I’ve learned a lot from my TV addiction. I was a beta customer of Netflix during the red and white envelope days, and am shamefully proud of my early adoption of the Netflix Binge back in the early weeks of their instant viewing days. BURN NOTICE has been on my rotating binge list for ages now, and I gotta give credit to the writers for some sage one-liners. In a typical episode, the team gets all worked up because some simple gig turned into a dramatic, dangerous mess. Then the Fiona and Sam (a.k.a. that guy from Evil Dead) corner Michael – “What are we gonna do Mike?”

Michael nearly always answers the same way:

“One problem at a time”

Whenever I’m facing an impossible pile of work, mishandling a cranky client or getting two bags of doritos past hangry, this has become my homespun mantra. It’s stupid simple, yet remarkably hard to execute.

Most of us know that the myth of multitasking has been debunked, and single-tasking is all the rage in advice columns.

But if we’ve already spit out that Kool-Aid, why is it still so damn hard?

My thoughts:

1) Old habits do indeed die hard – most of us are still suffering in the age of tabbed browsing and hot swapping mobile apps. In pre-Internet terms – if multitasking was binge drinking, then these ‘conveniences’ are like free booze in your pocket, on your desk, in your backpack and next to your bed. It’s tough to kill a bad habit when the triggers are literally strapped to your body.

2) Problems don’t come in convenient shapes and sizes – life and business rarely behave like a whimsical assembly line a la Laverne & Shirley. Some problems come screaming down the conveyor belt of reality all at once and are likely too big for one person to carry, too small to pickup with bare hands or too sharp to handle without injury.

3) Prioritization is fucking hard, it’s a choose your poison game – seriously though, choosing what goes first isn’t as simple as numbering your problems from 1 to 10 and working your way down the list. In the real world, you are more likely to be forced to choose between a slap in the face or punch in the gut when that problem isn’t resolved.

So how in the hell do we navigate this? Here’s how I do it when my head isn’t firmly shoved up my own ass:

1) Take a breath. I’m not talking useless billionaire advice to meditate on the job or unplug for one-week a year. Think more about taking a few breaths away from your triggers (devices, people, the actual problem). Even 1-2 minutes will do it. If you are having a hard time with this, go analog – I prefer a yellow legal pad and .7mm blue gel pen. An ‘in case of emergency break glass’ option would be a bathroom stall. No one can fault you for having to take a shit, regardless of the urgency of the situation.

2) Move the big rock. Choose the biggest problem on your plate and move that out of the way. I’ve been prepping for a move to So Cal for the past few months and have quickly discovered that I can’t do jack shit in the garage until I move the big stuff outta the way. NOTE: the big rock needs to be something you can move on your own. Team / joint tasks can wait. Hat tip to Anthony Iannarino for teaching me this.

3) Decide who you are willing to piss off.  I learned this little gem while grinding away at the USAF Academy, where the entire system was designed to give you more than any human could handle. The only way to survive was to make the hard choice of who you would piss off. Girlfriend, Boss, Mom, Best Friend, CapitalOne, Kids, Neighbor, Dog … while in a state of overwhelm, the sooner you accept that it’s gonna hurt a bit, the sooner you can get back to work and ready yourself for the inevitable (and perhaps public) backlash.

And if all that fails, retreat to your bedroom, grab your tablet, Doritos & Mountain Dew and binge on BURN NOTICE until this lesson cements. It only took me 5-seasons ;^) Yogurt might work too.

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