Why you should have fewer priorities and just stop multi-tasking – Lessons from Flight Control, a Video Game

Caveat emptor : This is not the first time life lessons were trawled from a video game. Don’t scoff. Good Video games are now rightly considered art.

Flight Control is a game for phones and tablets developed by this cool sounding company called Firemint and was it first released for iOS on March, 2009.  I first started playing it in August 2010 when I got my iphone. Big mistake. A video game review service, Pocket Gamer, correctly warned that “…if you could put Flight Control in a needle, it’d be considered a Class A drug. That’s how simple and addictive it is.” Bloody damn right. Let me just say I was spending way way more time on the loo than I needed to ‘just to finish one more round!’ The app was a number one bestseller on the App Store in 19 countries and has been the number one downloaded paid application in over 20 countries. It has sold over 4 million copies worldwide.

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What is the game all about? : Well, players assume the role of an air traffic controller at an extremely busy airport. The airport features a runway for large red jets, a runway for small yellow planes and a helipad for blue helicopters. Players draw paths along the field to direct each aircraft to its designated landing zone.

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Each successfully landed aircraft scores the player one point, and as the player’s score increases, so does the number of aircraft that will appear on the screen simultaneously.

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The game ends when two or more aircraft collide. Players receive a high score for the most planes landed, which can be uploaded to online leaderboards.

I can already hear your question. “What does this have to do with having fewer priorities and me stopping my multi-tasking habit ??”

Well, first off, you need to know this if you don’t already:  Multi-tasking is a myth. Many, many, many people now have come out and shown why multi-tasking is counter-productive at work. It’s not unlike those horrible 80’s clothes that now we look back on and cringe at whenever we see pictures of ourselves in them.Look at what Google auto-completes when you write the phrase:

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And about having fewer priorities? In the best management book ever written, The Effective Executive, the Father of Management, Peter Drucker, said on the subject of having priorities in the chapter ‘First Things First’, something along the lines of “….most great executives can chase ONE priority. Some GENIUSES can do two. Three is a CIRCUS ACT”

When you start playing FLIGHT CONTROL, the planes on the screen: few and flying in slowly. Ample time to land. You know the planes and their relative positions well. You are relaxed. It’s all good. Then slowly and ominously they start piling onto the screen. Your heart beat increases. Your eyeballs dart all over the screen. Those warning beeps telling you of imminent collision become frantic. You become frantic. And then in a few seconds, inevitably, COLLISION!

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So many times in new roles I start in, life follows a sadly similar script. Start chasing one or two things the boss tells you to. And then they pile them on. Next thing you know, between clients, bosses in a matrix structure and daily operational fires, you are chasing 19 ‘priorities’ and multi tasking 14 tasks on the BlackBerry and the wheezing laptop, wondering just how did you land up in this messy airfield of your real life.

Because of two lethal traits universal to a lot of us climbing the career ladder.

1# Inability to say NO to the boss or colleague when more is piled on to an already full plate

2# Inability to REMOVE/ELIMINATE/THROW AWAY a goal/task/priority when a new one is piled onto the plate

But underneath these two lies an even more insidious lethal misconception:

3# that ‘I can do it all’, that ‘I can juggle these balls successfully and do justice to all my 12 priorities’

That last one is the reason couples drift apart, managers burnout, marriages flounder and kids have ‘shadow parents’; Flight Control, a Video Game, only viscerally demonstrates how one finds oneself in the quicksand of mistaken and failing priorities.

You know what it a good start? Stop using the plural of the word.

PRIORITY.

PERIOD.

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