“IThe bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” — Michael Altshuler

I was stunned.

I had just asked my client if she was more like the pinball or the flippers in that wonderful game of randomness that I put so many quarters in throughout my life.

The person I was coaching had not seen, nor heard of, a pinball machine. 

I explained that pinball is a game where a small ball is plunged onto a playing field filled with obstacles.  When the ball hits those obstacles, it scores points.  Gravity is constantly trying to pull the ball off the playing field.  The ball will exit the playing field if it can get past the flippers.  The flippers can catch and hit the pinball and send back into the game.  With practice, the player gets much better control of the flippers and can greatly influence the play of the pinball.

Like the pinball, some people at work just are just reacting to tasks.  They deal with interrupt after interrupt.  They try to fit the work they want to do in between all the other things in the way. They try to get the work done while the gravity is trying to pull them off the playing field.

Exceptional few people are much more like the flippers in the game.  They take control of their weeks and days.  Interrupts will happen, but they control them.

Here is a quick self-assessment to determine if you are more like the flippers or the pinball. For answers of “frequently”, score yourself 50 points and make a happy whistling sound.  For answers of “seldom to never”, score yourself 0 points and make a sound of glass breaking. You can figure out your score for answers in between, depending on how close to either end you are. 

  1. Every week, you block out “interrupt-free” time on your calendar.
  2. At the start of the week, you determine which meetings you will go to and which ones you will send your “regrets” notes.
  3. At the start of the week, you look ahead and manage the coordination you need to do with others.
  4. You are clear about the purposes of the meetings you run, and the meetings get the results you want.
  5. You know how much you are ahead or behind on your commitments and what it takes to ensure you meet them.
  6. You keep a log of ideas for how to improve how you accomplish your work.
  7. You regularly review your improvement ideas and implement many of them.
  • If you score between 300 and 350, you are the pinball wizard.
  • If you score between 250 and 300, you are approaching mastery.  
  • If you score between 200 and 250, you want to be the flippers, but you need more conviction.
  • If you score under 200, consider what it would be like for you if you took more control.

    Whichever score you got, feel free to email me at [email protected] and request my 1-page “Own Your Time process”. 

    Also, I am curious…if you’ve never played pinball, let me know.  

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Sunrise in a city very near Death Valley in California

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