Sometimes I can’t decide whether I am an overachiever or a lazy bum. It seems to go in cycles. I always seem to have things I WANT to do, but when I get overwhelmed I concentrate on completing as much as possible, which ends up in a period of high productivity, then I “reward” myself with a small vacation from the hullabaloo. Sometimes, when I am not careful, that vacation turns into a period of laziness.

It is difficult to break out of that period, isn’t it? I can feel it while it is happening. Not only am I avoiding doing things, but I actually begin to resent taking up new endeavors. I can see how some people get stuck in this for a long time. Months. Years. I can see how depression happens (although, thankfully, never has it afflicted me.)

I have come up with an overarching philosophy in life that helps me in both the times of high productivity to avoid the stress of multi-tasking, and the times of near-stagnation that help me break out of an impending funk.

Choose a goal, and make ONE STEP.

I sound like some kind of self-help snake-oil malarkey, I know, I know. They really get under my skin too, and I am not trying to be that guy with all the mottoes and self-affirmations. I am really just saying nicely to myself: get off your ass.

Here’s how it works for me:

When overwhelmed:

When I am overwhelmed, I first prioritize all of my end goals (or projects, or whatever). The one that is the MOST important (or most overdue, or most impactful, or whatever), I look at all of the small tasks that are needed to get that one thing done. I select a task that I can pick off, and I work on that one task. Each time I complete one of these small tasks, I re-prioritize the original end goals (is one now more important than it was before because it is now closer to being due?), select another task, and work on that one.

A lot of scholarly research recently has been dedicated to multitasking. Forbes magazine has a nice article on this ( Guess what? It’s a myth. So, the answer is simple: don’t try. You will be much more productive (and MEASURABLY so!) if you divide and conquer as I suggest.

When stuck in a rut:

You know when you are stuck in a rut, sometimes it feels like you don’t really have any goals. There are two possibilities there. One, you are lying to yourself. You have goals, you just don’t feel like working on them. Two, you really don’t have any goals. Either way, maybe you need a new goal. Pick up a new hobby. Do some home improvement (that one always works for me). Work on a relationship with someone. Find a goal. Then, work on it just like I mention above. You will notice quickly that you end up in a productive period with many goals being completed.

Self-help guru time again. I have one more saying that gets me through any rote, or boring, or just generally sucky task, like raking ALL OF THE LEAVES in my dang yard, or unit testing, or cleaning the garage, or whatever. My 11 year-old son HATES this one and refuses to answer the (now rhetorical) question. I hope it carries you forward in getting those heavy tasks done:

“You know the only way to get something done? Do it.”

Now get to work!