees, is to do hard things first. Work should come before play. Hard should come before easy.

But we don’t want to do the hard things. We like to do the enjoyable things. If something isn’t enjoyable, then we at least want it to be easy. We’d rather be in the comfort zone than the pain cave. Yet more is accomplished in the pain cave than the comfort zone!

What we have seen in our sixteen years of business is that the ability to make yourself do the hard things is a big determiner of how successful you’ll be.

For example:

  • Squats are hard. Leg extensions are easy. Guess which is more effective for strengthening your legs.
  • Cold calling expired listings is hard. Holding an open house is easy. Guess which is more effective for making money as a real estate agent.
  • Sweeping a floor is easy. Scrubbing a floor on your hands and knees is hard. You already know which is going to clean your floor more effectively.

Consider these ideas:

  • You have more energy and focus early in the day. It’s easier to do challenging things earlier in the day. You’re more effective at 9:00 AM than you are at 3:00 PM. Attack the hard thing when you’re fresh. It’s only going to be more challenging later in the day.
  • You can spend more time on the hard thing. If you wait until later to do the hard thing, you might run out of time to complete it.Since the hard thing is often the most important thing, you should spend enough time on it to complete it.
  • The rest of the day is more enjoyable. If you have something unpleasant hanging over your head all day, you just can’t enjoy the day as much. Get the hard thing off your plate, so you can enjoy the remainder of your day.
    • “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” – Mark Twain
  • It builds self-esteem and confidence. Everyone else avoids the hard things. Be the person that attacks them. You’ll feel great about yourself and know that you can do anything that needs to be done.
    • Your potential increases greatly when you can reliably get yourself to do unenjoyable tasks.
  • It can help your career.Once you’re known as the person that can do the hard things, you’ll be highly respected and considered reliable. Most people have excuses for not doing the hard thing.
  • Avoid thinking too much about it. It’s best to get started on your hard thing without spending too much time thinking about it. It’s like eating the frog. Just eat it. You don’t want to stare at it all day. The frog only becomes bigger and uglier over time.
  • Decide what your “frog” is for the day. If eating a frog is the worst thing you have to do for the day, do it first and then everything else will be easy from there! That’s a gross word picture, right?

Some tasks are just unpleasant. There are even unpleasant tasks which provide little value but must be done. It’s best to get your unpleasant tasks done as soon as possible.

If the unpleasant task is high value, it deserves to be accomplished first. If the unpleasant task is low-value, just get it out of the way as soon as you can. If you can reliably do the hard things first, you’ll find that you’re much more successful. You’ll also be happier, because you won’t have to stress about those hard things more than necessary. Ultimately, living according to this principle will help you achieve your goal and fulfill your mission in life — the very mission God has designed you for!